WALTHAM — While he wouldn’t go so far as to say Doc Rivers  “quit” on the Celtics , president of basketball operations Danny Ainge expressed his disappointment in the coach’s decision to accept a job with the Clippers.
“Doc is one of the top coaches in the league, so that will be a difficult challenge,” Ainge said in Tuesday’s press conference. “My feelings are: I had planned on Doc being our coach all along. We had discussions about him being a Gregg Popovich , a Jerry Sloan , a Red Auerbach  — breaking Red Auerbach’s all-time win record as a Celtic and being here for a long time — so I had never really thought about this day until May 8.”
Ainge scripted a clear timeline of what led to The Indecision this past week, when discussion with the Clippers about compensation for allowing Rivers to walk from the three years and $21 million left on his contract heated and cooled several times. Ultimately, Ainge landed an unprotected 2015 first-round pick for Rivers.
- May 3: The Celtics lost to the Knicks, and to Ainge’s surprise Rivers expressed concern about returning.
- May 8: Ainge approached a still hesitant Rivers, who asked what his options might be moving forward.
- May 9: The Celtics sent Rivers a letter alerting the coach they expected him to fulfill his contract.
- “In subsequent weeks”: A still uncertain Rivers expressed to Ainge his interest in the Clippers’ opening.
“And even then, it was so early after the season, I didn’t think it was really going to happen until [Monday],” said Ainge. “We really never were close to a deal with the Clippers in spite of the reports, so I think that this is part of the business. I don’t want to get too emotional. Doc’s going to a great situation — a place he chose to go and a place he wants to be. It’s not a place that I chose for him to go or a place that I want him to be.”
Ainge thanked his former coach for nine years of service to the Celtics and admitted, “We don’t have a championship without Doc Rivers in 2008,” but also made it clear that this was very much not his preference.
“I’ve been around this game long enough to know that we’re all replaceable,” added Ainge. “I think Doc’s grateful for his nine years here, and he’s looking for a new chapter. He felt like it was time for a change. I think he felt like, in his opinion, we all needed a change. That was his rationalization or justification of him going to the Clippers.”
Likewise, Rivers hinted that he was beginning to lose his grasp on a locker room he once ruled. “Doc felt that a change would be good for our current players,” said Ainge, “that maybe a new voice would be better.”
Despite assuring the Celtics fan base, “I would never ever say that he quit,” Ainge also made it clear that Rivers understood the significance of signing a five-year, $35 million contract in 2011 despite an aging core.
“When we signed Doc to the highest-paid coaching contract in the NBA a couple years ago, we knew the ages of our players, and we knew that we would be at a phase — maybe it would’ve been last year, maybe this year, maybe next year — that a time for rebuild would be in store, and we talked about that,” said Ainge. “At that time, before it hit him, he was all on board, and I thought like I did do a very good sales job on Doc at that time. Maybe he did a sales job on me. We knew that this time was coming. Everybody knows.”
Alternatively, Ainge understands the difference between his job as a GM looking toward the future and Doc’s role as a coach measured by wins and losses, but that doesn’t mean “this choice and this decision” stings any less.
“It really probably still hasn’t hit me that this is happening, because I really didn’t think it was going to happen,” admitted Ainge. “I have not talked with one coaching candidate at this point. I think [Monday], for the first time, I thought this is going to happen. This is probably going to happen. Up until that time, I never really thought it was going to happen. It was possible, but I never thought it would really happen.”
Only, it did happen, and now Ainge is left picking up the pieces. While the Celtics prepare for Thursday’s draft and weigh their decision on captain Paul Pierce ‘s future by Monday, when NBA free agency begins, the president of basketball operations admitted the Doc-udrama has “been a little distracting to be honest with you.”
“We would’ve liked to have a coach on staff last month,” he added. “That would’ve been nice.”
During his half-hour press conference, Ainge cleared up a few rumors that surfaced over the week. Mainly:
- He won’t be coaching the Celtics.
- “Rajon Rondo  has nothing to do with any of this.”
- The futures of Pierce and Kevin Garnett  remain uncertain.
- Neither Pierce nor Garnett can be traded to the Clippers this season.
- Rivers would still be coaching the C’s if the deal wasn’t “a win-win-win situation” for everyone.
- While Ainge has “some people in mind,” he hasn’t even discussed potential successors with his staff.
- Despite his flashy new Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations title with the Clippers, Rivers never asked for any additional power from Ainge or Celtics ownership.
“Doc has had a lot of power,” said Ainge. “I think you all know that. Doc is a head coach, a well-respected head coach, a high-paid head coach. He’s been in the game a long time, and I have all the respect in the world for Doc. He did have a lot of power in things that we did. We always sort of viewed our relationship as such that Doc was my top assistant when it came to personnel, and I was an assistant coach when it came to basketball.”
Such symbiosis will be difficult for Ainge to replace, and that has to be a hard reality to face, but he showed little emotion, instead joking with the media and citing the business side of his close friend’s departure.
“To get unprotected picks is very difficult in our league,” said Ainge. “The most likely scenario is that it will be a pick in the 20’s, because I anticipate the Clippers will be a good team for the next little while. It was clear that he would prefer to be there, and I understand the pull and the tug from Los Angeles and what they have to offer.”
That’s a story for another day, Wednesday, when Rivers meets the Los Angeles media at 11 a.m. pacific.