Published December 10, 2013
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Boston Celtics have won 17 NBA Championships in their storied history.
Only six men have coached a Celtics championship team. Names like Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, K.C. Jones and Tommy Heinsohn are in the Hall of Fame and icons in the city of Boston, a city with its fair share of sports legends.
Doc Rivers is one of those six men to guide the Celtics to a title.
That should get him iconic status in Beantown, but there was a little bit of acrimony in this divorce. Rivers didn't want to stick around for G.M. Danny Ainge's rebuilding plan, so the Celtics traded him for a first-round pick to the Los Angeles Clippers this past offseason.
On Wednesday, Rivers will take his new team to face his old city.
"Wednesday will be nice, very nice for me. I put nine years in there, nine wonderful years," Rivers said Monday night. "It'll be great to see, hell I wouldn't say all my players, but there's not a lot left, but there are some. It'll be great to see all the people that have worked there. I made some great friends that will be friends for life."
Rivers singled out security workers and trainers and did acknowledge that most of his former players are gone. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are tarnishing their legacies in Brooklyn, while Ray Allen had the good sense to abandon the sinking U.S.S. Celtics two seasons ago for the Miami Heat.
Rajon Rondo is still in Boston, but hasn't played because of a knee injury. There are certainly some other Celtics who were under Rivers' tutelage, but his core, much like himself, moved on.
"They still have a lot of good players left. I'm not sure that's what Danny wanted, but that's what they have," joked Rivers. "They're talented. When Rondo comes back, if he comes back and who knows that because of the knee thing, they're going to be a playoff team."
Being a playoff team in the Eastern Conference! Why didn't Doc stay for that?
Rivers mentioned Jared Sullinger, Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass and Jeff Green by name. His "not sure that's what Danny wanted" quip fell at the heart of the problem.
Can you blame Rivers for not wanting to stay with a rebuilding team? The heart side can't, but the head side could. Rivers had a $7 million a season contract to coach the Celtics and could've been forced to honor it. Instead, Ainge granted Rivers his wish and got a neat little play toy in return.
There have been barbs back and forth between the two about the situation, but nine years is a long time. Rivers is clearly one of the top handful of coaches in the NBA, but the C's haven't struggled under new manchild Brad Stevens.
They are under .500, yes, but are the Atlantic Division leaders. If your goal is a completely new direction for your team, why not jettison all former remnants? Ainge found no trouble shipping Pierce and Garnett away, so it might have made more sense to not want Rivers around in the first place.
Rivers seemed to be a man genuinely excited to see the behind-the-scenes folks in Boston. These "friends for life" mean a lot to Rivers and Doc should receive a positive reaction Wednesday night.
His new team will have his back in the best way they know how - win the game.
"It's one of those things where, as players, we want to rally around him and win this game for him. It's important when guys come back to a place where they used to play for years, or coach for years whatever it is, it's a good feeling to come back and have a successful trip," said All-Star Blake Griffin. "We need to be locked in, not just for that reason. Boston is playing really well and we need wins right now on this road trip."
The Clippers are 2-2 on a seven-game road trip thanks to a win in Philadelphia that was closer than it ever needed to be. L.A. won 94-83 due to dominant performances from Rivers' Big Three 2.0 - Chris Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
"It's just a work in progress and it will be all year," Rivers said. "We've got to keep grinding and can't worry about anything."
The Clippers are without starting shooting guard J.J. Redick and key bench piece, Matt Barnes. They will add to the insanity of Lob City with free-agent Stephen Jackson.
At 14-8, the Clips own the fifth-best record in the Western Conference, which means they'd own the East outside Miami and Indiana. Rivers' team is on top in the Pacific Division and should win that title for the second straight season.
But Wednesday's matchup isn't about CP3, Blake or even the Celtics. It's about a man who will take a hard-earned victory lap through Boston.
There are probably some in Boston who feel Rivers deserted them. It's a way to look at it, and a somewhat valid one. But Wednesday is just about a man who wants to see some friends, some friends for life.