How Doc Rivers' Exit from Celtics Would Define Boston's Future

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How Doc Rivers' Exit from Celtics Would Define Boston's Future
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"Should we stay or should we go?"

We've almost officially reached the point of no return for Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics.

After the mega-trade between the C's and the Los Angeles Clippers failed to come to fruition, Rivers is technically still a member of the Boston organization, but it sure doesn't feel like it. How can he realistically be expected to just step back onto the sidelines of TD Garden and pretend like nothing happened?

According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, general manager Danny Ainge reached out to the indecisive head coach after the deal fell through, but they didn't reach any conclusion:

After talks in a blockbuster deal fell apart over draft pick compensation, Doc Rivers is unsure about returning to the Boston Celtics as coach, league sources told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday.

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge informed Rivers of the failed trade talks on Tuesday morning, and reiterated the Celtics' desire to have him return and fulfill the final three years and $21 million left on his contract, sources said.

The Celtics and Rivers planned to reach a final resolution in the next few days, sources said.

I can't even begin to imagine how that conversation went.

Did Ainge open with, "So...uh...Doc. We were trying to trade you, and it didn't work. So...now we want you back? Yeah, we want you back!"

It's a little late in the process for that kind of backtracking.

There's one more relevant quote from that Wojnarowski article: 

Rivers pushed for the Clippers partnership because of his desire to bypass a rebuilding process with Boston. As one source tied to Boston ownership and Rivers said, "You don't just move on from this and act like nothing happened."

Nothing happened, but at the same time, a lot certainly happened. Boston did just about everything in its power to burn the bridge between Rivers and the C's organization. It's tough enough to place a player on the trading block and expect him to return with nothing but a smile after no offers come flowing in. It's tougher still to do the same with a coach who was already considering a potential departure.

Following this saga, Rivers would be well within his rights to respond to Ainge's overture with a simple YouTube link to this song:

Just replace "river" with "Rivers" and you're set.

The damage is done, so I guess he'll be leaving. The Celtics don't have to say what they did, because Rivers already knows. Now there's just no chance for him and them.

There never will be.

Let's assume that Rivers exits Boston this offseason, leaving the C's scrambling for a new head coach. What does that mean for the future of this organization? 

 

Doc Rivers' Future

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Even if Rivers doesn't return to the same sideline he's paced throughout recent memory, he'll be able to take his froggy voice back into the broadcasting booth. That's not a bad backup option, and Rivers was quite good in 2004 when he served as a commentator for NBA on ABC.

Because the head coach has multiple years left on his contract, he can't simply walk away and then join another team in the NBA. He's contractually bound to the Celtics, and he can't break that bond without Ainge's permission.

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Whether Rivers desires a managerial role or another coaching job in the Association, Boston will demand that it receive something in return from his new landing spot. Obviously that didn't work out so well with the Clippers, and it's unlikely that many other teams will be willing to match the Celtics' inevitably high asking price.

Now that L.A. has fallen out of the picture, it looks like it's either the booth or the Garden for Rivers. Neither is a bad option, but the former is looking more and more likely as this drama continues to press on.

Remember, we're operating under the assumption that Rivers has exited the organization here. So with only one other choice available, let's go ahead and make another assumption: that he winds up working for a TV station. 

 

Kevin Garnett's Future

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Kevin Garnett and Rivers have formed one of the tightest relationships in recent NBA history. Many coaches and players have created unbreakable bonds, especially after winning a championship together, but these two take it to an extreme.

That much was clear when they embraced on the sideline after a defeat at the hands of the New York Knicks ushered in the possibility that they'd worked together for the final time. It was more than a simple hug; it was a tacit declaration of mutual respect and admiration, as made clear by 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.

Rivers is one of the major reasons that the Big Ticket ever came to Beantown, and now that he's hovering on the brink of retirement, the coach's departure could very well lead to his own. Without a perennially hoarse voice yelling at him from the sideline, Garnett doesn't have much of a reason to stay with the Celtics.

Remember, we're assuming that Rivers is gone here. If that's the case, we can safely bet on KG departing too.

Garnett still has time left on his contract, but he could bypass that in one of two manners: He could either choose to retire and pull the plug on his Hall of Fame career, or he could ask Ainge to buy out his contract and allow him to hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent.

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Based on his play, the latter seems more likely. Garnett still has some quality basketball left in the tank, as the New York Knicks found out during the postseason. The big man averaged 12.7 points, a playoff-high 13.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game with a 17.3 PER, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

That doesn't sound like a man ready to hang up the sneakers and walk off into the sunset. Not that KG would walk; he'd probably run and protect any baskets along the way.

It's too early to speculate about where he'd end up, but one thing is certain: If Rivers is gone, so too is Garnett.

 

Paul Pierce's Future

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Let's take it one step further.

If Rivers is gone, then Garnett will be washed right out the door by the current. Along with him will go Paul Pierce.

Initially, the process was supposed to happen the other way, with the Pierce decision ushering in the other moves. But now, the flow seems like it may be reversed.

KG and Pierce have been friends for much longer than the six years they've spent in the same jersey, and "The Truth" was one of the main reasons Garnett decided to join the Celtics, as he made clear in an interview with WEEI's Mike Petraglia:

Garnett made it very clear that his decision about next year will hinge greatly on whether Ainge brings back Pierce.

“One of the big reasons I came [to Celtics] was because of Paul,” said Garnett. “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.”

Pierce, much like Garnett, could have his contract bought out, and it's seemed for a while now like that's the most likely scenario. For the hefty sum of $5 million, Ainge could cut ties with the franchise's longtime superstar, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent. 

My guess has been that Pierce will end up on the Clippers, but recent events have caused me to treat anything that involves both the Celtics and the Clippers with a heavy dose of cynicism.

Regardless, Rivers leaving the organization would also cause Pierce to walk out the door. He doesn't want to be left alone, without his coach or his friend and fellow star there beside him. Rajon Rondo, talented point guard that he may be, isn't going to sway him in Boston's favor.

 

Who Becomes the Next Coach?

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There are a number of excellent coaches out on the market, and one of the big names will almost certainly replace Rivers in this hypothetical situation.

George Karl, Lionel Hollins and Brian Shaw are the leading candidates, and it's Shaw that should emerge as the front-runner. According to the Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes, this is already happening: 

Shaw, the coaching candidate who seems to have been rumored to go to virtually every team in the Association, would be a terrific fit for the Celtics. Originally drafted by Boston, the longtime assistant is ready to step up and take on the top coaching position out there. He's learned under the greats and has a championship pedigree.

More than anything else, though, Shaw is known for his ability to help develop players.

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He morphed Andrew Bynum from a potential-filled enigma into a paint-residing anchor on a championship-winning team. Then he helped Paul George blossom into an All-Star who could go toe-to-toe with LeBron James. These aren't coincidences; Shaw is a legitimate developer of talent.

As long as he doesn't try to neutralize Rondo's many talents by running the triangle offense, he'd be the perfect man to help shape Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo and whichever other young players the team brings in.

Without Rivers, Pierce and KG, Boston is inevitably entering into a bit of a rebuilding period. It may be a full rebuild or a mini one, but developing young talent is still absolutely crucial to the organization's long-term success.

 

Where Does the Team Go from Here?

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With three faces of the franchise departed, this squad belongs almost solely to Rajon Rondo. He's the talent the team must build around, so it's a good thing he's an MVP-caliber player when he puts it all together.

The problem is, even without Pierce and Garnett's hefty contracts on the books, Boston doesn't have the financial flexibility to retool this offseason.

Let's say that Ainge chooses to pick up the team options on Shavlik Randolph, D.J. White and Terrence Williams. Then Pierce's contract gets bought out and KG retires, thereby completely wiping his salary off the books. Additionally, the C's use their No. 16 draft pick and owe that rookie $1,348,200.

All together, Boston would be paying out $59,600,829. Even after using the stretch provision, Ainge would inevitably be left filling up the roster with players signed via the mid-level exception and minimum deals. Sign-and-trades could also work, but the general manager still couldn't bring in any big players.

There just isn't enough money to reel in the marquee names, so it appears likely that the C's will enter the season featuring Rondo, Jeff Green, Sullinger, Bradley and Brandon Bass as their primary players.

It would make for a rough season—by Boston standards—but it also open things up down the road. Ainge will have money to spend in 2014 if he's patient and doesn't blow the cap space on this season; it's far more beneficial for him to just bide his time.

Things don't look pretty in Boston if Pierce, KG and Rivers all leave, but it wouldn't stay that way for long.

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