Posted on: June 30, 2010 1:35 pm
Edited on: June 30, 2010 2:03 pm
Doc Rivers has decided to return for the final year of his contract to coach the Celtics, a person familiar with the decision confirmed to CBSSports.com Wednesday. Rivers had been thinking about stepping down to spend more time with his family.
The news of Rivers' return for one more year, first reported by the Boston Herald, should calm nerves across New England as the Celtics faced the destruction of their successful nucleus with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce hitting the unrestricted free-agent market at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. Rivers, though, is the glue that has held the Big Three together. With his commitment to return, the Celtics almost certainly will focus on upgrading the supporting cast rather than replacing Allen or Pierce.
Though Rivers, according to Yahoo! Sports, received a raise over the $5.5 million he was due for next season, his indecision about returning was not about the money. Those close to Rivers say he was seriously conflicted about returning to the bench vs. taking a year or two off to watch his children play high school and college sports. In fact, Rivers has been in San Antonio watching his son, Austin, dominate the FIBA Under-18 World Championships. As you can see, Austin has a little more hang time than his pop.
Rivers was emotional in the postgame news conference after the Celtics lost to the Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, seemingly melancholy about the uncertain future for the Celtics of the Big Three era. Rasheed Wallace, recruited by Rivers, team president Danny Ainge, and the Celtics' veteran core to join them this past season, has decided to retire. Kevin Garnett has two more years on his contract, and Rajon Rondo has five years left. But Allen is unrestricted and Pierce opted out of his $21.5 million deal for next season. Both intend to return, but nothing is a given in the frenzied free-agent negotiating period that will begin about 11 hours after Rivers' decision became public.
The timing of Rivers' decision was no coincidence; only he in the Celtics' organization has the persuasive powers to convince Pierce and Allen to forego potentially lucrative invitations to compete for a championship elsewhere, possibly with other marquee free agents. Those invitations will come fast and furious, but the knowledge that Rivers will be back certainly will give Pierce and Allen pause about leaving.
Ainge has every intention of keeping Pierce and Allen, and both players prefer to stay in Boston and make at least one more run at a title together. Rivers is the best negotiating tool Ainge has.
On his way out of Staples Center after an emotional locker room session with his players and the emotional news conference, Rivers encountered a heckling Lakers fan who'd somehow gotten past security. The fan taunted Rivers, asking him how it felt to lose to the Lakers -- a team Rivers' Celtics had beaten in the Finals two years earlier. NBA security director Bernie Tolbert shooed the fan away. Rivers, displaying the class that has made him one of the most respected coaches in the NBA, offered no reaction -- just kept walking, into a summer of uncertainty that looks a lot more promising now for the Celtics.
Posted on: June 29, 2010 11:05 pm
Edited on: June 30, 2010 12:31 am
Add Paul Pierce to the growing list of elite free agents. The Celtics' star notified the team Tuesday that, as expected, he'll exercise the early termination option in his contract and become an unrestricted free agent, said his agent, Jeff Schwartz.
Under normal circumstances, Pierce, 32, would be pretty well assured of returning to Boston in an attempt to chase down another championship. But these are not normal times for the Celtics. Ray Allen is an unrestricted free agent, too, and coach Doc Rivers continues to wrestle with the decision of whether to return to the bench next season or watch his children play college sports.
In some ways, it's a risky move for Pierce to leave $21.5 million on the table next season. But with so many teams chaseing free agents, Pierce will generate plenty of interest from those who strike out on the top-tier players. If nothing else, Pierce re-ups with the Celtics and surpasses that amount with a multi-year deal.
Though the Celtics want to retain Pierce, it's actually welcome news that he's opting out. Even if Boston pays Pierce the max -- $20.8 million next season for a player of his experience -- they still save $1.5 million due to luxury tax implications. Pierce will make up the difference on the back end, while also locking in for three or four more years under the current salary rules, which will be tilted in the owners' favor in the next collective bargaining agreement. Meanwhile, the Celtics will set about trying to determine if their core -- including Rivers -- is staying together.
Even in the unlikely event that Allen and Pierce both leave, it's farfetched for the Celtics to have enough cap room to afford a marquee free agent. They would have flexibility, however, for sign-and-trades.
Posted on: June 24, 2010 7:57 pm
NEW YORK -- Stunning news came down moments before the NBA draft began Thursday night. No, LeBron James didn't try to reinstate his college eligibility and join John Calipari at Kentucky. Something more unbelievable: The Trail Blazers fired GM Kevin Pritchard, telling him an hour before the draft that it would be his last day of work for the team.
Jason Quick of the Oregonian first reported the firing, which is surprising only for its bizarre timing. Pritchard's right-hand man, former assistant GM Tom Penn, was fired in March, and the writing has been on the wall for Pritchard ever since. Pritchard, who along with Penn was responsible for building one of the most competitive and financially successful franchises in the NBA, will presumably make the 22nd and 44th picks in Thursday's draft -- which he spent months preparing for -- and then start looking for work. Penn has found work already, at least temporarily; he was at the Theater at Madison Square Garden Thursday night working as a salary-cap analyst on ESPN's draft telecast.
According to the Oregonian, owner Paul Allen informed Pritchard of his dismissal Thursday night and instructed him to conduct the draft before leaving the organization. The Portland GM opening now joins a few leadership black holes around the league. The Suns didn't renew GM Steve Kerr's contract, and assistant GM David Griffin decided to leave the organization after being informed that there would be a formal search for Kerr's replacement. Denver GM Mark Warkentien's contract expires Aug. 31, and the organization has made no efforts to re-sign him. Danny Ainge's future in Boston also is up in the air with the possibility that coach Doc Rivers could step down.
As for the gaping hole left in the Portland front office by Pritchard's classless dismissal, the question becomes: Who would want to work for a franchise that treats its people the way the Blazers have treated Pritchard and Penn? The lure of the Blazers' roster and rabid fan base will be a huge calling card for any potential candidate, but buyer beware. Apparently, the money isn't great, either. One of the points of contention that led to Pritchard's ouster was his displeasure with his approximately $1 million salary -- not much more than assistant GMs make in other cities and a quarter of coach Nate McMillan's compensation. Pritchard had one year remaining on his contract.
According to a person familiar with the Blazers' internal dynamics, one option would be to appoint team president Larry Miller, head of the team's business operations, to serve as the figurehead replacement for Pritchard and hire a competent No. 2 to handle the day-to-day basketball decisions.
Posted on: June 17, 2010 7:32 pm
LOS ANGELES – Among the subplots swirling around Game 7 of the NBA Finals is what happens next for both teams. Regardless of the outcome, big changes could be on the way for the Lakers and Celtics.
Boston’s Big Three aren’t getting any younger, and Doc Rivers hasn’t tipped his hand about whether he’ll step away from coaching next season to spend more time with his family. The Lakers’ roster is far less fragile than it was when they lost to the Pistons in the 2004 Finals, but the key figure who holds everything together, Phil Jackson, has the power to blow it all apart.
“There’s a lot of questions in terms of what Phil’s going to do,” said Derek Fisher, the Lakers’ only core player who isn’t under contract for next season. “He’s probably the biggest thing that turns the trifle in terms of how the future looks, as far as whether he’s back or not.”
When the Lakers have experienced playoff failures in the past – the poor showing in the ’04 Finals, the back-to-back first-round losses to Phoenix – the threat of major changes has never been far behind. The ’04 team was a different story, given the way it was patched together with future Hall of Famers Gary Payton and Karl Malone. After the 2007 loss to the Suns, Kobe Bryant went on the infamous offseason rampage when he issued, then rescinded a trade demand.
“You talk about franchises where there’s tradition to win championships, that’s what you expect,” Lamar Odom said. “This is the type of pressure that we live for. This is what makes us. This is what makes being a sportsman, playing for an organization that’s established like this: the Cowboys, the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Celtics, the L..A. Lakers. That’s just the way it is.”
The key figure who could prevent all hell from breaking lose in Laker Land, Jackson, hasn’t tipped his hand – not even to his players and coaches.
“Although it appears that I’m a lot closer to it, I’m actually in the same seat that you are,” said assistant coach Brian Shaw, one of those who would be in line to replace Jackson if he retired. “He hasn’t let us know or given us an indication one way or the other. So we have to just sit and play it by ear just like everybody else.”
Said Fisher: “I have no clue to be honest. I don’t think he does either. He tries to teach us in terms of just embracing the now and the moment and being here in the present and not really worrying about what’s coming down the line. I think it’s the same way for him. I think he’ll gage where he is emotionally and physically. Obviously, the result [of Game 7] could play a part in it.”
Same goes for the Celtics, who face the prospect of losing Rivers and seeing that trigger major roster changes. Ray Allen will be an unrestricted free agent, Paul Pierce can opt out of his contract and become one, and Kevin Garnett – though under contract for two more years – clearly is in decline.
"It’s one of the toughest things, which Boston will face here probably pretty shortly,” said Shaw, a former Celtic and Laker. “KG is getting up there, plus Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rasheed [Wallace]. I know the Boston team that I played on in the late 80s, they had [Kevin] McHale, [Robert] Parrish, DJ [Dennis Johnson], [Larry] Bird – these guys all kind of got older at the same time. Do you show loyalty and keep everybody until the wheels fall off and then have to start over? Look how long it took Boston to get back to where they are now. Or do you say, ‘Some guys are getting kind of towards the end,’ and try to infuse some youth?’”
Critical decisions that both teams will be facing, days or even hours after one of them is crowned champion.
Posted on: May 14, 2010 4:59 pm
Edited on: May 14, 2010 10:04 pm
On a day when the fallout hit the fan with alarming swiftness in Cleveland, it’s worth revisiting how the team with the best record in the NBA got in this predicament in the first place.
There were numerous factors. The health and playoff savvy of their proud opponent, the Boston Celtics. The failure to re-integrate Shaquille O’Neal into the starting lineup after he’d missed the last six weeks of the regular season. LeBron’s free agency. LeBron’s elbow.
All of it conspired to set a series of potentially devastating dominoes into motion. The first one – Mike Brown getting fired as the Cavs’ coach – didn’t tumble on Friday. But it’s teetering as violently as the emotions of fans all over northeast Ohio.
Amid a report by SI.com that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert already has decided to fire Brown, Gilbert and GM Danny Ferry held their season-wrapup news conferences Friday and said that wasn’t true. It isn’t true yet, is what they should have said. Gilbert, in effect, delivered that very message when he refused to answer a point-blank question as to whether he could say definitively that Brown would be back next season.
“I like the way you asked that question,” Gilbert said, and then he dodged it, saying everyone in the organization would be evaluated over the next 7-10 days.
“We are going to take a long, deep, hard look at every key position in this franchise from top to bottom,” Gilbert said. “We’re not going to react emotionally the next morning after unexpectedly losing a series.”
Essentially, the decision will be up to LeBron James, according to a person familiar with organizational dynamics. "That's where this thing is headed," said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss team business. "LeBron's going to make the call. That's what this is all about."
How could the Cavs be held hostage by James on the free-agent front and also have him deciding the future of their coach?
"Hey, they created this monster," the person said. "They kept giving in to him on everything and now you pay they price."
The notion that Brown is on his way out – after back-to-back 60-win seasons and only one year removed from being named NBA coach of the year – should be obvious to anyone who watched the Celtics-Cavs series. Boston coach Doc Rivers constructed a strategy aimed at attacking the Cavs’ biggest weaknesses, which is what any team tries to do. Few teams have executed such a plan better than the Celtics did. The fact is, as the aftermath engulfed the Cavs on Friday, the Celtics had to be amazed that their plan worked as well as it did.
This wasn’t X’s and O’s. It was shock and awe. The Celtics saw not only weaknesses, but vulnerabilities – which are like festering weaknesses in basketball. They thought if they attacked certain areas successfully, it would not only result in good outcomes on the court, but potentially lethal side effects for the Cavs. The most damaging side effect of such a strategy is dissension, which became the theme for the Cavs over the last two games of the series.
“You have to get a team to that point,” Ray Allen said. “It doesn’t involve taking shortcuts. You can’t just start games trying to go for the jugular right off the bat. It’s like an A, B, C all the way to Z process that all of us have to go through, and it requires everybody. When we’re as a team willing to put forth that effort from the offensive and the defensive end, then you can find those weaknesses and create that dissension.”
The Celtics knew that going into the series, Brown already was facing an uphill battle with Shaq’s return to the lineup. They knew he’d feel pressured by Shaq’s reputation and $20 million salary to play him if he was healthy. The more Shaq was on the court, the Celtics believed, the better. The more he was on the court with Antawn Jamison, who hadn’t played alongside O’Neal until the playoffs began, that would be better still.
The Celtics knew that Kevin Garnett would be able to attack Jamison, given that Garnett was one of the few opponents that Jamison ever faces with more size and length than he has. If the Celtics got Garnett going in a big way, that would free up Kendrick Perkins to wrestle under the basket with Shaq. All of this, they hoped, would lead to all kinds of griping and disagreements behind the scenes for the Cavs about who should be playing up front, and in which matchups. Sure enough, that’s just how it played out, with Brown eventually trying to re-insert Zydrunas Ilgauskas into the rotation in Game 5 – too late to quell the grumbling and insecurities in the Cavs’ locker room. Responding to the pressure of the unfavorable Garnett-Jamison matchup, Brown decided to start Game 6 with Shaq on Garnett and Jamison on Perkins. Um, that didn’t work, either.
But that was only a small part of it. The Celtics knew that Mo Williams is a less than willing defender, and that he wouldn’t react well to pressure from Rajon Rondo, or to hard, physical screens. Williams shying away from contact in the Heat of a playoff battle would, in turn, infuriate LeBron to the point where Brown would have to take Williams off Rondo for stretches in games. Brown’s inability to solve the Rondo problem – he switched to Anthony Parker in the middle of the series, then started using LeBron in certain situations in Games 5 and 6 – only resulted in more dissension, which ultimately undermined Brown’s authority.
The third key part of this divide-and-conquer paradigm was putting road blocks between LeBron and the basket and daring him to, 1) make the wrong basketball play by forcing his dribble into triple coverage, or 2) make the right play by passing to his teammates, who wouldn’t be up to the task. Time and again in the series, LeBron’s supporting cast melted under the pressure – from Williams, to Jamison, to Parker. The only one who stepped up consistently was Shaq, and the Celtics knew Shaq didn’t have enough left in the tank to carry his team for 48 minutes.
It was obvious that the Celtics’ strategy was working when I asked James before Game 6 if he wanted to or planned to have any input into the game plan. He didn’t say he didn’t want to, only that it wasn’t his place.
“It’s tough, because you don’t want to try to step on Coach’s toes,” James said. “It’s the whole coaching staff, and I agree with the system that they’ve put in. We’ve been successful in the postseason. We’ve been successful in the regular season. For me to go sit in the coaches’ meeting and say, ‘This is what I feel the strategy should be’, you only can go so far with that. You have to play the game and be around the game to understand exactly what I’m saying. You just can’t do things like that.”
James didn’t have much nice to say about Brown throughout the series, and he refused to come to his coach’s rescue in the postgame news conference Thursday night, when he questioned Brown’s in-game adjustments. The Celtics were probably busy preparing for their next divide-and-conquer mission, Orlando, by then. But somewhere, they were smiling.
Posted on: April 4, 2010 1:34 pm
Edited on: April 4, 2010 2:19 pm
BOSTON -- The video of Andrew Bogut's horrific arm injury was bad enough. The specter of a late-season injury to their own teams was enough to make stomachs turn Sunday at TD Bank Garden.
Ray Allen, a former Buck who had been preparing for possibly facing his former team in the playoffs, said, "This is a tough time of the year because they are making playoff plans, selling playoff tickets and they’re right there in the hunt. I think every coach dreads that."
Rivers was adamant -- and I agree -- that Bogut was not the victim of a dirty play. Running out for a court-length pass and breakaway dunk Saturday night against the Suns, Bogut dunked ahead of Amar'e Stoudemire and tried to hang on the rim in an effort to protect himself and Stoudemire.
"If he could've hung onto the rim long enough to get his feet back, he wouldn't have been injured," LeBron James said. "Just a freak accident."
There was no significant contact from Stoudemire, who may have had a hand on Bogut as he went up -- if that. The issue was that as he tried to protect himself by grabbing the rim, Bogut lost his grip and tried to brace the fall with his right arm, which bent catastrophically beneath his entire body weight.
And with it, the Bucks' aspirations of going deep in the playoffs crumpled, too.
Posted on: May 2, 2009 7:39 pm
BOSTON -- An hour before the seventh and final game in an epic playoff series, what more could possibly be said? The always quotable Doc Rivers found a way.
Asked in his pre-game briefing with reporters how unlikely it would be for either the Celtics or the Bulls to make adjustments at this late stage of the series, Rivers said, "If we play Kevin, that would be a huge adjustment."
Kevin, of course, is Kevin Garnett, who has been out for the entire series with a knee injury. Rivers and general manager Danny Ainge have said repeatledly that they don't expect Garnett to play at all this postseason. But that hasn't stopped inquiring minds from reading between the lines. Ainge's choice of words Friday -- that he wasn't "planning" on Garnett being available for Game 7 or at any point in the playoffs -- set off new rounds of speculation that K.G. could shock everyone and suit up for the Celtics' most important game since last year's NBA Finals.
Asked he was playing Garnett Saturday night, Rivers laughed and said, "No, I'm not. Hell, you guys have said it all over the last couple of days. I told somebody this morning that I thought somebody was going to report that they saw Big Foot and Sasquatch."
Both Big Foot and Sasquatch, no doubt, would be assessed flagrant fouls if they were playing in Game 7 of this series.
Posted on: April 18, 2009 12:03 pm
BOSTON -- With all the focus on Kevin Garnett, there's been barely a mention of another key player missing the Bulls-Celtics series. But Luol Deng said Saturday he may be able to return in some capacity if Chicago advances to the second round.
"In my mind, yes," Deng said in the visiting locker room before the Bulls and Celtics opened their best-of-seven series. "I don't know what the doctors will say, but I feel like I could hopefully do something."
Deng has been out since the end of February with a stress fracture in his right leg. He revealed Saturday that an MRI this week showed the fracture is about halfway healed.
"It's leading in the right direction," Deng said. "It could be a month. It could be longer. I could be OK in two weeks."
Unlike Garnett, who is averse to sitting on the bench when he can't play, Deng said he's OK with it. Garnett, too, told Celtics coach Doc Rivers he'd make an exception and join his teammates on the bench.
"I know Garnett is very intense," Deng said. "I can sit on the bench. It's tough, but I'm fine sitting on the bench."
Rivers and the Celtics were still wrestling with a more serious, off-the-court health situation as they prepared to open their title defense. Team president Danny Ainge was continuing to rest comfortable in Massachusetts General Hospital after suffering a mild heart attack Thursday.
"He told me I've got to start eating better and exercising more, because I have more stress than him," Rivers said. "I told him he's stressing about me stressing. And to relax."