Professional coaching is a very cold profession. Like peers George Karl and Lionel Hollins, Rivers knows he can be fired at any time, even after a winning season. So Rivers took his fate in his own hands.
Just don’t expect everything to remain cool in Boston.
Rivers doesn’t deserve to be vilified like Ray Allen. At least Rivers was more upfront with his lack of interest in rebuilding the Celtics, unlike Allen, who dragged the Celtics along to a two-year, $12 million offer with a no-trade clause only to accept a lesser deal with Boston’s rival, the Miami Heat. That had the feel of sticking it to his former team.
The Celtics organization has been great to Rivers for nine years and this is how he repays them? They showed patience even through an 18-game losing streak. As demands for Rivers’ head mounted, even after a 24-58 season in 2006-07, support for the coach never wavered.
And that support was rewarded when the Celtics won their first championship since the 1985-86 season. In all, Rivers led Boston to two NBA Finals, three Eastern Conference Finals and six straight playoff appearances from 2008 to 2013.
But with a second rebuilding campaign over the horizon, Rivers wanted nothing to do with it, contradicting what he said during a WEEI Radio interview after signing a five-year, $35 million extension in 2011. He was open to rebuilding then:
Well, I don’t think anyone’s looking forward to that, but I’m willing to do that. I had a group that has been very loyal to me. I think it would have been very easy for me to just run and go somewhere else and chase something else. Who says that we still can’t [reload] with free agency and adding the right pieces? While our Big Three are getting older, we have to add the right supporting cast to them. In that transition, hopefully we can still chase what we want.
It would have been easier to do it the other way; I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do. Coaches talk about loyalty and team all the time. I just thought it was time to show it. And that’s what I did.
Did all that winning spoil Rivers?
Hard to disagree with Rivers wanting to coach a contender, but which coach doesn’t? Anyone that takes a head-coaching job in the NBA wants to win. If all coaches only wanted to coach ready-to-win teams, there might be a dozen teams without a head coach annually.
As for the claim that Rivers earned the right to leave for a contender, there are plenty of coaches that repeatedly take on losing teams and turn them around. Larry Brown and Karl are just two coaches with records of taking underperforming teams and turning them into winners. They embrace such challenges instead of running from them.
Time will tell if Rivers can lead the Clippers out of the talented Western Conference and to the franchise’s first championship. But getting Rivers to Los Angeles was difficult enough.
Rivers tried not to play this drama out in the media. But his reluctance to publicly commit to returning to Boston for next season fueled speculation that turned out to be true.
Rivers also wanted to ensure that the Celtics weren’t left high and dry from his departure. But whatever leverage president of basketball operations Danny Ainge had was nearly blown when a story claimed that Rivers would return to broadcasting instead of coaching the Celtics for another season.
Not that Rivers returning to Boston in 2013-14 ever had a chance. That bridge went up in flames. The Celtics knew Rivers wanted no part of grinding through rebuilding with them.
And who can fault Paul? Rivers has a championship on his coaching resume. Brian Shaw has never coached a team at any level. And while Paul played four years under Byron Scott in New Orleans, Scott never coached a team to a Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Rivers big-timed the Celtics, cherry-picking a new opportunity like he’s Phil Jackson. Thankfully, Rivers will be far away on the West Coast and the Celtics will experience the slight in person only twice per season. On his return to Boston, Rivers deserves one standing ovation for leading the Celtics to Banner 17, Boston’s first championship in 22 years.
Rivers will never be just another coach to the Celtics. For walking away for greener pastures, he lost much of the reverence he gained in Boston.
Retiring is one thing. Abandoning the Celtics for the Clippers will stick in the craw of many in Celtic Nation.
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