The longtime Celtics coach, who jostled his way out of Boston’s pending rebuilding era and will now coach the contending Los Angeles Clippers, per Jackie MacMullan of ESPN Boston, isn’t defrauding the franchise nor is he doing anything out of character for the league.
Rivers is making the best decision for his career, and it’s actually benefiting the Celtics.
The back-and-forth reports of the trade began late in the postseason, with Rivers' noncommittal stance to returning to the Celtics despite being under contract through 2015-16. On Sunday, an agreement in principle was finally reached to send Rivers to the Clippers in exchange for a 2015 first-round pick.
The coach of the Celtics since 2004, Rivers had signed a five-year, $35 million extension in May of 2011 during more prosperous times despite the obvious understanding that stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett wouldn’t sustain the life of the deal.
Two years into the contract, those realities have begun to occur.
The Celtics have a June 30 deadline to decide whether or not to return Pierce next season for $15.3 million or to buy him out for $5 million. That decision would ultimately determine whether or not the team would move toward rebuilding and if Garnett would remain in Boston.
It must have become clear to Rivers that Celtics lead decision-maker Danny Ainge was going to part with Pierce and reconstruct the franchise rather than take a shot at contending for another year, and as a result, Rivers initiated the first step in the team’s new direction.
All this is obviously contrary to what Rivers said after signing his extension in 2011. Back then, he said he was willing to rebuild, and he was quoted: “Coaches talk about loyalty and team all the time. I just thought it was time to show it. And that’s what I did.”
Instead, when it came down to it, Rivers chose to contend immediately in Los Angeles rather than remain with the rebuilding Celtics led by Rajon Rondo, the likely remaining superstar whom Rivers reportedly nearly fought at a team meeting, as written by Chris Sheridan.
Call Rivers disloyal, double-crossing, unpatriotic...whatever you’d like.
Just don’t forget one thing: Boston would have done the same thing and ditched Rivers as the eventual fall guy if there were a better option to win.
How many coaches survived the knife of ownership this past season when things went poorly? If Rivers stayed two years through a losing rebuilding process, how loyal would the Celtics have been near the end of his contract?
Rivers’ desire to jettison Boston reveals a larger sociological issue: Loyalty is only relative to the next-best option.
So for those ready to smear Rivers for running from Boston’s problems: Don’t be irrational.
This isn’t Rivers’ fault. His leaving isn’t the problem—it’s actually the solution. The overhaul of the Celtics roster is necessary, and the deal benefits both sides. His high-priced coaching isn't meant for rebuilding years, and Boston will now save cash and receive an unprotected future draft pick as help in reinventing the franchise.
Don’t be mad at Rivers. He just did what most NBA guys do: He left a dire situation for a promising one.
How many of us would do it differently?