I can remember when everybody wanted Doc Rivers' head. As the Celtics struggled to a horrible 24-58 season that included a 19-game losing streak, the fans and media alike used Doc as a scapegoat. He was vilified by everybody, and blamed for all the Celtics' problems.
"Doc doesn't have a set rotation," they said.
"Doc plays too many players, and yanks around their minutes," said others.
"Doc is running this team and organization into the ground," was the chorus.
Then something funny happened. Danny Ainge decided to forever change Doc Rivers' coaching legacy with two decisions.
First, he decided to give Doc another chance. At the time, Ainge said that he felt Doc did what he could with the young, undeveloped talent he was coaching. Ainge's vote of confidence was shocking to the fan base, who cried for Doc's dismissal and wondered what in the hell Rivers had done that earned him Danny's approval.
Next, Ainge gave Rivers the two greatest gifts of his coaching life: the gifts of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Being able to coach the "Big Three" after coaching more or less an NBDL team must have been like exchanging the keys to your 1987 Chevy Cavalier for a brand new Maserati.
Suddenly, Rivers could do no wrong. With a team full of veterans chasing their elusive first championship, the team was inspired from the start and dedicated to chasing the rings they desperately desired.
Watching the way the Celtics came out of the gates and performed as a well-oiled machine from day one, it would be easy to give all the credit to the players. The Celtics had added two future hall-of-famers in addition to the great Paul Pierce, Kevin Gartnett and Ray Allen, and along the way assembled a very good bench consisting of James Posey, P.J. Brown, Sam Cassell, Eddie House and Leon Powe, among others.
But you can't just give the credit to the players. At no other time in NBA history has a team fused so quickly to immediately become the best team in the league. If you look at past NBA champions, they all had to experience growing pains and playoff defeat before gaining the experience needed to win the championship.
Bird's Celtics had to learn how to beat the 76ers, Jordan's Bulls had to figure out the Detroit "Bad Boys" Pistons, and the Shaq and Kobe Lakers had to take their lumps against the Spurs.
Not the Celtics, though. On opening night 2008, they came out and walloped the Washington Wizards, and the season went pretty much the same way. The Celtics blew through the regular season and overcame every obstacle in the playoffs in a completely unprecedented turnaround that wasn't only the players fault.
Doc Rivers deserves a lot of credit for getting that whole team on the same page. From the first day of training camp, Doc's motto "Ubuntu" (an African term loosely defined as "togetherness") was far more than just a saying. Doc got everybody together, fighting for the same goal, striving towards a mutual destination.
In the free agency era, where egos are big and everyone is looking to make a the big bucks for their next contract, it is almost impossible for a coach to keep his team all on one path to a championship.
Well, that's precisely what Doc did. Not all of basketball coaching has to do with X's and O's. A lot of it is being able to manage people and personalities to assure that a team's best needs are being looked out for.
When a team has twelve players all willing to put aside all their personal agendas and do whatever it takes to get wins, it's amazing what a basketball team can achieve.
While Doc was toiling away in basketball no-man's land, coaching an inexperienced bunch of basketball toddlers, his ability to connect to his players and get them to buy into a team concept was overlooked.
Today, Doc still yanks his players' minutes around and he still makes some unfathomably bad decisions (putting Tony Allen in at the end of Game Six vs. Chicago???). Nonetheless, there isn't a single coach in the league, in my eyes, who could have done as good a job with the past two Celtics' teams as Doc has.
Despite all his obvious shortcomings, Doc has still managed to complete the single most effective way to win games and maximize his team's potential; he gets his teams to buy into the system and he gets them to sacrifice for the good of the team.
All this talk about Doc begs the following question: Without Doc, would the Celtics still have won the championship last year and overachieved while playing without the injured KG this year? I'm not sure, but I do know this—With Doc leading the way, they did.
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