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Understanding The Doc Rivers Waiting Game

Doc Rivers has surfaced finally to address his future!

Kind of.

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.

  • hax

    trade him for blake griffin

    • Vincent

      Why not ask for LeBron?

  • emg

    Doc doesn't love Pierce the way he loves Garnett. His ambivalence is regarding a no-Garnett scenario. Doc is not psyched about a world where he has to motivate Rondo and Jeff Green. I don't think tension w Danny is a big factor. But I do remember Danny on Weei criticizing Doc's emphasis on defense potentially getting guys too exhausted on offense and offensive rebounds, then he walked it back awkwardly the next week with an explanation about the comment that made no sense. I don't think Doc feels he owes Danny anything.

  • GymRat

    I know a ridiculous amount about the ins and outs of the NBA…but can somebody explain to me how a coaches contract works? How is a guy under contract holding a team hostage? Can he just break it whenever he wants without consequence?

    I know the articles keep trying to say how Doc's silence is a good thing…but that just seems to reaffirm it's actually not. At least as a fan, I'm really finding more and more reasons not to like Doc these days. Openly saying (while under contract) that he's not sure about his future…then refusing to talk about it while all the great coaching replacements get hired off is not the best tone setter for what could be a really challening year.

    • dslack

      Sure. He can choose to retire. Anyone can retire at any time.

  • The Cardinal

    As GM, Danny will try to do what is best for the team and as coach, Doc will either live with that or he won't. I suspect the contingency plan for a replacement coach would be to select someone whom management believes can be patient, motivate and develop the youngsters, and bring a little more flexibility to the offense as opposed to a big name coach simply for the sake of said name.

    Hopefully it won't come to that, but as with any high dollar/high visibility employment situation, the employer wants someone who wants to be there, and it's incumbent upon the employee to make it clear (privately of course – forget all the public speculation) he wants to be there.

    Unless there is some unbelievably great trade option that will substantially upgrade the team this season (and realistically, I can't think of one that's even close to doable), then we should keep Pierce (at least until next season's trade deadline), and wait for the open market that follows the 2013 – 2014 season.

    Contender or not, next season I would love to watch a team where Sully returns healthy and fit, Bradley regains a shooting touch and becomes real two-way guard, Jeff Green becomes a legitimate clutch option, and some little known or no-name reserves bring energy and tenacity that become the envy of other teams. In other words, give me a team that brings it every night with young and youngish players who continue to improve surrounding PP and KG, and I won't complain (too much).

  • hax

    Nuggets part ways with George Karl, Grizzlies part ways with Lionel Hollins. Seems like it's the year for great coaches to randomly leave their teams.

    • CelticsBIG3

      George Karl was fired. He didn't just leave.

  • Dan

    Is this the guy that said he is a true celtic? I don't see a celtic in him.

  • max

    Just leave, Doc. Give us a head coach that can run an offense, please. George Karl would be fun with Rondo!

  • hax

    Stephen A reported rivers could be part of a griffin deal, even though he wouldn't literally be part of the trade. I'd be happy with george karl/rondo/green/griffin

  • Josh_5

    Put it this way, this is essentially how it goes:

    Doc depends on KG. KG depends on Pierce. Pierce depends on Danny Ainge.


    We are putting Doc on a pedestal like he is a god. He hasn't done anything spectacular coaching wise to be the highest paid coach. He is a personality and a motivator. He signed a 5 year contract with the understanding that if this team had to rebuild, he would be there. Now he is running away from the challenge, that it became a reality. Put KG on any team, he is going to make that coach and the team look better than they are. Doc knows without KG's presence, despite having a more talent laden team, he deficiencies as a coach is going to be on full display. Doc couldn't hold a candle to the likes of Thibs or Pop and what they are doing with their team. The Spurs are making LBJ shoot 38% FG from the field at only 16.7 points a game. Wade is only averaging 14 points a game on 44% FG. DANNY FREAKING GREEN is the highest scorer in the series @ almost 19 points shooting a ridicilous 63% FG against one of the best defenses in the league. Does this make any sense? This is what you call coaching. I am not going to let Doc dangle us by the balls, when there are good coaches on the market like George Karl and Hollins. If you want to bail out on the team and "retire", go for it. We could use a fresh face in the lockeroom anyways.

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