Paul Perillo made an interesting observation the other day on PFW In Progress. He cited coach Belichick’s stone-cold demeanor in approaching the Colts game, and then he contrasted that intensity to the events of the actual game in which Belichick experimented with his roster and tinkered with his chess pieces like it was a preseason contest.
Fred Kirsch added an interesting follow-up point; week-to-week, it’s like “community auditions” with New England’s defensive backfield, and it’s becoming clear that this Patriots roster is still in a fluid state of change.
I’d prefer to call it “evolution,” but I’m not certain whether we’re moving forwards or backwards. Only the playoffs will tell.
Listening to Perillo and Kirsch analyze coach Belichick from that angle got me thinking about another Boston coach who likes to tinker with his roster—Doc Rivers.
Doc is known for his ability to squeeze productivity out of every single player on his team. Back when the Celtics were deep into the ‘08 season and making their run at the crown, they rather suddenly acquired Sam Cassell and P.J. Brown to help complete their title quest.
On the surface, the addition of Cassell and Brown really didn’t seem all that important to anyone, let alone to Celtics fans. Neither guy was really anybody’s idea of a “missing piece.”
This was especially true of Brown; he was already retired at the time, but that didn’t stop Paul Pierce from using the All-Star break as a business trip to lure him off the proverbial golf course and bring him to Boston as a metaphorical closer.
Brown and Cassell both proved to be vital pickups; they made small but tremendously important plays when their numbers were called. What Cassell lacked physically, he made up for in the emotional and mental leadership he provided for the team, and Brown nailed two or three shots that completely altered the course of significant playoff games in Boston’s favor.
And that’s what Doc Rivers does; he plays with his toys, he puts everyone on the court, and he extracts the maximum amount of mojo possible from every player he has—no matter what their particular skill set might be.
Here’s proof positive of that: Doc made Brian Scalabrine a star in Boston, and you and I both know that Brian Scalabrine is not a good basketball player. But, Doc didn’t care about Scal’s unlimited shortcomings because he was able to exploit the one or two things Scal did well.
He provided a spark of energy off the bench, his presence on the court invigorated the home crowd, which contagiously rejuvenated the rest of the team, and he semi-routinely hit timely threes. Boom, maximized potential.
That’s the magic of Doc; he plays his players in different schemes and rotations, he mixes and matches five-man units on the floor, he shifts his guys in and out of positions they may or may not be accustomed to playing, and he finds ways to make everybody contribute.
That’s the Doc Rivers way. That’s sort of the Bill Belichick way, too, but with a far more ominous tone. With Doc, it’s, “You’re a Celtic, therefore you will contribute.” With Bill, it’s, “You’re a Patriot, therefore you will contribute, or else one of three things will happen: 1) you won’t play, 2) you’ll play just infrequently enough to keep you from getting into a rhythm and establishing yourself, or 3) you’ll get cut from the team.”
Yes, both coaches play with their toys, but while Doc simply changes the batteries when a few of them aren’t working properly, Bill just smashes them with a mallet. Or, perhaps that’s too harsh.
Let’s just say he donates them to charity, and that’s really where the philosophies of these two great Boston icons reach the proverbial fork in the road. Is one philosophy better than the other?
Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it doesn’t matter at all, or maybe it means everything. They’re both phenomenal coaches, so let’s chalk it up to a matter of varying approach.
As long as there’s a trophy at the end of the journey, I suppose it doesn’t matter which route you take to get there. But then again, Coach Belichick has a fistful of rings to his name.