Doc Rivers is a tremendous basketball coach, but he's a truly remarkable politician.
That's been the case over virtually his entire coaching career. Rivers' improvement on the clipboard has elevated him near the top of his craft, but it was an inherent ability to reach players and negotiate on-court differences that made Rivers such an interesting coaching talent to begin with. So much of an NBA coaching staff's work is managerial, and Rivers has mastered the art of conflict minimization. Everything is handled with both authority and charisma.
All of which goes to explain why Rivers—as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports—decided to shoulder the blame for Ray Allen's departure and shield his locker room from an irritating external influence:
People can use all the Rondo stuff – and it was there, no doubt about that – but it was me more than Rondo," said Rivers, who is working as an NBC analyst during the Olympics. "I'm the guy who gave Rondo the ball. I'm the guy who decided that Rondo needed to be more of the leader of the team. That doesn't mean guys liked that – and Ray did not love that – because Rondo now had the ball all the time.
Think about everything [Allen] said when he left, 'I want to be more of a part of the offense.' Everything was back at Rondo. And I look at that, and say, 'That's not Rondo's fault.' That's what I wanted Rondo to do, and that's what Rondo should've done. Because that's Rondo's ability. He's the best passer in the league. He has the best feel in the league. He's not a great shooter, so he needs the ball in his hands to be effective. And that bothered Ray.
"And not starting [games] bothered Ray. I did examine it, and the conclusion I came back to was this: By doing the right things, we may have lost Ray. If I hadn't done that, I would've been a hypocrite. In the opening speech I make every year, I tell the team: 'Every decision I make is going to be what's good for the team, and it may not be what's good for the individual.'
Rivers is undoubtedly right, if only in the sense that Allen would be an extremely petty man to move teams on the basis of his relationship with Rondo alone. We know him to be more intelligent and more complex than that. Surely a variety of factors—including, but not limited to, those discussed above—went into Allen's Miami defection. Any decision of such magnitude demands careful consideration, and Allen is just the kind of athlete to grant it such.
And that truth, in a nutshell, is part of what makes Rivers such a brilliant leader and communicator. He accepts blame, speaks the truth and defends Rondo in one fell swoop—completely changing the nature of the conversation and bringing Allen's move to Boston some much-needed clarity (and sanity).
Allen didn't betray the Celtics. He was looking for things the team could no longer provide. Although his possibly-strained relationship with Rondo may not have helped matters, those lamenting Allen's departure have the team's more general direction to blame.
That's a shame, but it happens. Having only Rivers' sound decision-making to blame may not be as cathartic for Celtic fans, but that's the way it goes with fair portrayals given by a voice of reason. Anyone with a creative mind can make a man into a villain, but that doesn't make the bits of circumstantial evidence any more conclusive than they actually are.
It's true that Rivers has every reason in the world to try to cool down a rumor of his locker room's failures, but all he really did in this case was the very thing he's done so deftly for so long: offer the momentum-driven world of sports a chance to slow down and a chance to benefit from a more sensible perspective.