After nine seasons in Boston, during which he revived its storied basketball franchise and steered it to its first NBA championship in 22 years, Doc Rivers is set to leave the Celtics to become the coach of the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Celtics and Clippers reached an agreement Sunday, league sources said. The NBA still has to approve the deal, but it is expected to do so as early as Monday.
Under the terms of the deal, Rivers would coach the talent-laden Clippers for three seasons and earn $21 million, those sources said, which is what Rivers had remaining on the five-year extension that he signed with the Celtics in 2011.
His departure accomplishes Rivers’s goals of again coaching a championship-caliber team while avoiding the grind of leading one that is in the rebuilding stages. But his exit was still abrupt.
“Coach gone?????” Celtics guard Terrence Williams tweeted.
In return for allowing one of the league’s top coaches out of his contract, league sources said, the Celtics would receive a 2015 first-round draft pick, a valuable asset.
Celtics All-Star center Kevin Garnett was involved in previous incarnations of proposed deals with the Clippers, but he is not involved in this one.
And the league is expected to veto subsequent player trades between the teams, as they would appear connected and thus violate league rules forbidding side deals.
However, it’s unclear what the 37-year-old Garnett, who is extremely close with Rivers and is under contract with the Celtics next season, will do next — retire or return to play in Boston.
The draft pick the Celtics would get is unprotected, meaning there are no contingencies and it is the Celtics’ pick no matter where it falls in the first round.
With the NBA draft looming Thursday, and the June 30 deadline for a decision on the future of Paul Pierce also fast approaching, the Celtics already had a heavy workload before them.
But now they must begin searching for a new coach.
The pool of candidates is shallow at this point in the offseason, but league sources made early suggestions such as Brian Shaw, Lawrence Frank, and Nate McMillan, among others.
“I think they do have to go young, and Danny [Ainge] is going to want to look like a genius,” a league source said. “Brian Shaw is what I think they’d hire, but I don’t know. Danny might go outside the box a little.”
Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations, and Shaw, who was drafted by the Celtics in 1988, were teammates during the 1988-89 season in Boston.
Shaw, who is an assistant coach in Indiana, was a candidate for the Clippers job.
It’s also unclear what Celtics assistant coaches Rivers plans to take with him to LA; only one of them — Jay Larranaga — is under contract for next season in Boston.
That the Clippers and Celtics finally agreed on terms ended a back-and-forth week that played out like a reality show. Talks were on again, off again, dead and alive. There was much posturing, many ploys and bluffs, as both sides fought for leverage.
Late last week, league sources said, the Clippers turned their focus to Rivers, setting aside the possibility of obtaining both the coach and Garnett in a blockbuster deal. But in an odd move, the Clippers offered no compensation for Rivers, the sources said.
Then on Friday the Celtics canceled a news conference and resumed talks with the Clippers, who were then offering a second-round pick for Rivers.
All along, the Celtics didn’t budge on their asking price: one first-round draft pick.
After reaching a firm standstill, the Clippers initiated talks Sunday and improved their offer to meet that price, reportedly at the request of their point guard, Chris Paul.
If there was a powerful figure working behind the scenes, it was Paul, who had Rivers as his top choice to become the Clippers’ new coach. The franchise sought to appease Paul in an effort to re-sign him when he becomes a free agent next month.
“It just reinforced that it’s a players’ league,” a league source said.
In LA, Rivers joins the historically beleaguered franchise he played for during the 1991-92 season. With the Celtics, Rivers, the 16th coach in the franchise’s history, was the second-longest-tenured coach in the NBA behind San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich (17 seasons).
But Rivers’s time in Boston was not always smooth.
An NBA player for 13 seasons with the Hawks, Clippers, Knicks, and Spurs, Rivers received his first coaching opportunity with the Orlando Magic in 1999, but he was fired in 2003, 11 games into his fifth season with them.
The Celtics hired Rivers in April 2004.
“Danny Ainge called me and asked me to coach the Boston Celtics,” Rivers said then. “If you like basketball, I don’t know how you could say no to that.”
In his first season, the Celtics won 45 games and advanced to the postseason.
The next two seasons, they won a combined 57 games and didn’t make the playoffs; Rivers’s job status was no doubt in question.
But in July 2007, Garnett, a former NBA MVP, arrived in a trade with Minnesota. A month earlier, guard Ray Allen had come to Boston in a trade with Seattle.
With Allen, Garnett, and Pierce in place, the Celtics had a new Big Three.
In their first season together, the Celtics went 66-16 and advanced to the NBA Finals, where they dispatched the Lakers in six games to win the franchise’s 17th title, its first since 1986.
Rivers’s Celtics reached the Finals once more in 2010, losing to the Lakers in seven games.
Through that success, Rivers established himself as one of NBA’s premier coaches.
But after the 2012-13 season, Rivers, as he has in recent years, expressed doubt about returning to the Celtics, saying he needed to “detox” and step away for a while.
“I’m coming back until I say I’m not,” he said.
In recent weeks, though, it became clear he was thinking more about leaving.
When he signed his extension two years ago, Rivers said he would be committed to the idea of coaching a rebuilding team.
“Well, I don’t think anyone’s looking forward to that, but I’m willing to do that,” he said then. “I had a group that has been very loyal to me. I think it would have been very easy for me to just run and go somewhere else and chase something else.
“I just don’t think that’s the right thing to do. Coaches talk about loyalty and team, and I just thought it was time to show it.”
Rivers posted a 416-305 regular-season record as Celtics coach, the third-most wins in franchise history behind Tom Heinsohn (427) and Red Auerbach (795).
In the postseason, Rivers went 59-47, the third-most wins for a Celtics coach behind Auerbach (90) and K.C. Jones (65).