CHICAGO — While the core of the Celtics team that won one NBA championship and came within a win of another may dissipate this summer, the leader will return.
At the NBA draft combine Thursday afternoon, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge made if official, telling the Globe that Doc Rivers will return for a 10th season as head coach after some speculation he was considering stepping down.
Following the Celtics’ season-ending 88-80 loss to the Knicks May 3, Rivers said he was going to decompress after a difficult, injury-plagued season and determine his future. But Ainge said Thursday he and Rivers had already discussed the 2013-14 season, and that there was no suspense from his perspective.
“Yeah, Doc and I are talking about our team next year,” Ainge said. “We’ve got a great coach. We’ve got a coach everybody would love to have, and he’s got three years left on his contract and I think Doc likes Boston, too.
“Coaches get tired, though. It’s a hard job.”
Ainge and the Celtics brass — save for Rivers, who pulled a hamstring during a Sunday tennis match in Orlando — were evaluating draft prospects here. The Celtics have the 16th pick in the June 27 draft, their highest since the Big Three Era began. And there are two major questions entering the offseason: the status of Paul Pierce and the status of Kevin Garnett.
The Celtics have to decide by June 30 whether to buy out Pierce’s contract at $5 million. Ainge said the sides have not had discussions, but an NBA source said Pierce’s family is already beginning to prepare for relocation from Boston, assuming the Celtics will execute the buyout or trade his expiring contract in the offseason.
Pierce struggled mightily during the playoffs, and Ainge was asked whether the longtime Celtic was injured.
“Paul’s always battling little things,” said Ainge. “I think Paul’s healthy, but he played so hard and carried such a heavy load.
“Paul had a terrific year this year, but in the playoffs, New York did a good job of taking away his strengths and taking advantage of some of our weaknesses. But I thought Paul had a terrific year.”
As for Garnett, he has two years left on his contract but is considering retirement. He turns 37 Sunday.
“I don’t think I have the answers that Kevin will want,” Ainge said. “So I’ve got to figure there’s a lot to do [before we talk], and I think there’s a lot of questions in Kevin’s mind, as there is every year, to determine whether he’s coming back.
“I’m not ready to answer everything that he will want to know.”
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The Celtics met with five prospects Wednesday: Indiana’s Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, Duke’s Mason Plumlee, French League center Rudy Gobert, and NBADL standout Glen Rice Jr., son of the former NBA player.
Rice was removed from the Georgia Tech team for disciplinary reasons, but the 6-foot-6-inch swingman decided to join the D-League and remain draft-eligible. He averaged 13 points and 6.2 rebounds for Rio Grande Valley this season.
“We talked basketball,” said Rice. “We talked on the court, off the court. I let them know I was ready to work.
“I’m ready to get out there and show I’ve matured a great deal. Still working on myself on and off the court. Ready to work.”
Oladipo, considered one of the best defenders in the draft, is not likely to drop to 16, but he enjoyed his meeting with the Celtics.
“It was great,” he said. “Being with Danny Ainge and all those guys was cool. They were my first interview, so they were really nice and they made it a lot more comfortable than I thought it was going to be.”Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe