Tim Duncan, Doc Rivers reflect on a decision that altered history
|11.21.12 at 11:51 am ET|
When Tim Duncan hits the TD Garden floor Wednesday night, he will represent plenty: Excellence. Championships. A face for the NBA over the past 15 years.
But for Doc Rivers, the Spurs center will be the ‘other’ one that got away.
During a Nov. 1 interview on the Dennis and Callahan Show, Rivers was asked if the failure to keep Ray Allen in Boston last offseason could be considered his biggest recruiting misstep. He was quick in his response.
“I lost a bigger one, and probably learned a lot of lessons from that. Tim Duncan in Orlando,” he said. “We never had him, but I thought we had him turned and we lost him. So I’ll always remember that one.”
The recruitment came following Rivers’ first year as coach of the Magic, in the 2000 offseason. Orlando was coming off an overachieving, 41-41 campaign in which Rivers had earned NBA Coach of the Year. Duncan was a free agent, as was Grant Hill, who joined the San Antonio center on the recruitment trip.
Upon their tour of Orlando, the two then-superstars were greeted by billboards, picturing themselves along with the world “Imagine.” Disney World’s Epcot ball donned the words, “Grant Us Tim.” There was a private jet, house-hunting tips from Orlando resident Tiger Woods, and, of course, a ton of money.
There was also the charismatic Rivers.
“I think his confidence is what stood out,” Duncan said of Rivers during Wednesday’s shoot-around at the TD Garden. “He was very confident in what he thought he could put together and the type of team he wanted to have.”
Hill was sold, committing to a deal. Duncan ultimately decided a different path, choosing the familiarity of San Antonio and Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich.
“I just thought we had a great shot at him,” said Rivers following Tuesday’s practice in Waltham. “You could see he was leaning our way a little bit, but he had the loyalty to Pop, and, to me, that was tough to fight against. I actually didn’t fight against it.”
“[Rivers] made his pitch. I don’t think there was anyone to blame for it,” Duncan explained. “It was just a decision that went one way or another, and I decided to stay.”
It does beg the question: How would have Rivers’ career path been altered if Duncan did decide to bolt for the Magic?
Rivers would ultimately be fired after 11 games in the 2003-04 season, having never made it out of the first round of the playoffs. He would be hired a year later to coach the Celtics, winning 54 postseason games, including one world championship.