Celtics notebook

Celtics’ Doc Rivers laments the firing of friend Avery Johnson

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he was surprised when his former teammate and one of his closest friends, Avery Johnson, in the business was abruptly fired by the Nets Thursday.
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he was surprised when his former teammate and one of his closest friends, Avery Johnson, in the business was abruptly fired by the Nets Thursday.

LOS ANGELES — Doc Rivers has been fired before, fired unexpectedly early in a season, but when one of his brethren loses his job, it remains unsettling to the Celtics coach.

And when it’s a close friend, it’s even more disheartening.

Avery Johnson, a former Rivers teammate and one of his closest friends in the business, was abruptly fired by the Brooklyn Nets Thursday after a 14-14 start that included 10 losses in the last 13 games.


The Celtics easily defeated the lethargic Nets (93-76) on Christmas Day, and on Wednesday, Brooklyn lost to Milwaukee (108-93) for the 13th consecutive time.

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The Nets entered this season a dark-horse pick to compete with Miami in the Eastern Conference with the additions of Joe Johnson and Reggie Evans to join re-signed All-Star guard Deron Williams and dependable center Brook Lopez.

But Williams recently complained that he was limited by Johnson’s offense, and ownership got impatient for better results after moving the franchise from New Jersey to Brooklyn’s pristine Barclays Center for a new start.

“It’s awful,” Rivers said. “Obviously it’s the business we’re in. But it’s a tough one. He’s one of my best friends.

“It comes out of nowhere. Avery’s a terrific coach, so who knows?”


Rivers said he is the last coach to ask about the Nets’ struggles. Brooklyn has beaten the Celtics twice this season, including a dominant 95-83 victory Nov. 28 at TD Garden, a game from which Rajon Rondo was ejected for fighting with Kris Humphries.

“I just saw that they beat us two out of three times,” Rivers said. “Three weeks ago, they were playing as well as anybody. The NBA is a league of ebbs and flows. That’s the way it is.

“You go on good streaks. You go on bad ones. You right your ship and go back on a good time.

“I thought it was awful quick to make a change. I’m very surprised by that, but listen, I don’t work there, I don’t do business there. My friend is Avery Johnson.”

When asked about his own job status after a 14-13 start, Rivers half-joked that he was concerned.


“Yeah, I am [nervous],” he said. “I may have to golf the rest of the year.”

Rivers said Johnson understands the business.

“You know when you get into coaching, that’s part of it,” he said. “Whether it’s fair — and in this case, I don’t think it is — either way, that’s the way it is.

“Every day as a coach, you’ve just got to do your job and do the best job you can do, and all the other stuff is out of your hands.”

Celtics guard Jason Terry, who was on the 2006 Dallas club that was two wins from the NBA Finals under Johnson, expressed sympathy for his former coach.

“When I heard the news, it’s tough,” Terry said. “It’s the holiday season and I know he put his heart and soul into trying to make Brooklyn a winner.

“And I believe in his system to this day. He has one of the greatest systems I ever played in. So I have nothing but the utmost respect for him. I know he will be coaching in this league soon, if he wants to.”

Barbosa expected back

Reserve guard Leandro Barbosa did not rejoin the Celtics in Los Angeles as expected.

He was still attending to a personal matter in his native Brazil but is expected to join the team Friday in San Francisco.

Barbosa has missed three games and hasn’t been an impact player for the Celtics since the beginning of December.

“He’s dealing with a tough situation,” Rivers said.

After averaging 6.1 points in 14.3 minutes per game in November as the primary backup to Rondo, Barbosa was benched in favor of Courtney Lee and had his minutes reduced to an average of 6.9 this month.

He has scored a total of 8 points in seven December games.

Bradley won’t go west

Rivers reiterated that point guard Avery Bradley will not join the club on this West Coast trip but is expected to return Jan. 2 against the Grizzlies.

Bradley is working out in Waltham, Mass., with strength and conditioning coach Bryan Doo and Chris Wilcox, who is out for a month with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right wrist.

Bradley has not played since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last May, and Rivers did not want to rush him back from double shoulder surgery.

Melo has been fab

While Rivers said he isn’t paying much attention to Fab Melo’s development with Maine of the NBADL, the rookie’s numbers are drawing raves around that league.

After his record-setting 14-block performance Sunday against the Erie BayHawks, Melo scored 32 points with nine more blocks Wednesday against the Idaho Stampede.

In 10 games for Maine, he is averaging 10.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.9 blocks.

Rivers said the organization has not been tempted to promote him to Boston.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.