As speculation mounts surrounding the coaching future of Doc Rivers, so does the possibility that he may not return to coach the Boston Celtics next season.
Rivers is under contract with the Celtics for the next three seasons, over which time he's scheduled to make $21 million. But it has been more than a month since the team's season ended and he has not indicated whether he'll be back.
In that time, teams with coaching vacancies have become intrigued by Rivers — and there is interest from Rivers as well.
League sources told the Globe that the Los Angeles Clippers would consider Rivers their No. 1 choice if he were able to escape his contract.
And those sources also confirmed that Rivers has mutual interest in coaching the Clippers.
"If Doc is honest, his dream scenario is him coaching the Clippers with Kevin Garnett and a chance to win the championship," a league source said.
League sources said that Rivers would take a pay cut if he joined the Clippers, perhaps making as much as $4 million. He's scheduled to make $7 million per year with the Celtics.
But if a deal can't be worked out, one league source indicated that Rivers may well walk away from coaching and return to television broadcasting.
At the heart of the issue is that Rivers would be more interested in coaching a team that has a chance to win a championship (the Clippers) than one that is rebuilding.
The Clippers, for whom Rivers played during the 1991-92 season, have a talented young core with All-Stars in guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin.
A league source said that Paul would consider Rivers his No. 1 choice to become the team's next coach. It is also considered likely that Garnett, who is especially close with Rivers, would waive his no-trade clause to join the coach in LA.
The Clippers have reached out to the Celtics to request permission to speak with Rivers, but president of basketball operations Danny Ainge denied that request, a league source said.
Rivers has what amounts to a non-compete clause in the five-year extension that he signed in 2011. In essence, he cannot coach with any other team unless the Celtics grant him permission.
And, given their situation, the Celtics will almost certainly ask for large compensation from the team Rivers would coach.
Because of that, it is highly unlikely that any team will be granted permission to directly speak to Rivers unless it has in place at least the rough outlines of a possible compensation package beforehand.
A possible package could include Rivers and the 37-year-old Garnett heading to the Clippers, with point guard Eric Bledsoe, center DeAndre Jordan, and two first-round draft picks heading to the Celtics.
While the Celtics would no doubt regret losing two franchise icons, they would at least get two young, talented players in return and picks that could help them add quality players through the draft.
On the Clippers' side, the franchise would add an elite coach and a veteran star, which could open up a two- to three-year window to win a title and possibly convince Paul to re-sign with the team this summer, when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
"I would say that the ball is in [the Clippers'] court," a league source said. "If they are aggressive and make a good offer, they could get something done soon."
However, it would be unlikely that the Celtics could include Paul Pierce in that deal, as Pierce and Garnett's salaries would be too expensive for the Clippers.
One league source said there's concern among Clippers management that a potential deal might include too many moving parts to pull off.
Another league source said that there is also the belief that the Celtics would demand too much compensation for Rivers.
However, given the close bond between Ainge and Rivers, it's plausible that if Rivers truly wanted to leave Boston, Ainge would do his best to facilitate the deal.
It's also believed that even though Rivers pledged loyalty to the Celtics when he signed his extension, the Celtics' brass would feel much more comfortable parting ways if it felt like it received enough pieces in return that could help rebuild the team for the future.
That said, the Celtics consider Rivers, one of the league's most coveted coaches, as a prize asset and a figure of stability entering what is likely a rebuilding mode, and they wouldn't part ways with him for nothing.
These teams were discussing a deal near the trade deadline that, in various scenarios, discussed Garnett and Pierce as well as Bledsoe and Jordan. The talks did not involve Griffin, who one league source described as "untouchable".
Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.