Can Doc Rivers Actually Return to Celtics Bench After Wanting Out?
Now that Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers are no longer going to be getting together, it's time for the Boston Celtics to see if they can pick up the pieces and allow the gravel-voiced head coach to return to the sidelines of the TD Garden.
Unfortunately, those pieces are scattered all over the place, from the Charles River to Hollywood.
It's one thing to actively shop a player who has no other options, testing the waters to see what you can get for him. It's another matter entirely to attempt trading a head coach who is already disgruntled and contemplating either retirement or a move to another team.
That said, the deal is completely dead. According to the Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes, this has been confirmed by Boston general manager Danny Ainge:
Danny Ainge confirms to the @BostonGlobe that the proposed Clippers-Celtics deal is, in fact, dead.— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) June 18, 2013
This is no anonymous source, but rather words from the mouth of the man at the center of this failed deal. From the sounds of things—I hesitate to be any more definitive until the Clippers actually hire a different coach—Boston is moving firmly into the process of appeasing Doc.
That's no easy task, and it might be tougher still for Boston fans and players to accept Rivers returning to the sidelines after giving no clear indication that he still wanted to coach the team he once guided to a championship.
The original question posed in this article dealt with whether or not Rivers can actually return to the bench, and the answer is as complicated as these failed negotiations.
In short, It depends on the rest of the roster. As seems to be the case with everything else this offseason In Boston, what Ainge chooses to do with Paul Pierce will determine the fate of the franchise.
If Pierce Stays
Boston has until June 30 to decide whether it wants to keep Pierce on the roster for $12.4 million or buy out his contract and allow him to become an unrestricted free agent.
If "The Truth" is allowed to continue playing for the team with which he's spent his entire professional career, there's little doubt that Rivers will be able to pace the sidelines of the Garden once more. As Pierce goes, Kevin Garnett goes, and the relationship KG and Rivers share is a special one.
Keeping the small forward is a clear indication from Ainge that he believes in the short-term ability of the C's.
He'd be counting on a healthy Rajon Rondo coming back and allowing Boston to take the next step, cementing itself alongside the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls as one of the truly elite teams in the Eastern Conference.
There's something to be said for chemistry in the NBA, and that makes Rivers the best man for the job in this situation. Fans—the ones who have learned to appreciate the man who has coached the second-most games in Boston history and will pass Tom Heinsohn for the second-most wins in franchise history during the upcoming season—will easily accept this.
Nothing makes forgiveness easier than winning. It's the panacea of the sports world. Plus, there's a large contingent of people out there who don't even feel the need to forgive Rivers in the first place.
Players will still accept "Ubuntu," largely because they have no choice but to respect the man who helped hang the latest championship banner up in the rafters. Between that and the locker-room enforcement of KG, that won't be too difficult.
It's hard to see any players leading a mutiny during the 2013-14 season.
Garnett would never allow it, and Pierce's presence on the court strictly prohibits it. Even though Rivers has alienated most of the C's by making it quite clear that he wasn't completely committed to coaching them, his pacing up and down the sideline gives them the best chance at victory.
What's best for the Celtics if Pierce stays?
Rivers and his froggy voice are familiar with the Boston personnel. He knows how to coach them, and they know how to play in his system. He's also a certainty, whereas the rest of the coaching candidates are surrounded by questions marks.
George Karl and Lionel Hollins have emerged as fantastic head coaches, but we don't know how their philosophies would translate to Beantown. And as for Brian Shaw, we don't even know if he's capable of being a head coach yet. We think he will, but you don't want to just cross your fingers and hand him a contending roster.
The best option is still Rivers, despite all of the drama he's been a part of lately. But that's only true if Pierce and KG remain on the roster.
That's a big "if."
If Pierce Goes
Now let's say that No. 34 is indeed bought out by Ainge, and he departs Boston for a new location. The grass might not necessarily be greener—that's tough when you're leaving the Celtics—but Pierce would be given a true opportunity to compete for a title during the twilight of his career.
If this happens, you can bet on Garnett leaving town as well. As B/R's Matthew Schmidt states, there is no other option:
That's why Garnett is only going to come back if Pierce is in a Celtics uniform. San Antonio has given Boston hope, hope that, in KG's mind, is only legitimate if The Truth's leash is extended for another season.
Without Garnett, there's roughly a negative-3.2 percent chance that Rivers wants to stay. That's right. It's less than zero (not that such a thing is mathematically possible).
The head coach's relationship with Garnett was one of the few things keeping this option open, and he'd have no motivation to return to a locker room in which Rajon Rondo was the primary presence. The talented point guard is notoriously difficult to coach, and he never built the type of relationship that Rivers enjoyed with his two veteran teammates.
In fact, this whole situation would be rather problematic for the majority of Boston's remaining roster. The following is a quote from Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix, delivered in a radio interview on The Dan Patrick Show:
Doc hasn't taken a lot of grief, because Doc's a great guy. The media loves him, myself included, and he's done a fantastic job in Boston. But I'm not sure Doc can go back to Boston either way. I think he's burned this bridge pretty good. I'm not sure how he walks back into that Celtics locker room and looks at some of these young players in the eye and basically says, "I didn't want to coach you."
You know he wants to coach the veterans that are still there. He wants to make one more run, but the guys that are going to be part of this team long term—the Rajon Rondos, the Avery Bradleys, the Jeff Greens, the Jared Sullingers—I'm not sure how he goes back to them and says, "I'm still OK with coaching you, you still have to have the same level of respect for me." I think that you can't really put the genie back in the bottle here, and I think we may have reached the point of no return on Doc Rivers.
As Christina Aguilera once stated so eloquently, genies in the bottle have to be rubbed the right way. This whole trade fiasco has not allowed Rivers to make the proper strokes.
If Pierce and KG are gone, Boston is inevitably going to be thrust into some sort of rebuilding mode. It may not be a full rebuild, as there's still a lot of talent on the roster, but it's still going to be one of some sort.
Rivers is not the right coach for that situation.
While he's a great manager of personalities, a fantastic in-game coach and a tremendous motivator, the perennially hoarse sideline figure is not a great developer of talent. And when you're in a rebuild, that's what you need more than anything else.
Tough as this claim is to make, Brian Shaw would become a better fit for the roster.
What's best for the Celtics if Pierce leaves?
Throughout his time with the Los Angeles Lakers and Indiana Pacers, the future head coach has made his mark by speeding up the growth curves of young players. He helped Andrew Bynum take the next step before allowing Paul George and Lance Stephenson to truly blossom.
Given the inevitable presence of youth on the Boston roster, he'd be the best option in this situation.
Truth be told, we don't know yet whether Rivers can realistically return to the Celtics' bench. There are too many factors that lie outside of his control.
But by June 30, we will certainly have a better idea. Just as seems to be the case with everything this offseason, it hinges on what happens to Paul Pierce.
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