Ever since he started pacing the sidelines of the Boston Garden, Doc Rivers has never hesitated to make his gravelly voice heard. He both yells at and praises players, and his speeches during timeouts are nothing if not passionate.
Rivers said he needed to “detox” after the season and apologized for being inaccessible to reporters. But he would not give any indication whether he will be back for a 10th season although president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe last month that Rivers had planned to return.
Rivers himself has not confirmed that and with the Celtics season being over for five weeks, speculation has grown that the beloved coach is seriously considering stepping down.
If you're looking for clarity here, don't hold your breath. I'd hate to be the reason your face turned purple as you struggled to stop yourself from gasping for air. It's going to be a while before Rivers makes his own decision clear.
The reason for that? It depends almost solely on what the C's choose to do with Paul Pierce, as does Kevin Garnett's own decision.
Boston has until June 20 to decide whether or not it wants to buy out Pierce's contract. If "The Truth" leaves, the truth of the matter is that Garnett and Rivers are as good as gone too.
According to the Boston Herald's Mark Murphy, general manager Danny Ainge is getting a bit annoyed by the questions centering around his head coach:
Ainge has become irritated by the Doc question — whether the coach, who started this by indicating he might not come back, is returning — but the man who can end this strange, silent vigil hasn’t said a word.
Perhaps that’s because Rivers is anxiously split between two vigils of his own — the Ainge watch and the Kevin Garnett watch.
Beyond whatever private considerations he might be contemplating, Rivers is waiting for Ainge to make two enormous, potentially era-changing decisions.
In a lot of ways, this C's offseason, is all about the transitive property, which applies to dependency just as much as it does to equality.
The typical application of the transitive property states that if A=B and B=C, then A=C. Substituting in dependency, if A depends on B and B depends on C, then A depends on C.
Well, Rivers' decision depends on what Garnett does, and Garnett's choice revolves around what Ainge does with Pierce. Therefore, Rivers' decision ultimately depends on what happens to the small forward who has spent his entire professional career wearing a green and white jersey.
The Garnett-Rivers Relationship
Even though Garnett has spent just a handful of years under the tutelage of Rivers, the two have formed a bond that is as strong as any player-coach relationship in the NBA. Just remember how the two greeted each other in front of the bench after it was clear that Boston's run in the 2013 playoffs had come to an end.
That wasn't just two co-workers embracing each other; it was an expression of man-to-man love, a relationship filled with mutual admiration and respect. It was also an acknowledgement that they may have worked together for the last time.
Here's a quote from Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:
Kevin Garnett changed Doc Rivers' life, changed forever the way people will remember him as a basketball coach. Rivers is a champion now, a paragon of his profession and there's never been a day on the job he hasn't understood that Garnett made it possible. This is the reason the tears welled within his eyes beneath that 17th championship banner in the Garden on Friday night, the reason that he squeezed Garnett on the sideline in the final seconds.
Deep down, Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett understood this was goodbye.
Deep down, they know it is over.
"I love you," Rivers told Garnett.
"I love you," Garnett told Rivers.
Garnett has been the backbone of Rivers' locker room, a role that—scarily enough—could be passed on to Rajon Rondo if the legendary big man moves on. He's served as the enforcer, maintaining the team's chemistry despite the occasional presence of some problem players.
The two won a championship together as well, and the magnitude of that accomplishment should never be downplayed.
Rivers has always been a players' coach, and his relationship with Garnett is nothing short of stellar. That's not something that can be quantified, but it certainly seems obvious if you tune in to even a few C's games per year.
"The Big Ticket" has yet to get surgery on his problematic leg, instead walking around in a boot. In my mind, this is an indication that he has yet to truly commit to the next season. His contract could be bought out by Ainge if the team decides to move firmly into a rebuild or he could retire, and either would also signal the need for a coaching search.
But why would Ainge choose to do that? It depends on what happens to Paul Pierce.
The Pierce-Garnett Relationship
An often-overlooked fact here is that Garnett and Pierce didn't become friends when they first teamed up in 2007. They were close long before that.
Delivered via the Sporting News' Sean Deveney, the following is a direct quote from the big man himself:
"What you all don't know is that Paul and I have history, and it's only right that we come in here and we make history together. We were 13, 14 years old, tearing up his mom's living room, breaking vases, almost getting ass-whooped. First time I ever experienced Crenshaw on a Sunday — for you all that don't know what Crenshaw on a Sunday is, Crenshaw on a Sunday is a big deal — Crenshaw on a Sunday taking me out being 15, 16 years old.
Then finally being able to follow our dreams, McDonald's (All American game), having some duration together, trying to go to the same school then obviously going different paths then finally meeting up here in Boston, winning a championship, doing the things we've been doing since we've been here. … It's best to do it with a personal friend. Not just a teammate but a real friend.
While their past is a bit of a secret among all but the more intense Boston fans, it's not exactly hidden that both stars are aging, Garnett in particular.
One of the greatest power forwards of all time, KG is 37 years old now, and he's clearly starting to decline. His defense remains quite impactful, although he can't assert himself on that end of the court from start to finish. He's also relying on his jumper more than ever, straying further and further away from the paint, where most of the contact happens.
Like it or not, his career is drawing to a close, and he wants to finish it out alongside his friend and teammate. When Garnett talked with WEEI's Mike Petraglia, he said as much:
One of the big reasons I came [to Celtics] was because of Paul. Obviously, you want to be in a situation where it’s better. I want to make sure that I’m able to always help a team. I want to be in positions to where I’m giving something. I demand a lot of myself, both physically and from a skill level. But I’d be lying to y’all if I said Paul didn’t play into that factor. Like I said, it’s too soon of a conversation for me right now.
Until we know what's happening with Pierce, we won't know what's happening with Garnett. And through that transitive property, we won't know what's happening with Rivers either.
If you're looking for clarity, look no further than Ainge, who must eventually make a decision that obviously promises some far-reaching implications.
Ainge can choose to let Pierce play out the final year of his contract with the Celtics, thereby allowing Boston to make one more run at a title. With Rondo returning, the pieces would be in place, especially since Garnett and Rivers would be there as well.
However, he could also buy out Pierce's contract and signal the start of a rebuild. If he chooses to go down that route, he'll be doing so with full knowledge that he's essentially ridding himself of Garnett and Rivers as well.