Doc Rivers has been the hottest name on the NBA coaching market this offseason, and he's technically not even available if you buy in to the traditional view that a contract is binding for the duration of the agreement.
But with the Boston Celtics facing a rebuilding situation sooner rather than later and with the team's biggest stars (Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce) facing the reality of Father Time, it's becoming clearer every day that the blood in the water is strong enough to lure teams above the surface to check in on the former NBA Finals-winning coach.
It should also tell Boston general manager Danny Ainge that Rivers' value as a head coach is still through the roof.
The will-they, won't-they conversations between the Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers over the past few days have been second fiddle to only the NBA Finals in terms of media coverage this week. Rivers is at the center of that discussion, since the Clippers need a new head coach to replace fired Vinny Del Negro.
Clippers guard Chris Paul is a free agent, and it's thought that he would re-up right away if Rivers and Garnett landed in L.A. over the next few days. However, the league reminded the two franchises today that teams cannot trade players and coaches in the same deal (via Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN), another potential snag in any Rivers movement.
The advanced stages of the negotiations between the Clippers and the Celtics are the hot-button topic right now, but Rivers has been the subject of speculation ever since Boston was knocked out of the 2013 NBA playoffs by the New York Knicks.
Things really started picking up through the first few days of June, as Rivers refused to commit to the 2013-14 season when prompted about his future with the franchise.
Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe also couldn't get anything out of Rivers about his intentions to continue his career with the C's:
Doc Rivers talks briefly with Globe but remains mum about his future. Story upcoming. #celtics— gary washburn (@GwashNBAGlobe) June 9, 2013
ESPN's Chris Broussard then broke ground with the stunning report that the one-time coach of the year (with Orlando back in 2000) has mulled over the idea of a change extensively in the weeks following his first-round playoff exit.
The Clippers appear close to a deal for one of the league's longest-tenured coaches, but there have been others who have tried to swoop in and assuage their coaching needs by making an offer to Boston during this process.
As Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported on Thursday, one of those teams was the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets reportedly offered Boston a first-round pick right away to try to sell management on a potential coach-for-asset swap, but that proposal was quickly declined.
Per the report, the Brooklyn Nets also reached out about Rivers before hiring Jason Kidd.
The main hang up right now in the Clippers-Celtics talk is just that—Boston is looking for enough return value for Rivers to feel comfortable enough to let him walk away from his final three contract years in town and transfer that commitment to another franchise.
Obviously the Celtics know how much value he's brought to the table in Boston. From managing the egos of three legitimate stars (Pierce, Garnett, Ray Allen) when the trio was first brought to Boston to the development of Rajon Rondo into a star in his own right, many of Boston's successes in the past decade are directly tied to Rivers.
The interest he's been getting league wide should tell you two things: One—Rivers is highly respected throughout the league, and every team that heard about a hesitance to stick around realized an opportunity was to be had.
Two—and maybe more importantly—the Celtics have to decide whether or not they want to risk Rivers growing weary of his job in the next three years, because time is running out with respect to the guys who had once been so integral in the team's success.
It's obvious he's still at the top of his game. Can Boston afford to move on without him for draft picks when he's been key to keeping the screws tightened on the ship despite raging winds and high seas?
Boston dealt with injuries, age and young-player struggles again this season. Pierce and Garnett were banged up, Rondo missed the latter half of the season with an ACL tear, and free-agent finds Jason Terry and Courtney Lee were wildly inconsistent.
Despite that, Rivers navigated the team through the toils of the East, won the No. 7 seed and found his squad in position to compete heavily with the No. 2 seed in the East (New York) in nearly every first-round-series game.
It's no wonder Boston continues to hold a high-dollar price on Rivers' head. With three years remaining on his contract, the Clippers would be getting one of the best in the game (under contract, I might add) and a roster equally full of talent.
While the discussions between the Celtics and Clippers will surely heat back up on Friday, it's worth noting that it's not just the Celtics who understand how important a good coach can be when it comes to righting the ship.
The Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke talked about that a little bit late Thursday night and noted how the Celtics are at a crossroads of their future by dangling out a coach who has been nothing short of a gold mine for one of the most storied franchises in NBA history like a carrot.
Where will Rivers end up after the offseason is over?
Will Boston pull the trigger and start rebuilding? Or will Ainge and company get cold feet when the reality of trying to find another coach with the kind of experience, drive and knowledge that Rivers has already established in Boston?
There's enough evidence to suggest that no one would blame them for the latter, but only time (and the NBA office) will tell us if we're looking at another coaching change in an offseason in which big names have been just as likely to move as small ones.
Even ones still under contract.