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Fact or fiction: Doc Rivers’ odd call to Boston media

06.26.13 at 8:41 pm ET
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So much for Doc Rivers not disputing Danny Ainge‘s take on the former Celtics coach’s departure to the Clippers. Two hours after telling the media in Los Angeles the only reason he’s coaching “is to win titles,” Rivers spun around in circles on a lengthy teleconference with reporters in Boston.

While Rivers should be lauded for his willingness to discuss his professional life and a decision he had every right to make — even interrupting the Clippers public relations staff when they tried to stop the call with “two more questions” — the 27-minute interview can only be described as confusing after Ainge and Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck shared similar opinions the last 24 hours about how it all went down.

So, let’s try to separate fact from fiction one quote at a time (thoughts in italics).

“At the end of the year, I never went into Danny’s office.”

Ainge says he met with Rivers on May 8, five days after the Celtics season ended.

“We never had any conversations about, ‘If you don’t bring Kevin [Garnett] and Paul [Pierce] back, I don’t want to come back.’ I never went into his office and said that, if [Rajon] Rondo was there, I don’t want to come back. Rondo and I, our relationship, has really grown and it’s good. Danny and I’s relationship is great.”

Ainge disputed none of this.

“It’s the same thing that I’ve gone through every year. At the end of the year, I just don’t know if my time has run its course or if it’s time for change. You know that. Two years ago, I thought it, and I ended up signing, because really at that time I thought I had to sign.”

Ainge must’ve really twisted his arm to sign a five-year, $35 million contract.

“I thought it was the right thing to do where our organization was at, you know? Paul had four years and Kevin had four years on his contract, and I just thought it would be the wrong time to leave.”

Pierce had two more left on his deal at the time. Garnett was a free agent last summer.

“Last year, I thought about it some more again, and then this year right at the end of the Knicks game, I told everybody, ‘Thank you,’ because in my mind after that game — right after that game — I was probably going to take a break, because I didn’t ever think I could just leave and go somewhere else. I didn’t even think that was something in the cards or possible, and I didn’t push for it.”

If Rivers was seriously thinking about walking away from a three-year, $21 million contract and leaving the Celtics with nothing in return, this must have been cause for serious concern within the organization.

“But when Danny told me there was an opportunity to do [a trade], as long as he can take care of his end, then that’s when it piqued my interest. Honestly. Again, I thought, ‘I’ve been here for nine years. I loved it there. I just didn’t know if it wasn’t time.’ Listen, I could’ve been wrong about it. That’s just how I felt.”

Really, Rivers didn’t want a break. He wanted a break from coaching the Celtics, because he immediately warmed to the idea of coaching another team. Or at least I think that’s what he just said.

“I didn’t think [the players] tuned me out, but I thought that it could be time for that. I was concerned by that. I thought they were very coachable — the group that I had — but that was a concern. Just having a new challenge with something, as a coach, you just don’t want to feel like you’re just there.”

Ainge claims he understood Doc’s misgivings about potentially losing the locker room.

“I also knew they were going to rebuild, and this is the one part that Danny and them knew was well. Danny and I have a great relationship, and I think Danny also understood that to pay a coach $7 million a year the next three years and maybe not win — that’s a lot. So, when [Celtics owner Steve Pagliuca] and I talked on Sunday, he basically said, ‘Listen, we’d love you to stay, and I’ve heard that you’ve decided to stay, but obviously if we get a pick or we can get out of your contract, then that’s good, too.’”

Grousbeck said Wednesday morning that ownership wanted Rivers to fulfill his contract.

“And I said, ‘Yeah, I agree. I agree with all that, so let’s see where it goes.’ That’s the mold I was in. Let’s see where this whole thing goes, and if it goes to a place that is beneficial for them and beneficial for me, then we should look at it, and this thing came up.”

“This thing came up”? When? On Sunday? Hadn’t “this thing” been in the news for two weeks?

“I hope [the fans] remember me as somebody who gave that city everything they had.”

No disputing that. Throughout each season, Rivers poured his heart into the team.

“I don’t want them to be unhappy. I love them. I love the fans there. I thought I had as good of a relationship with the fan base as you could ever have as a coach. For me, that hasn’t changed at all. I have an amazing amount of respect for the Boston fans, and quite honestly even more respect for the city. The biggest surprise for me in Boston was not that the Celtics turned out to be a good team — I thought they would be; I thought eventually we would get that right — and the fans didn’t surprise me with their intensity — I embraced it; even when we were bad, I really enjoyed it — what surprised me the most was the city. I loved it. I loved Boston. I fell in love with the city.”

A little like divorcing your wife, and then saying, “I fell in love with the house.”

“I didn’t leave for the same reason as Ray [Allen]. This is not like I was in this by myself. This is something that me and them kind of agreed upon — that it would be the right thing to do — and so this is a totally different situation. Having said that, I wasn’t in favor of [fans turning on] Ray.”

Except Doc made his disappointment in Allen’s departure known publicly.

“Fans are fans, and I understand that. I get that. Listen, I’m going to always come back there, I am going to always visit there, I’ve made a million friends there, and my friends are going to stay my friends. That part is not going to change, and that part I’ll always cherish. The one thing you can’t take away ever is the feelings of 2008 and even the ride of 2010 and even the ride last year to the Eastern Conference finals.”

That’s actually three things. And one million is a lot of friends. But who’s counting? Those seasons were special, and they’re precisely the reason Boston and the Celtics hoped Rivers would remain coaching here.

“We had a lot of success there, and I had a great run, an absolutely fantastic run in Boston, but sometimes you just feel like your gig is up. And I really felt that. My gig was not up with the city or with the fans. I just thought it was time to make a change team-wise. My feelings have never changed with the fans there.”

This is where things start to get weird. Now, Rivers felt like his gig was up and thought it was time for a change. This sounds more like a man resigned to leaving than one wrestling with his future in Boston.

“That was my intention, and I don’t know what changed. It wasn’t anything that Danny or Wyc or ownership did or anything the players did. It clearly wasn’t the city. I just felt like I needed to change my voice.”

Yup. Definitely not someone who was still debating a return to the Celtics last week.

“It was something that I thought was the right thing to do, but again it wasn’t something I was willing to do unless I thought I was doing the right thing by Danny and Wyc and his group. As early as Sunday, I called Danny and said, ‘Hey, listen, I’m staying. I’m going to give you everything I have in rebuilding, but I just hope that you understand that I have to do it year-to-year.’ And then he was fine with that.”

Now I’m confused. Doc wanted a change, but he was still willing to come back. OK, I think I’ve got it now.

“And then two hours later, he called back and said the deal was done. So, it’s not like they didn’t get anything out of this. If they didn’t, they could’ve said no to the deal. They didn’t because Danny thought it was a good thing for the franchise, and he also thought it was a good thing for me.”

A win-win! Glad it worked out for everybody.

“Danny and I’s relationship is terrific, so this is not a one-trick-pony deal where I was the only one fueling this.”

So, he was fueling this? I thought he said Danny made the deal on his own?

“I never pushed the deal. It happened, and I thought it was a great opportunity, and I took the opportunity.”

If everyone is to be believed, no one pushed the deal, but it still happened. Somebody’s not telling the truth.

“I haven’t talked to Kevin. Just by text, but not verbally. We haven’t talked in person yet, which we’re probably going to do today or tomorrow. I’ve talked to several other guys. Rondo and I have texted back and forth. Jeff Green and I had a terrific conversation. So, I have talked to some of the guys.”

At his press conference earlier in the day, Rivers said he talked to most of the Celtics, but why split hairs?

“Once you’re no longer coaching them, it’s all about the relationships. I built some great relationships with those players — with Avery [Bradley], with Jeff Green, with Rondo, with Paul, with Kevin — and I’ve had relationships with guys who are no longer there who I didn’t get along with, and that’s fine too, because it was all done for the right reasons. I have relationships with those guys now. From a coaching standpoint, for me, obviously the trophies and all the other winning that we did there was important, but the fact that when this is announced you get texts from Tony Allen and Kendrick Perkins and even some of your players that are there now — that meant a lot to me. That meant, as far as this deal, as a coach I was doing the right thing for them, and that made me feel great.”

Somehow, I doubt Jason Terry agrees with this sentiment.

Who will Rivers take from his Celtics coaching staff? “It’s still a work in progress. Probably most of them. But it’s still a work in progress. I’ll know more in the next two or three days.”

More like: I’m taking everyone but Jay Larranaga, thank you very much.

“I honestly don’t even remember the letter.”

Ainge said Tuesday the Celtics informed Rivers by letter on May 9 that they expected him to fulfill his contract.

“Honestly, I can tell you that I never read that letter. I’ve never seen that letter.”

OK, then. This seems to be the root of the problem. Generally, I make it a point to open letters from my employer, especially when my future is in question. But that’s just me.

“I’m sure he did send it, but I think that’s what you probably have to do. My guess is that it was when Brooklyn asked for permission [to talk to me]. I think that’s just a formality of things that you have to do. I think that’s more that they had to do that. We never had any of that going on at all. I never threatened to leave.”

He just didn’t open his mail from May 9.

“I didn’t intend to irritate anybody in this. Danny went out and made a statement that I was coming back as the coach, and I hadn’t told him that, and that’s when this whole silence thing from me started, because I just didn’t think it was my place to say something that I didn’t know if it was true. It wasn’t like I was trying to leave is what I kept saying. I just didn’t know if I needed a break. And if I was going to take a break, it was going to be to do TV or just going to travel for a year — going to college games and watching other coaches.”

Ainge told The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn on May 13 that Rivers was returning as coach.

“That’s what was my plan — to do TV and then do a lot of traveling, just to keep learning — because I’m 51, I think. I don’t even know what I am. Fifty two? I’m too young to retire. That’s not what I was thinking.”

Rivers is 51 years old, and that is too young to retire.

“I just thought that, after nine years, I didn’t know if my job had run its course in Boston. That’s where the change came. Honestly, I thought I would be a coach there forever, but it got to a point with me that I just felt strong about it. It was nothing that anyone did. It was nothing that Danny did. I thought what may have irritated Danny at some point was that I just couldn’t give him an answer.”

You think?

“I didn’t know the answer, and I told him that. I said I didn’t know if I was coming back. This is what started everything. I said, ‘What can I do to help you?’ And he said, ‘Well, you can make a decision or there are other teams that we can possibly make a deal with, and then we can get something for you, because just leaving doesn’t help us.’”

Now we’re getting somewhere.

“That’s how this thing came about. It’s like we agreed upon it together. This is not me walking in a room saying, ‘Danny, I want to go to the Clippers or to whatever team.’ It kind of just happened.”

Yes, “it kind of just happened” after weeks of indecision and Rivers asking, “What can I do to help you?”

“When this thing started, it didn’t seem like [I wasn't going to be coaching Garnett and Pierce any longer], if you know what I’m saying. When this whole thing started, it looked like there was going to be a chance that I would still coach at lease one, maybe two, guys, so that’s going to be tough. That’s going to be different for me.”

Perhaps we should shed a tear that Rivers wasn’t able to take Garnett and Pierce with him to L.A.

“But I can tell you it had nothing to do with their age. I told Danny, ‘Man, I just don’t know if my heart’s in the rebuilding, but I don’t know if it’s not.’”

This must have been reassuring for Ainge.

“I just needed time to just get through losing this year, and I just needed more time. We hadn’t been knocked out this early in a while, and it just kind of rocked me a little bit. I just wanted time, so it’s funny — I never thought about Paul, Ray, Kevin, where they were at in their careers or anything.”

Never crossed your mind when you were signing that five-year contract, huh?

“I just wanted to make sure I was ready and into doing the job. Again, Danny and I talked about it, and I can’t do something if my heart’s not right. I can’t do it. And I wasn’t sure yet. And I just wanted to wait it out. But I also understood that we didn’t have enough time to do that.”

After all, Thursday is the NBA draft and free agency begins Monday.

“I wasn’t forced into anything. Danny was great. Danny wanted to see me, but he never said I need to see you tomorrow. I just told Danny when we had this talk when this whole thing started, I said, ‘Hey, listen, if you want to go explore stuff with the Clippers and other teams and it sounds like something that I’d have interest in, I will listen.’ And in that time I can still make a decision about what I want to do.”

Oh, hey, just go explore stuff with the Clippers. Not that I want out or anything.

“Clearly, I decided to come back.”

Yes, clearly.

“I called them on Sunday from Gainesville [Ga.] and told them I had decided to come back. I thought the Clippers deal was [dead], and I had no problems with that and I was coming back. And I said, ‘Hey, listen, I have decided I’m not going to go take a year off. I’m going to come back, and we’re going to get this right. We’re going to start this rebuilding phase. Whatever phase we have to do, I’m in it 150 percent.’ What I decided through that time is that I still wanted to coach. I wasn’t ready for that year break.”

After weeks of indecision and negotiations with the Clippers, Rivers was fully on board with rebuilding, and this occurred two hours before the deal. Seems likely. So, who first approached the Clippers? Doc or Danny?

“I think it was a combination. I really did. It came about sitting in Danny’s office. I asked Danny, ‘Was there any truth to all the rumors about all the different teams and what teams have actually contacted him?’”

It’s been widely reported that the Clippers, Nets and Nuggets all reached out about Doc’s availability.

“Danny had told me about two of the three. I didn’t even know about Denver until just recently. He asked me about those. He had already turned down Brooklyn at that point, which he had told me that he was going to do. He said they were in their division, and he would never. And then I said, ‘Well, what do you think about the Clippers? What could you get from them?”

Real casual.

“And then we talked about that, and I said, ‘Is that something you would do?’ And he says, ‘Yeah, I can get a lot from that.’ At the time, that is what he was thinking, because Kevin and all that was in that deal. That intrigued me — the fact that he can get a pick or two and a player.”

So, once Doc discovered the Celtics could get something in return, he had his out.

“I just thought, ‘Wow, if I’m ever going to leave, this would be the one, because they would be taking care of.’ I never went in and said, ‘Danny, I need you to call the Clippers right now and see what you can get.’ That never happened.”

But Doc not committing to the Celtics while expressing interest in the Clippers definitely did happen.

“[Going with Garnett] was big, obviously. That was intriguing. But the other part was being more than just a coach. Those are the two things that pulled me. I can go somewhere and not only be coaching, but doing something else that I’ve never done and have a voice, and I think that’s very important for any coach. Most coaches don’t ever have that opportunity, so that was important.”

No argument here. The intrigue of doing something new professionally is always enticing.

“But, clearly, coaching Kevin, every coach should coach Kevin every year. I’ve said that 100 times.”

Somehow, this makes no sense and all the sense in the world at the same time.

“I don’t know [what will happen to Garnett]. I hope, whatever it is, it’s the right thing for him. He just deserves that. I don’t know how much he’ll play. I think he’ll play this year for sure. I don’t know that, but that’s just my gut, and I just think he deserves the best of whatever it is. I think he’s extraordinary, so I just hope for him that it’s the right thing.”

No doubt about it. Of course, Garnett has a no-trade clause, so he too can choose his own adventure.

“[Sunday's range of emotions] was quick, and it was strange. I can tell you the whole timeline. I think my son Spencer played at 10 a.m., so at about 9:30 I was sitting in a parking lot in Gainesville, Ga., talking to Danny on the phone, and I told him that my decision was that I was in to coach.

“I hung up the phone and I turned the phone off, because that’s what I do when I watch my kids play. And right after that first game, which they won and which meant they had to play again, I turned my phone on and [agent] Lonnie [Cooper] had called me. My phone was, like, on fire.

“I’m thinking, ‘Wow, what happened here? ‘So, I called Lonnie Cooper, my agent, and he said, ‘Have you talked to Danny?’ I said, ‘I haven’t talked to anybody. I’ve been watching the game.’ He said, ‘It looks like the deal’s done.’ I said, ‘What deal? The deal is dead.’ And he says, ‘No, the deal is done. [Clippers president] Andy [Roeser] and Danny over the last two or three hours have come to agree on doing this deal.’ So, now the reason we called you is because we want to make sure that you still want to be involved in it.’”

Ainge said he didn’t think a deal with the Clippers was going to happen until Monday. Something doesn’t follow.

“So, my emotions were all over the place. Honestly, I thought we had gone down this road for so long and so far — I thought obviously Danny could get a pick — I just thought it was time, and it was the right thing to do.”

Wait a second. Isn’t the reason they went so far down this road because of Doc’s indecisiveness?

“I talked to a lot of coaches in this: Lou Holtz, Bill Parcells. I talked to a lot of guys. I joked with Larry Brown and said, ‘You may be the last guy I should talk to about staying or leaving with your history,’ and it’s amazing how many of them to a man felt the same way.”

As Boston Magazine’s Jason Schwartz tweeted, “There’s your problem. Parcells and Larry Brown? That’s like talking to Cookie Monster about your cookie addiction.”

“Lou Holtz was great. He wasn’t telling me to leave Boston. He loves Boston. He said, ‘Doc, I left Notre Dame. You get to a place where once you start thinking it mentally — that you’re not sure your voice is being heard, you’re not sure if it’s time — then it’s time. To me, that’s as simple as this was. This wasn’t me trying to bolt town or anything like that. This was me thinking that my time had come, and it would be better served for it. That doesn’t mean I was right. That just meant that that was my decision.”

So, after all that, Rivers had decided his time in Boston was done? I’m still confused.

“I want to thank you for everything. Like I said earlier, I had a great ride. I hope my relationship with most of you is pretty good. I know I don’t return phone calls at times or texts at times, but I just thought especially in this case it was the right thing to do, and I just really appreciate all you guys. Honestly, for the most part, I thought I was pretty fair, and I thought you guys were pretty fair as well, so I just wanted thank you all and hopefully I can see you all when we come back to Boston. So, thank you guys.”

Likewise. Rivers had a tremendous relationship with the Boston media. He will be missed.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers
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