The trade talks between the Clippers and Celtics won’t truly be dead until the Clippers hire a coach who isn’t named Doc Rivers.
But those talks reached another firm standstill Friday, a day when there were more twists and turns in what has become a daily soap opera.
Entering the day, league sources said there was little hope that a deal could be made, and the Celtics announced a noon press conference with Rivers and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge at the team’s practice facility in Waltham.
About an hour before that event, though, the Celtics canceled the press conference.
Why? The Clippers wanted to talk again.
A day earlier, the Clippers had moved their focus from trying to obtain Rivers and Kevin Garnett to just Rivers; but, in a bizarre move, the Clippers were also refusing to offer any compensation for Rivers, according to a league source.
It made sense, though, that if the Clippers were calling back a day later, they would have an enticing offer to make.
That wasn’t the case.
The Celtics have demanded at least one first-round pick in exchange for releasing Rivers from his contract — and in a prior offer, the Clippers essentially agreed to free up that asset if it meant attaining the services of the top-tier coach, league sources said.
Yet the Clippers’ offer as of Friday was a second-round pick — and it didn’t appear as though they were budging, just as the Celtics weren’t willing to budge either, a league source said.
And so talks again reached a standstill, as they did several times this week.
Talks could always resume over the weekend, but given how little progress has been made, it’s doubtful any deal is completed.
That leaves Rivers in an interesting spot.
It’s well known he has no desire to coach a rebuilding team, as he would be doing if he returns to the Celtics, but sources close to him maintain that he still wants to coach in the NBA.
Because of the non-compete clause in his contract, Rivers can’t coach anywhere but Boston for the next three seasons unless the Celtics let him out of his contract, which they won’t do unless they receive ample compensation.
League sources have said there’s a chance Rivers could return to the broadcast booth, even if his salary were much smaller, because it would be awkward for him to return as the Celtics coach.
The Celtics organization has maintained ever since the season ended — and even through these trade talks — that it wants Rivers to return. The Celtics consider him a prized asset and a figure of stability as they enter a rebuilding stage.
If Rivers does return, next season would be his 10th as Boston coach. With the NBA draft less than a week away (Thursday), there is a sense of urgency for the Celtics to settle this matter.
As for why things have stalled, league sources said the Clippers are just too wary of giving up assets, an attitude that stems from notoriously eccentric and frugal owner Donald Sterling.
One of the more puzzling aspects of the situation is that the Clippers were willing to offer assets that the Celtics would have accepted in a deal that turned out to be against league rules, but now the Clippers won’t offer those same assets in a deal that would be legal.
In the initial proposal, the Celtics had agreed to allow Rivers out of his contract in exchange for a first-round pick, and then it would trade Garnett to the Clippers for rising center DeAndre Jordan and an additional first-round pick.
Even though the teams were treating the moves as separate transactions, the league didn’t see it that way. Under NBA rules, a coach can’t be traded for a player, and there cannot be side deals, so the league told the teams it would block such a deal.
Once that happened, the teams had to go back to the drawing board — and that’s when the Clippers moved their focus solely to Rivers, although there was the possibility that Garnett and even Paul Pierce could join him in Los Angeles at some point.
Yet instead of offering a pick in the first round, the Clippers offered one in the second.
“They obviously got cold feet and they have just wasted everyone’s time,’’ a league source said. “Guess they will forever be the Clippers.’’
League sources have said the Clippers’ intentions were to never actually complete a deal — and thus part with assets and pay an expensive coach — but only give the appearance of trying to make one work to appease guard Chris Paul, who wants Rivers to coach the Clippers.
Paul, the Clippers’ point guard, is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and it is the Clippers’ top priority this summer is to re-sign him.