It’s Year 9 of the Doc Rivers Era.
Only Red Auerbach himself (16 years) and Tom Heinsohn have coached the Celtics longer, and since Tommy was sacked 34 games into his ninth season, we can assume Doc will come out of this season as the longest-tenured non-Auerbach coach in the team’s storied history.
I’m here to tell you that he is refreshed, he is excited, and he is ready to go. I’m also here to tell you that you are not reading the words of an unbiased observer. I really don’t see how anyone can spend any period of time around this man and not come away a fan.
He is not your garden-variety, by-the-numbers, no-nonsense, get-a-life coach. He is a fairly normal, well-educated, witty, worldly husband and father of four who happens to love basketball and who has been able to make a nice living playing and coaching it.
He gets it. He gets the players, he gets the general manager, he gets the owners, he gets the media, and he gets the fans. He has been a pleasure to deal with from Day One, and I have no doubt will continue to be a pleasure to deal with until his final day as a coach.
He didn’t lose it when his team lost 18 games in a row and he didn’t pretend he had invented the sport when his team won the championship the following year. You probably don’t need to know anything more.
I’m not talking X’s and O’s or personnel judgments. He is as open to criticism as any other coach in those areas. But there is no better person coaching in the NBA. I’ll put my dukes up if anyone wants to take me on for that belief.
End of sermon. So where were we?
Now, this past summer, Doc did London. He did Olympic commentary at the behest of NBC, and he admits he didn’t go over there full of enthusiasm. It seemed like a good idea when he was asked, but the end of the Miami playoff series was deflating, and he was actually pretty upset with himself for making the commitment.
And speaking of that Miami series . . .
“Everybody talks about the great game LeBron [James] played in Game 6,” said Rivers, “and he was great. But we still could have won that game. We were terrible. We were flat. We just didn’t play. Yet I still thought we were going to win Game 7.
“The truth is, we really did run out of gas in the fourth quarter.”
So Doc goes to London, and what happens? He can’t get enough of it.
“The Olympics are amazing,” he says. “I’d have to say Usain Bolt was my highlight. I was right there at the finish line for the 100, the 200, and the 4 x 100. But I went to a lot of different things. I saw beach volleyball, women’s boxing, even synchronized swimming.”
The basketball, of course, was a given. That’s why he was there in the first place. Like many people, he has a healthy respect for Spaniards Pau and Marc Gasol, and he had a great appreciation for the way the US team had to compensate for the lack of (no offense, Tyson Chandler) a big-time center.
Mike Krzyzewski has coached his last game as head of the national team, and Rivers is hardly unaware that his name has been floated out there as a possible successor. Flattered though he may be, he doesn’t see that happening.
“I really think it’s a good idea for the coach to come out of the colleges,” he said. “A college coach can take, say, Dwyane Wade, out of the game and not have to worry about any repercussions.
“Larry Brown [the ill-fated 2004 Olympic coach] told me that, no matter what they may say at the time, they have long memories. They may say, ‘Oh, it’s fine with me if I’m not starting; I’m happy to come off the bench.’
“Larry said if you check it out, the seven guys he didn’t start each averaged about 30 points a game the next year against his Pistons.”
Rivers also says the college coach simply has more time available.
“Coach K had most of March and all of April, May, and June to get ready,” Rivers pointed out. “If the head coach is an NBA guy, and his team goes to the Finals, he’ll have something like 10 days before he gets them practicing.”
Anyway, Rivers’s thoughts are on the 2012-13 Celtics. Losing Ray Allen hurts, and Rivers says the fact that Allen wound up in Miami doesn’t really make any difference. He just thought Allen would be better off here.
But that’s a done deal. Replacing the great Ray Allen with Jason Terry and Courtney Lee has him very fired up.
“The great thing about Jason is that he wants to come off the bench,” Rivers explains. “He loves that instant offense role.”
He is equally enthused about Lee.
“He can really shoot it,” said Rivers, “and he may be second only to Ray as a pure corner shooter.”
And then there’s Jared Sullinger.
“I’m not kidding when I say we sat there on draft night and kept watching team after team pass on him,” said Rivers, “and we’re saying to ourselves, ‘What’s going on?’
“I swear, maybe Danny [Ainge] was the one putting out bad info about his back, or this and that. We really were thrilled to get him.”
The idea of being able to throw the ball into a widebody who actually knows his way around the low post is going to be a nice experience, the coach believes.
Just think. A year ago, Rivers was in the same position his texting buddy Claude Julien is in now, wondering when he’d have a team to coach.
“I know what Claude’s going through, but it actually turned out to be a good experience for me,” said Rivers. “It’s no secret I was thinking about stopping, but the lockout gave me the break I needed.
“I was able to see my kids play, and by the time we started up, I was raring to go. I think everyone would benefit from some time off like that.”
Mention of his four offspring brings to mind the fact that on the night of Jan. 16, 2013, Doc Rivers will have a rare and fascinating experience. The New Orleans Hornets will be in town, and his second son, Austin Rivers, will be wearing an enemy uniform. Only Mike Dunleavy knows exactly what that is like.
“That’s going to be interesting,” is about as much as Rivers can say.
He is, of course, tremendously proud of Austin.
“People think it’s all about talent and pedigree, but that’s not the case,” Rivers pointed out. “He always put in the work.
“Michael Jordan said a profound thing once about being a star. He said that anyone who aspires to that type of stardom has to be prepared to be lonely. When your friends are out partying, you’re in the gym. When your friends are at the beach — and Austin is a Florida kid — you’re in the gym.
“He did this by himself. I have never coached him. In fact, I bet I haven’t been in the gym with him 10 hours of his life.
“I figured my job as a parent was to help him in every other area. The basketball, he was on his own.”
See? The man has his act together. It’s that simple.