Monday, June 24, 2013

Why Coach Doc Rivers Is Really Leaving Boston

Boston Celtics' coach Doc Rivers just jumped to the L.A. Clippers, signing three-year, $21 million deal. But why would the Celts, who received a 2015 No.1 draft choice in return, dump a coach who's considered one of the top five in the NBA?

Simple. There's bad blood between Boston point guard Rajon Rondo and Rivers---real bad blood. One of them had to go, and it wasn't going to be Rondo, who's one of the top ten players in the NBA. Sources close to two Boston players report that Rondo, who sustained a season-ending ACL injury on Jan. 25,  went to GM Danny Ainge with a him-or-me ultimatum, basically forcing Rivers out the door.

Around the league, insiders have been buzzing all season about the raging conflict between Rivers and Rondo. More than once, sources say, the two almost came to blows. Apparently Ainge really wanted to keep Rivers and spent a lot of time playing peacemaker. But the relationship between Rivers and Rondo was too damaged to repair.

Rivers and Rondo have been at each other's throats for a while. The problem is that Rondo is a selfish jerk who prefers to do things his own way. A coach's nightmare, he's immature and thoroughly unpredictable. He doesn't always play hard. Against the better teams he'll go all out but will often not show up against lesser competition. To him a coach is an obstacle, not a source of guidance. Rivers was talking but headstrong Rondo wasn't listening. During games, Rivers would diagram plays that Rondo often ignored. The two tried to keep a lid on the turmoil but sometimes it boiled over in public. Court-side fans at the Boston Gardens occasionally witnessed expletive-laced arguments between them. In spite of his rogue point guard, Rivers, a truly skilled leader, has able to guide the Celts to successful seasons.

Stlll, the coach's exit was no surprise to insiders.The Celtics had been quietly shopping Rivers this past season. Many teams would have loved to have him but there was a  problem--his salary, the highest in the league. Hardly anybody wanted to pay it. The Clippers weren't considered a candidate because their owner Donald Sterling is notoriously cheap and would balk at paying Rivers $7 million a year. But the No.1 Clipper, indispensable point guard Chris Paul, becomes a free agent at the end of the month. To keep him, to get him to sign an extended contract, Sterling would have to sign a coach he liked. Sterling just fired a coach, Vinny Del Negro, Paul didn't like. Paul wanted Rivers. Case closed.

So now, sporting a coach with championship pedigree, the Clippers, who were first-round casualties in the recent playoffs, are on the rise. With some roster tweaks they just might make the Western conference finals next season. The Celtics? They're headed in the opposite direction.

They're in rebuilding mode but they've got to do it with a featherweight foundation. Their first-rate coach is gone. Two of their three stars, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, are ancient and likely to be traded for building blocks. Rondo is toxic. Boston needs some big-time players but many don't want to play with him. The Celts have to find a new coach who's not only high-quality but who's approved by Rondo and won't be putty in his hands.

Good luck with that.