Tim O’Sullivan: No healing relationship between Doc, Celtics

Last modified: Saturday, June 22, 2013
A favorite go-to joke for Doc Rivers is reminding people he’s not a real doctor. He should be glad that’s the case, because if he was a practicing physician instead of a hesitant coach, the Celtics might drop a malpractice suit on him.

Rivers has botched this offseason for Boston, a mess that may derail the franchise for years to come. By trying to escape the final three years and $21 million of his coaching contract, Rivers has made Danny Ainge look like a fool and the Celtics look like a disaster is process.

Rivers hasn’t wanted to commit to coming back to Boston, so the team has been trying to, essentially, trade him and Kevin Garnett to the Los Angeles Clippers for a number of proposed packages. The latest news on that front is the Clippers have walked away from the negotiating table, but that just feels like more posturing.

The Clippers are under pressure to please Chris Paul

so he will re-sign with them when he becomes a free agent on July 1. Bringing in Rivers and Garnett would go a long way in appeasing Paul, the best point guard in the league. On the other end of the table, the Celtics are under pressure to jettison Rivers, who obviously doesn’t want to be in Boston anymore. It’s in the best interest of sides to finish what they’ve started.

Now, it really wouldn’t surprise anyone if Clippers owner Donald Sterling did the stupid thing, again. He could balk on bringing in Rivers over one first-round draft pick, which is the latest alleged sticking point in a deal that would also send center DeAndre Jordan and another first-round selection to Boston. Sterling could instead bring in a retread coach like Byron Scott or Lionel Hollins, or an unproven rookie like Brian Shaw. But if one of those candidates would have pleased Paul, the Clippers would have already hired him.

And the Celtics could potentially walk away from the deal and simply hope Rivers and Garnett don’t retire and everything can be smoothed out in Boston. Retirement seems like a bluff for both Doc and his Big Ticket – there’s too much money on the table for Rivers and too much passion left in Garnett. Everything being smoothed over is another story.

Maybe Rivers has built up enough goodwill with Ainge, ownership, players and fans that they will forgive him for flirting with another team and readying the divorce papers. But surely it will be an awkward situation, and it also discredits one of Rivers’s best traits – loyalty.

He has always stuck up for his players, even the maddening and hard-to-coach, like Rajon Rondo and Glenn “Don’t Call me Big Baby” Davis. He has talked about how he loves being a Celtic, loves the tradition and history, and wanted to be a part of the organization for life. And he made a commitment to those ideals when he signed a five-year contract two seasons ago.

Would anyone, especially free agents, believe Rivers is 100 percent loyal now? Sure, he hasn’t publicly said he wants out of Boston or to go to Los Angeles, but that’s only because he hasn’t said anything publicly. Reading between the lines is easy here – Rivers is trying to back out of a commitment he made to an organization that he professed to love, an organization that stuck with him through the worst of times, handed him a team with three future Hall of Famers and made him one of the highest paid coaches in all of professional sports.

So, if one first-round pick is the only thing stopping this deal, Ainge should swallow his pride, acknowledge he’s been out-leveraged and take the deal. If Rivers doesn’t want to be in Boston, the Celtics shouldn’t want him there either. And if the team is committed to rebuilding, paying Rivers $7 million a year to baby-sit may be a bad investment anyway.

Plus, it’s been said a million times, the NBA is a players league. It doesn’t matter how good the coach is; if he doesn’t have talent, he won’t win. Just look at Rivers’s track record. That’s not to say Rivers isn’t a good coach or hasn’t improved since his early days in Boston, but losing him wouldn’t be a death-sentence catastrophe.

Jordan may be an overpaid underachiever, but he’s better than not getting anything back in the event that Garnett does retire, which seems a bit more plausible than Rivers taking an enormous pay cut and doing television for the next three years. Having Garnett around as a role model might be more helpful to a rebuilding process than Rivers’s presence, but it sure seems like the two of them are a package deal, and if Rivers is disgruntled, maybe Garnett would be, too.

Rivers, with plenty of help, did hang another banner in the Garden rafters, and for that he will always have a place in Boston history. But the not-so-good Doctor has tarnished that legacy with the mess he’s made since the end of last season. If wants to go, show him the door.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)