Doc Rivers: What Adjustments Must He Make for the Boston Celtics?
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If you’re like Abacus, when you first read the headline of this article, you paused and wondered, “Is this a trick question?”
You know, the kind your Mom would ask, “Is the mess going to clean itself up?”
Rhetorical, that’s what it’s called. The answer’s so obvious that you feel like a fool, no matter what you say.
How should Doc fine-tune the Celtics? The best way he sees fit; it’s not as if he doesn’t have the pedigree needed to make these decisions.
Let’s dawdle over that pedigree for a second.
With seven Celtic seasons now under his belt, Rivers ranks as the longest-tenured Boston Celtic coach not a product of the Red Auerbach tree.
And with good reason.
Take a listen to former Lakers coach Phil Jackson after Game Four of the 2010 Finals. “I'll tell you what he's done well: He's done well with matchups; he's done well in attacking some of our weaker guys out there on the floor in situations that's given them an advantage.
"He's used his bench exceptionally well…Sometimes those last 15, 20 games in the regular season can get to be arduous and you can beat a dead horse into a situation you don't want to get into, and I think Doc rode his team the right way.”
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No wonder GM Danny Ainge sounded downright giddy a couple of months ago while announcing his “new” Celtics coach.
As an NBA player, Rivers enjoyed multi-year stints under coaches Mike Fratello and Pat Riley. Perhaps most influentially, his final two seasons were spent at the Gregg Popovich Future Coach’s Academy in San Antonio.
Even the year Doc got himself exiled to the Clippers, he spent nearly half that season playing for Larry Brown, under whose professorial branches Pop received a fair bit of schooling.
With his NBA title attached, not a bad little resume, eh?
So dare we ask, “What should Doc do with this team?”
The question’s still feels “loaded.” Maybe the answer is not to listen to pompous knuckleheads who call themselves Abacus.
Everybody knows there are roster decisions to be made, retentions as well as new acquisitions. But regardless to the actual make-up of the roster, it will be the task of the coaching staff, meaning Glenn “Doc” Rivers, to mold a successful unit, almost certainly without a full training camp and in a significantly reduced regular-season window.
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Regarding the roster, last year’s Saga of Shaquille O’Neal, as unsatisfying as the conclusion may have been, does go to show that high-profile players are willing to play, even for short money, for this team and this coach.
So, for the sake of our discussion here, let’s assume that the Celtic personnel brain-trust can assemble what they feel is a suitable roster to allow the current nucleus to compete for the championship.
What style of play will let Rajon and those old Rondettes da doo run, run?
Well, at the risk of being presumptuous (like that ever stopped a school teacher, retired or not), Abacus would like to offer a two-part response to that troubling headline inquiry, each of the parts culled from Celtic legend and legends.
First of all, Kevin Garnett must become the version of Bill Russell that played for Coach Bill Russell, first and foremost a defensive rebounder and outlet passer. Anything you get from him on the offensive end of the floor has to be considered gravy.
Naturally, this requires that they push the tempo of play constantly. The Celtic Fast Break: there’s a novel concept, huh?
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Think Rondo wouldn’t love pushing the ball at every opportunity, the new Tiny Archibald?
And that fast pace can actually spare old legs. Toward the end of his career, Russell often never even made it to half-court. He didn’t need to.
So, Garnett becomes Russell. (Actually, Abacus would settle for the kind of fierce defensive rebounder Dave Cowens was at his best.)
One more makeover is needed, and that would involve Paul Pierce.
Although it might be tempting to think of that Century 21 fast break da doo run, running all the way to Banner No. 18, crunch time in playoff basketball demands a dependable set offense.
Why not design a set of plays using Pierce as a mid-post about halfway down the lane and a couple of steps outside it?
Even before the onset of his debilitating back problems, Larry Bird wreaked havoc from that very spot on the floor.
It provides for good spacing.
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There’s enough room to feed the low post, and not too far from a step-back three pointer.
Simple like the pick-and-roll, deceptive and varied like Tex Winter’s triangle offense.
Pierce would seem to have the requisite skill and basketball IQ to fill the Larry role.
Let’s run it up the flagpole.
If all this should work out, it wouldn’t be the first time Doc Rivers was involved in a merging of past, present and future on a Boston basketball floor.
In the summer of 1979, high school junior Glenn Rivers, even then dubbed Doc, was following a Chicago hoops tradition, established by the likes of Bo Ellis, Ricky Green and Mark Aguirre, of representing his hometown in a flashy tournament called the Boston Shootout.
Among the highlights of the weekend were the warm-ups before the first night’s games. Each team was given its own time to shine, and those kids would put on a show. Young Mr. Rivers’ rise didn’t disappoint in those days.
Doc’s Chicagoans came up shy in the semi-finals against that year’s D.C. entry, which featured a couple of guards named Derek Whittenberg and Sidney Lowe.
Abacus seems to recall a story about those two guys – ends with a championship, right?
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