For a franchise as proud as the Boston Celtics, the past few weeks has turned its fortunes upside down in a flash.
After weeks of speculation, Glenn “Doc” Rivers officially left the Celtics after nine seasons to instead coach the Los Angeles Clippers. Rivers will also serve as senior vice-president for basketball operations for the decades-long inept Clips.
From Beantown to Tinseltown
Rumors first spread of Rivers wanting to bolt Boston after they lost in the playoffs, but really caught steam when the NBA Finals ended. With Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge looking at rebuilding the team that won the 2008 NBA Championship, Rivers supposedly didn’t want to be around for the process.
Indeed, within days after signing his three-year, $21-million contract for Donald T. Sterling’s team, the Celtics blew up their championship core. Ray Allen already left last season to win a title in Miami, now Boston traded away the other two legs of their “Big Three” by sending Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets.
In a move rarely made in professional sports, the Clippers essentially traded a player for a coach as they gave up a 2015 first-round draft pick to Boston. To replace a coach in Vinny del Negro who helped the team get the most wins in franchise history, as well as present Chris Paul with a coach who gets respect from around the league, the Clippers were willing to make these sweeping moves.
Clippers’ big beef-up
It’s already paid off as Paul has confirmed he will re-sign with the team once the NBA moratorium on free agents ends on July 10. Also returning will be free agent Matt Barnes, while they’ve agreed to sign point guard Darren Collison and big man Ryan Hollins. In a three team-deal with Milwaukee and Phoenix, the Suns got Eric Bledsoe, the Bucks got a second round pick, while the Clippers got swingman Jared Dudley.
This early in the offseason, it’s becoming abundantly clear that Sterling’s team wants to build on last season’s 56-win tally. With Paul and Blake Griffin as centerpieces, and with Rivers looking to emphasize defense for both Griffin and Deandre Jordan, this franchise doesn’t want to go back to the shadows where the crosstown Lakers have kept them for decades.
Who are these Celtics?
As for Boston, the 17-time NBA Champion has been eviscerated by these moves. Rajon Rondo is now the unquestioned leader of the team, but he’s still recovering from a season-ending ACL injury. Jeff Green and Avery Bradley, whose games were up and down last year, will be expected to carry more of the load.
When they traded Garnett, Pierce, and the contract of the inefficient Jason Terry, they received the huge contract of Gerald Wallace, Kim Kardashian’s ex-boytoy Kris Humphries, Reggie Evans, Tornike Shengelia, Keith Bogans, Kris Joseph, and first-round draft picks in 2014, 2016, and 2018.
To manage this mess, Ainge was able to lure Butler University head coach Brad Stevens to be his new bench tactician. Ainge is now gambling that Stevens disproves the notion that college coaches can’t handle the NBA, although there’s a long line of names such as Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Lon Kruger, Mike Montgomery, and many more who will say otherwise.
This is the mess that Rivers didn’t want to be a part of, and that’s the main reason why he pursued leaving for sunny LA. If he wasn’t going to coach Garnett and Pierce, then he’d rather handle Paul, Griffin, and their younger roster for a few more chances to compete for a title.
The Rivers move has left a bad taste in the collective mouths of Boston sports fans. In rapid succession, the Boston Bruins lost the Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks, New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested for suspicion of the murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd, and Rivers bolted the Cs.
In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings in April, Rivers emerged as an even more loved figure in the city for his messages of hope for the victims. With his departure, however, many Boston fans have already labeled him a quitter, a traitor, and a duplicitous individual with his own selfish agenda.
From title contenders, the Celtics are now on full rebuild mold with the untested Stevens in charge.
As Pitino, the last college coach the Celtics hired to take charge, famously said when he was being overwhelmed by the Boston press on March 1, 2000, “Larry Bird is not walking through that door, fans. Kevin McHale is not walking through that door, and Robert Parish is not walking through that door. And if you expect them to walk through that door, they’re going to be gray and old. And as soon as they realize that those three guys are not coming through the door, the better this town will be for all of us. All the negativity in this town sucks.”
And people wonder why Pitino is still loathed in Beantown.
Ainge can only hope that Stevens doesn’t suffer a meltdown of Pitino-like proportions. The man who shared the backcourt with Dennis Johnson and that classic Big Three frontline of Bird, McHale, and Parish, Ainge has often said that if he was in charge back then, he would have gotten value for the aging trio before their bodies broke down.
Now, in 2013, he’s done that for his current Celtics roster. He wants to stock up on draft picks in hopes of eventually getting younger and better through the draft. His problem is, can Ainge preach patience to a city so used to winning, especially during the Pierce, Garnett, Allen era?