Through the past six seasons of roster turnover and injuries, one real constant has been on the floor, night in and night out for the Boston Celtics. That constant is Doc Rivers, in his ninth season as Boston's head coach
Behind the San Antonio Spurs' Gregg Popovich, Rivers is the NBA's second-longest tenured head coach. He has led the Celtics to the postseason in six of his eight complete seasons, and has the team poised to do the same in year No. 9. Only in his first year at the helm, 2004, did the Celtics make the playoffs and get knocked out in the first round.
After that 2004 season, Rivers and the Celtics suffered through two-straight down years. Then, of course, you all know what happened. Boston made a play for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, and they handily won the 2008 NBA Title. Since then, Boston has won five-straight Atlantic Division crowns and not been eliminated in the opening round of a postseason.
Not all these past years have been easy, though. There was the season Boston lost Kevin Garnett, the season Danny Ainge swapped their starting center, Kendrick Perkins for a reserve swingman in Jeff Green. Then there was last season, with two important players gone for heart surgery, an ailing Allen and Paul Pierce, then the eventual sidelining of Avery Bradley for shoulder surgeries.
Through all those obstacles, the Celtics never went down in an opening round embarrassment. In fact, during three of those five seasons, they advanced beyond the second round.
Of course, now there is the 2012-13 season. Boston has lost Rajon Rondo and Leandro Barbosa to ACL injuries, and Jared Sullinger to a season-ending back injury. To open the season, the team had already seen the arrival of eight players who did not play for the Boston Celtics in 2011-12. Since then, there has been spotted new additions floating in and out as well.
Again, the Celtics are 30-27, putting them in line for another playoff appearance. They are high up on everyone's list of least favorite teams to play, even as a No. 7 seed.
So, through all that turmoil and change, hasn't Doc Rivers been the glue holding everything together?
Discrediting him is easy. He led the Celtics to a 24-58 record the season prior to Garnett and Allen's arrival. Then, when he coaches a team with three guys bound for the Springfield, they win a championship and begin a long run of postseason success.
Yet, examine his peers in similar situations. Did the Miami Heat and Erik Spoelstra win the title in the first year of their talent conglomeration? How about the New York Knicks, with Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire? The Oklahoma City Thunder had three superstars a season ago and fell short too.
The Celtics incorporated these major new personalities and talents in one season and won a championship. That makes them, and their head coach Doc Rivers, unique in this era of the NBA.
Another avenue is to examine the respect he is showed by his peers and other players in the NBA. Obviously, there was the NBA GM Survey prior to the season that had him second, behind Popovich, in the best head coach category. Also in Sports Illustrated's 2012 Players Poll, Rivers was voted the coach most would like to play for.
It does seem that no other coach has as many player relationships as Rivers. Every game he seems to be having good-natured conversations with multiple players on the Celtics' opponent. With Mike Krzyzewski stepping down as head coach of Team USA, Rivers has even been named as a possible replacement.
Moving on to the 2012-13 season for the Boston Celtics. Something that is talked about very little, is that in each year since Rivers arrived in Boston in 2004, his job has gotten harder. After year one, there was expectation of a playoff repeat, then expectation to climb out of the basement for two years. That was followed by immediate expectation of championship contention in 2007-08. Then every year the same was expected.
Only, his stars continued to age, there was constant roster turnover and the surrounding league just got better and better. Things have hit a new peak in 2012-13. The obvious injuries have weighed, but also there was the Ray Allen saga, and the fact that Pierce and Garnett are yet another year older. Teams like the New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets are now extremely competitive, throwing another wrinkle into the mix.
Yet, as those who follow Boston closely know, Doc Rivers is one of the most even-keeled coaches on the planet.
He is incredibly polite and well-spoken, which wins favors with the media any day. However, we can see how much he has developed as a coach over the years. That is why he has been able to hold on to this job for so long, while his peers have dropped like flies. Despite things getting harder and harder for him, he has grown alongside that and adapted to various situations.
This year he has had to make up the production of an All-Star point guard on the fly. Then, when Leandro Barbosa went down, he had to make up part of that make up. He’s had to do this while heavily monitoring the minutes of his aging veterans, and trying to work in a myriad of new role players, young and old. He even has been gifted with a slew of new reserve pieces in the past couple weeks.
Doc Rivers has to receive an immense amount of credit for keeping Boston steady through all the turmoil of the past two seasons. The Celtics story has been anything but smooth lately.
Luckily, their head coach has learned to deal with almost any situation.