He reached out to Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe yesterday to do a few things. He apologized for staying quiet for so long, then remained mum on his future with the team for next season, only stating that he would address it “soon.” It is now day 38 of the Celtics offseason, with no direct comment from Rivers on his coaching status for next season, it’s time to understand the what, and the why of the Doc Rivers waiting game.
The Time Issue
Less than three weeks remain until a decision on Paul Pierce’s contract must be made. Two and a half weeks remain until draft night, one of the nights when Pierce would be traded, if he’s traded this offseason. There’s also the possibility of him being dealt during free agency (in a sign-and-trade) perhaps, but that will be a tall order with his price tag and high salary.
From this point forward, with the obvious exception of Doc announcing he is coming back, the longer Rivers takes to make a decision is probably a good sign for C’s fans. Why?
Unless there is a lot more bad blood than we are hearing about, Rivers is not going to leave Ainge in an impossible situation for next season where he is scrambling for a head coach at the start of the draft/free agency period. The Celtics’ ownership knows it’s always been a year-to-year thing with Doc and gave him the benefit of an extra security with the 5-year deal after the 2011 season. They know he likes to take his time making his decisions.
With that said, Rivers informing the team of a decision more than a month after the season ends, seems a bit unfair and unreasonable, two things that Doc isn’t known for. He’s had more than ample time now to think things over. You know what burnt out coaches don’t do? Attend draft workouts for players 1,000 miles away from home for teams they don’t intend on coaching. That’s something to feel good about if you’re a Celtics fan who wants Doc back.
Furthermore, the coaching free agent market is drying up as we speak. There’s no obvious in-house candidate to take the reigns if Doc steps down, unless Ainge wants to return to the sidelines himself. That proposition seems unlikely. A contingency plan may be in place, but it can’t be ideal for the franchise.
Whatever Doc’s intentions are, he’s probably let them know to Ainge behind closed doors. “I’m staying if this happens” and “I’m going to walk (or there is a chance I’m going to walk) if XYZ happens.” Maybe not as cut and dry as that, but honest conversations between both men have likely taken place about what would lead to Rivers walking away.
The Art of Leverage
So I guess the bigger question now is how much will Doc’s posturing matter? Ainge is always committed to thinking about the long-term view with the short-term view for every season. When you are intent on rebuilding, the long-term vision matters more, but if that vision comes at the cost of your head coach, how damaging is that to your team’s future?
Ainge will potentially have to make a tough call on that. Stockpiling assets in a deal for Pierce is one thing, but is Ainge willing to do that if it also means Doc walks? How valuable are assets if you don’t have someone you want to coach them? We could see just how much Rivers is valued as a rebuilding coach in this scenario.
On the flip side of the coin, Ainge probably can’t appreciate being put into a corner like this. He’s talking to his head coach everyday, getting his input on drafting players and trade proposals, yet Doc won’t bite the bullet and say he’s back.
Furthermore, if Rivers is leaving his decision largely based on what Ainge decides Pierce’s fate is, that can’t be an ideal spot for Danny. His motive is to shop Pierce, and pull the trigger on any deal that makes sense for the franchise. That’s tough enough to do when you are dealing with a franchise legend.
Doc complicating matters by straddling the fence for next season, based on this move or non-move has to be a burden on Ainge.
Rivers may not be completely opposed to trading Pierce, but that all probably depends on what the return is. If it’s not something he’s going to be able to make use in his coaching tenure soon (future draft picks, young inexperienced prospects with high upside) that’s not something attractive for him and Kevin Garnett to stick around for in the interim.
There’s probably much more to the scenario than this. Maybe, as Stephen A. Smith speculates, there is some fatigue within the Doc and Danny relationship that goes beyond the roster. I won’t try to guess anything on that front. One thing is clear though. Doc likes to win and this team won’t have a better chance of winning next year if Pierce isn’t here.
Doc and Danny are playing a game of chicken. Now we watch and wait to see who will blink first.