Doc Rivers made it known after leaving the Celtics this past offseason that there were two main reasons behind his departure to take a coaching/front-office position with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The first was he felt that after nine years, his voice in the locker room no longer carried the same authority.
“At times, you really start as a coach feeling like your voice has been heard,” Rivers said Wednesday night upon his first return to Boston. “That was my feeling toward the end of it, toward the end of last year.”
The second was that he didn’t want to coach a team in rebuilding mode.
“The whole rebuild thing would’ve been very difficult for me to go through again,” he said.
Some of the Celtics didn’t completely agree.
When asked if Rivers’s voice was being tuned out in the locker room, Jared Sullinger said, “I don’t think so at all. That was news to me. That kind of caught me off guard.”
Jeff Green said Rivers’s voice still carried weight among the players.
“He was still the head man in charge in my eyes,” Green said. “I think the reason he left is he’s done so much in this league, I think he didn’t want to be part of the process of starting over. That’s fair for him. He’s done enough in his career that he has the opportunity to do that.”
Did Green take it personally that Rivers didn’t want to coach the Celtics as they entered a rebuilding phase?
“Not at all. Like I said, you can’t control what people do,” Green said. “He has a résumé where he doesn’t have to ask us whether or not he needs to stay or not. That’s his choice. He made the move and I’m happy for him.”
Likewise, Sullinger said he wasn’t upset with Rivers for leaving and for not wanting to coach a rebuilding Celtics team.
“A man’s got to do what’s best for your family,” Sullinger said. “It happens all the time in the NBA. It’s a business. He had quote, unquote a better opportunity in LA. I’m happy he took full advantage of it. At the same time, it’s a business.”
Rivers said he does regret how he left the Celtics, walking away from a contract that had three years remaining.
“I did wish it could have ended better, I guess,” Rivers said. “It wasn’t like Danny [Ainge] and I were arguing or anything. It was dragged out. I don’t know if there was any way you couldn’t drag it out.”
Sullinger said Tuesday night after the loss in Brooklyn that Rivers was like a father to him.
“I don’t know if that’s in a good way or not,” Rivers said with a laugh. “I was hard on Sully, but in a good way. I was hard on him this summer when he got in trouble. I love him. He’s a good kid. He’s going to be a great player. You could see that now, you could see it last year.”
Sullinger said he was surprised that Rivers called him this past summer when Sullinger faced domestic violence charges after an altercation with his girlfriend. Sullinger pleaded not guilty and the charges were later dropped.
“He made me realize that, even though it’s a business, some people in this league have a heart,” Sullinger said. “He treated me like family, it meant a lot to me. I can only thank him for it.”
Rivers said when he called Sullinger, his message was “just always do right, always.”
Rivers added, “He’s in the spotlight. They all are. It’s not like when we played. It really isn’t. You could probably do anything and nobody knew or cared. Now these guys, they really have to conduct themselves in the right way, and it’s important.”
Praise for successor
Rivers went out of his way to praise Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
“Brad is doing a terrific job,” Rivers said. “They started off slow. They’ve been playing good basketball. I think what he’s done a great job of is letting people know that this is not a rebuild year. There may be rebuilding going on, but he has his team competing every night. I think they’re one of the teams that, they compete every night and they can beat everybody.”
Rivers later added, “They are rebuilding, but it’s tough to rebuild when you have good players. And they still do. I know that the guys I coached are good, competitive players, and I’m not surprised that the fans are looking at these guys and saying, ‘Man, they play hard and they’re very competitive,’ because they were for me. They’re a competitive group of guys. And when [Rajon] Rondo comes back, that’s just going to make them more dangerous.”
Some good, some bad
When Rivers looks back on his time in Boston, he said he thinks about the loss in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals more than anything. He said he also thinks about 2009, when Kevin Garnett suffered a knee injury that ended the Celtics’ chances of repeating as champions.
“I tell people, we were the best team in the league in 2009 and then when Kevin went down, obviously we were never the same, ever,” Rivers said. “I should just look back on 2008 and be thankful, but I don’t think coaches ever work that way. I swear, I believe if Kevin was healthy, we could have won two, maybe three in a row. That would have been really sweet.”
Forward Kris Humphries (bruised right knee) missed Wednesday night’s game, which was won by the Clippers, 96-88, as did rookie Kelly Olynyk, who sat out his 10th straight with a sprained right ankle. Stevens is hopeful Olynyk will be able to play Friday against the Knicks at TD Garden.