As the Doc Rivers saga continues to drag on with precious few signs of impending relief, it's become increasingly clear that the Boston Celtics need Doc Rivers far more than the head coach needs his possibly former team.
There's always a question as to who is more important to whom, but the question has an easy answer in this particular situation. As reported by The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes, not even money is swaying the answer in favor of Rivers needing the Celtics:
But more than a month later, the Celtics and their fans are still waiting for him to make up his mind, and league sources tell the Globe that Rivers, 51, has seriously considered walking away from his contract, which has three years and $21 million remaining on it.
Over the last decade, Boston has given Rivers plenty of gifts. Obviously, his salary is part of the equation, but he's won a championship, received undying fan support and built extremely close relationships with some of his players, most notably Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
That quartet is an impressive one, but those reasons are quickly falling by the wayside, one at a time.
The money won't disappear, not until three more years have passed. The fan support won't either, unless Rivers starts losing. Even the most popular figures in sports can lose their luster when the wins stop flowing in.
However, the ability to win championships is no longer there. Even with a healthy Rajon Rondo and a burgeoning star in the form of Jeff Green, the aging process of Pierce and Garnett keeps this team just barely out of the ranks of elite title contenders. It's tough to see the Celtics competing with the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers (assuming David West returns) or Chicago Bulls (assuming Derrick Rose returns) over the course of a seven-game series, much less getting through the entire playoff gauntlet.
Those close relationships might be dwindling as well.
We have absolutely no clue what Danny Ainge will do with Pierce, and that will determine Garnett's future as well. If he buys out the small forward, Garnett is as good as gone. And so too is Rivers.
But even if Pierce and Garnett are wearing green during the 2013-14 season, that will almost assuredly be the swan song for this era of C's lore. At most, this group has a single season left together, and it's one without much championship potential.
Eastern Conference Finals potential? Sure, but when has that been the goal of this organization, one that traditionally demands nothing but excellence?
Two out of four isn't good enough, but without those long-term relationships and the promise of holding up the Larry O'Brien Trophy one more time, thats the situation RIvers faces. If not this upcoming season, certainly during the next one.
Holmes also points out that money isn't even an issue for Rivers, so we may be down to just 25 percent of what made Boston such a great location for the elite coach:
The idea that Rivers would walk away from the Celtics and $21 million might have seemed far-fetched weeks ago, but one league source said Rivers has “made a lot of smart investments” and isn’t exactly in need of the money.
If he walked away, Rivers would have the opportunity to join another contender. He'd be the top name on the market—beating out George Karl, Lionel Hollins and Brian Shaw—and the Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers would immediately come calling.
Any of those three squads would present Rivers with the chance to win as soon as he stepped onto the sideline.
The Clippers—assuming that they convince Chris Paul to return, something that a Rivers signing would certainly help with—are one of the more talented and deep teams in the Western Conference, but they were held back by the limited coaching abilities of Vinny Del Negro. Denver is a truly elite team, although the torn ACL of Danilo Gallinari essentially knocked the Nuggets out of the running before the postseason even started.
Memphis presents Rivers with a gritty team, one that would mesh well with his personality while simultaneously boasting enough talent to truly compete, even in the tougher Western Conference.
Each roster is an upgrade over the current version of the C's, thereby helping boost that "ability to win a championship" portion of the criteria. He'd be making money. He'd have the opportunity to form fresh relationships with young stars like Blake Griffin, Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried and Mike Conley. He'd absolutely enjoy fan support, as fanbases love fresh faces, especially when they have big names and sparkling resumes.
All three teams are also talented enough that Rivers would't have to worry about doing much player development. For all his strategic skills and abilities to manage a locker room, he's not a particularly great teacher.
Those best-case scenarios for Rivers are terrific, and the worst-case one isn't too shabby either. If no other NBA teams came calling, he could just bide his time and resume his cushy job in the broadcast booth.
Leaving Boston is essentially a win-win scenario for the coach, although you could argue that staying is a victory as well.
The same can't be said for the team employing him at the moment. If Rivers leaves, it means one of two things: Pierce and Garnett are about to leave, or the two stars have already parted ways with the organization.
In either situation, it's time for a rebuild. Celtics fans will argue that it's not a full rebuild, but it's a rebuild nonetheless. Ainge will be scrambling both to upgrade the roster and to find a new head coach, and depending on how long Rivers waits to make his decision, the options may have dwindled.
Even in a rebuild, Boston is an attractive destination. During the hiring process, Ainge can just point up to the rafters and let the championship banners do the talking.
But he won't be able to find a Rivers right away, and he absolutely won't be able to replace Rivers, Pierce and Garnett without a few down years. Losing the coach isn't a win-win for the general manager, even if the team stars winning down the road.
The Celtics don't have an unequivocal need for Rivers to be pacing up and down the sideline and yelling out with that voice that sounds like he's spent the past three days screaming his lungs out.
They just need him more than he needs them.