SAN ANTONIO -- Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge are on the same page in wanting to avoid a rebuild of the Celtics, but it's not clear whether enough moves could be made to persuade Rivers to return for his 10th season as Boston's coach, league sources told CBSSports.com.
Nearly six weeks after the Celtics' season ended with a first-round playoff loss to the Knicks, Rivers remains noncommittal about coaching in Boston next season. His public comments on his future stand in stark contradiction to his immediate announcement that he'd be back after the Celtics lost to the Heat in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals. This time, after the Celtics lost to the Knicks in six games, Rivers said, "I'm coming back until I say I'm not."
Rivers, 51, has three years and $21 million left on the contract extension he signed after that loss to Miami two years ago. In his only public comments since Boston's season ended, Rivers told the Boston Globe this week, "I'd rather not say," when asked if he planned to coach the Celtics next season.
According to an NBA front-office source, Rivers has given indications he "might be ready for a new situation."
Rivers has been attending the Celtics' pre-draft workouts and huddling with Ainge to chart the offseason strategy -- one that could become an exit strategy for Rivers if the remnants of Boston's Big Three era can't be parlayed into moves that sustain the team as a championship contender.
"[Doc] has been pretty open that he doesn't want to coach in a rebuilding environment," said a person briefed on Rivers' conversations with Ainge. "And if they make some moves, they're not going to have a rebuilding environment. That's Danny's challenge."
Ainge, never wary of discussing bold moves, is in agreement with Rivers that a rebuilding of the Celtics' roster isn't ideal, sources said. But with an aging core and a payroll that is pushing up against the dreaded luxury-tax apron -- where the full mid-level exception, bi-annual exception and sign-and-trade acquisitions are restricted -- the Celtics' options are limited.
Paul Pierce, who turns 36 next season, has only $4 million guaranteed and could be let go. Kevin Garnett, 37, has more than $18 million guaranteed over the next two seasons and has been contemplating retirement. Given their age and the fact that Pierce, especially, could be available after a buyout or via the amnesty waiver process, the two remaining members of Boston's Big Three do not have significant trade value. Garnett also has a no-trade clause and would have to sign off on any deal sending him to a new team.
"They made a conscious decision a couple of years ago to kind of play it out with that group," a league source said. "Now, a couple of years later, there's an expiration date."
If Rivers became available, he'd immediately soar to the top of the list for every team still seeking a new head coach. The Nets and Clippers have previously been denied permission to interview Rivers for their vacancies. The Grizzlies are another team that would jump at the chance to sit down with Rivers if he walked away from the Celtics, sources said.
The Nets interviewed recently retired point guard Jason Kidd on Monday for their head coaching vacancy and came away impressed with his commitment and credentials. Brooklyn is meeting on Wednesday with Pacers associate head coach Brian Shaw.
If Rivers left the Celtics, they'd become the 13th NBA team to change head coaches this offseason.