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Two sides to Doc Rivers’s exit as Celtics coach

When the possibility of coaching the Clippers became more of a reality, Doc Rivers didn’t exactly pledge his loyalty to the Celtics.
When the possibility of coaching the Clippers became more of a reality, Doc Rivers didn’t exactly pledge his loyalty to the Celtics.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

It's not that Danny Ainge or Doc Rivers are stretching the truth, they are just telling their sides of the story of how their divorce occurred. The fans of Boston are playing the role of settlement judge.

Did Rivers simply want out of Boston and forced his way to Los Angeles by giving the Celtics a series of ultimatums, or attempt to persuade the organization to push through with the trade to the Clippers by expressing ambivalence about the future. Or did the Celtics, looking to rebuild and remove Rivers's remaining $21 million from their books, urge the Clippers to execute a deal because they knew Rivers wouldn't be on board with a rebuild?


The answer lies somewhere in the middle. Rivers wanted to coach for championships. He didn't want to coach a team without Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and he truly believed his message was getting stale in the locker room. When the possibility of coaching the Clippers became more of a reality, Rivers didn't exactly pledge his loyalty to the Celtics.

And when the Celtics knew that rebuilding would be easier — and cheaper — without Rivers, they became more enamored with getting something in return and starting fresh. Remember, Ainge promised last year that he wasn't going to allow the Big Three to age and decay in Boston, and wanted to begin the rebuilding plan this offseason. Pierce was a certainty to be traded even before the blockbuster deal to Brooklyn. The Celtics spent most of June determining Pierce's worth on the open market and wanted to get a return for his services instead of waiving him with a $5 million buyout.

As for Garnett, it was questionable whether he would come back to Boston without his buddy Pierce on his hip, and the fact he was open to waiving his no-trade clause to go to Los Angeles was proof that he was willing to play somewhere besides Boston.


"He felt like it was time for a change," Ainge said of Rivers. "I think he felt like in his opinion we all needed a change. That was his justification for going to the Clippers. He felt that was better for everybody. This may be a win-win for everybody. Time will tell. There are a lot of very capable coaches out there."

Rivers spoke with the media a day later, and told a different story. He explained that he did question his future, the Clippers' job was intriguing, but he never pushed to leave Boston. He pointed to a statement from part owner Steve Pagliuca, who according to Rivers told him if the Celtics could get out from under his contract and get a first-round pick from the Clippers, that would be a good thing.

That comment appeared to push Rivers more toward California than anything else. Instead of a person, he felt like more of an asset. While there is no limit on a coach's salary, the Celtics made it clear they were paying Rivers handsomely for his talents and wanted more dedication in return, if not, at least a first-round pick to make up for the loss.

It was hardball. The Celtics were unhappy that Rivers talked about being compared to Jerry Sloan in Utah or Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, but yet put the organization through anxious moments after every season. When this reporter asked Rivers pointedly after the first-round loss to the Knicks whether he planned on returning next season, he was noncommittal, but then told a group of reporters, "Consider me coming back until I say I am not. I don't want this to be a big story."


So, the organization took him at his word until his silence became deafening. Rivers also appeared annoyed when Ainge declared to the Globe at the draft combine that Rivers was indeed going to return — with no comment from Rivers, who still had not spoken publicly since the Knicks series two-plus weeks earlier.

"I never went into Danny's office and [made demands] about Kevin or Paul or about [Rajon] Rondo," Rivers said. "As a coach, you just don't want to feel like you are there. Danny understood to coach for $7 million a year for the next three years and maybe not win, that's a lot. This was something that I was not in by myself. This is something me and Danny agreed upon that would be the right thing to do. Sometimes you really feel like your gig's up, and I really felt that."

Rivers did feel as if his voice was becoming hoarse with the current roster. He had no problem relating to Garnett and Pierce, but there may have been a disconnect with the younger players. Rondo built a pretty strong faction with Courtney Lee, Avery Bradley, and Jeff Green, and perhaps Rivers felt like his messages were having less of an impact.


How did things go down? It was a combination of Ainge and ownership being irked at Rivers's lack of dedication and his refusal to stay somewhere too long. Perhaps it will work out for both parties eventually, but for now the results are confusing and disappointing.


Walker hopes to alter image

Antoine Walker made headlines last week by declaring on Twitter that he was interested in coaching the Celtics, and that declaration has turned into a desire to return to the NBA in any capacity. Walker is not delusional. He understands that no NBA team, including the Celtics, is likely to offer even an interview for a head coaching job because of his checkered past.

He will have to earn his way back into the good graces of team executives, perhaps by starting at the bottom: a scouting job, work in the Development League, or even overseas. Walker will have to prove he can stay away from the financial perils of his past and show diligence to gain a good reputation. Still, Walker says he misses playing as he tries to adjust to retirement. No NBA teams were interested after his stint in the NBADL.

"It's been difficult for me, I feel like I didn't leave the game on my own merit," he said. "Any time you feel good about yourself is when you leave the game on your own merit. I'm sure Jason Kidd was happy he was able to leave the game on his own merit. He played so many years. I'm more upset about that. I want to play but I think my time has come and passed, and it's time to do something else. It was tough at the beginning. I went down and tried the Development League. I played well enough I felt in the D-League to get back and it didn't happen for whatever reason. I didn't want to beat myself up over it. It was just unfortunate. I do think about that sometimes, that I can still play. It can get disappointing at times. I have grown past that and it's getting much easier now. I can sit down and be a fan and enjoy the game."


Walker has been hampered by financial troubles since his NBA career ended in 2008, blowing all of the estimated $108 million he earned. After Las Vegas casinos began pursuing him to pay for markers, some totaling nearly $1 million, he filed for bankruptcy in 2010, and has reached a settlement with his creditors.

He also appeared on the ESPN "30 for 30" documentary entitled "Broke," chronicling stories of athletes who have blown fortunes with excessive spending and bad investments.

"I think my situation was unfortunate — it was bad investments, bad judgment," Walker said. "The economy is so bad and the way things are, and the 9-to-5 person sometimes doesn't understand things like that. A lot of people are not as sympathetic to your situation as other people. The biggest thing for me is I am going to try to work that negative into a positive. I am going to work with the league to help these young guys out."

Likely the toughest part for Walker making the transition to being an NBA coach or scout is the interview process, having to explain his mistakes to skeptical executives who may believe he is just trying to earn a better-than-decent paycheck. Walker said his passion for basketball is brimming.

"I think sometimes we get to know people through the media," Walker said. "We really don't sit down and get to know a person. I think more face-to-face contact and bringing a guy in and really understanding whatever situation I went through. Sometimes we just know people through the social media and not really get to know the person, and sometimes you have to take a chance. You take a chance on these veteran coaches and it doesn't work, so why not give a young guy an opportunity to see if he can do well."

Walker said he is willing to start by preparing a résumé and e-mailing general managers throughout the league, looking for an opportunity to work. He attended the combine last month in Chicago to increase his visibility.

"I am going to keep plugging away," he said. "If I have to go the traditional route, I will go the traditional route. It's about me being proactive. It's not about me sitting and waiting for anybody to do it for me. I eventually have to earn a living, so the [detractors] don't really bother me. I understand where the [negativity] comes from, and I'm too tough-skinned for that."

After keeping a low profile during his financial issues, Walker has emerged from the shadows. He attended a Celtics game for the first time in years last spring and he has opened up about his mistakes and experiences. To earn money, Walker said he's signing autographs at memorabilia shows, among other appearances.

"I didn't die, I'm alive; I went through some financial troubles," he said. "I'm sure I'm one of a million people who go through that. It's about the type of person you become from it. We have to learn from our mistakes, and if I make a significant amount of money again, I know what to do with it. I'm happy to talk about it. I want to be a positive role model for a lot of young guys in the league. My phone number is open for guys who may want some advice and maybe going through some things and make them go the right way."


Draft filled with stunners

While few could have predicted the upheaval that took place on draft night, the selection of Anthony Bennett first overall was the most stunning development for most NBA executives. Because of a shoulder injury, Bennett was unable to audition for teams, and apparently his weight expanded to 261 pounds on a 6-foot-7-inch frame. That factor was supposed to drop him to perhaps the mid-lottery, but Cleveland passed on Alex Len to take Bennett as a small forward to pair with Tristan Thompson.

With Len and Nerlens Noel available, Orlando showed how much Indiana's Victor Oladipo rose the past few weeks by taking him second. The Magic already have Nicola Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson as young cornerstones in the paint, meaning they could use a defensive-minded swingman. There are questions about Oladipo's offense, but he impressed scouts with his work ethic and attitude. The other wrinkle in the draft was Charlotte taking Cody Zeller fourth over Noel and Len, which was a testament to how much owner Michael Jordan liked the former Indiana player's workout. What impressed scouts at the combine was Zeller's shooting. His ability to run the floor was known from his years with the Hoosiers, but it was evident that Zeller wasn't a center.

For Charlotte, he will be called on to run the floor with Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Zeller will feel the pressure to perform given the Bobcats passed on Noel, Len, and also Ben McLemore, who fell to seventh to Sacramento. That was a surprise gift for the Kings, but there was a reason why McLemore fell out of favor of some teams. The former Kansas standout did not hire an agent until last week, when he tabbed former AAU coach Rodney Blackstock. Blackstock scared a lot of teams because of what they perceived as an unhealthy association with McLemore.

McLemore's meager background has been much publicized, and teams feared that Blackstock swayed his family with money for the opportunity to influence McLemore, who left Kansas partially because of financial hardship. McLemore has perhaps the biggest upside of the draft, but he also could be victimized by off-the-court issues depending on his circle.

The other stunner for those who don't follow college basketball closely was the rise of Georgia sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, relatively unknown because the Bulldogs were near the bottom of the Southeastern Conference. The fact Caldwell-Pope was able to score consistently on such a lowly team impressed scouts, who felt his game was the most polished of the shooting guards in the draft. The Pistons have been seeking a capable shooting guard for years and may have found him.

The Timberwolves, moving on from the erratic David Kahn era, scored big in netting Shabazz Muhammad, who may become the best player in the draft, along with defensive ace Gorgui Dieng.


While draft night was peppered with deals for picks, one of the more interesting deals that didn't happen was a proposed trade that would have sent Kidd-Gilchrist from the Bobcats to the Pelicans for the sixth pick. The Pelicans were apparently seeking to pair former Kentucky teammates Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis and were open to sacrificing their pick. Instead, they drafted Noel, who fell to them unexpectedly, then traded him to Philadelphia for All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday and draft picks. Kidd-Gilchrist will stay in Charlotte for now, but it would have been interesting to see the pair of Kentucky big men in the New Orleans frontcourt . . . Tyronn Lue confirmed to the Globe that he would leave the Celtics staff and join Doc Rivers with the Clippers. Lue had interviews and offers from Denver and Toronto but decided to stick with Rivers as perhaps the fastest course to a head coaching job. That leaves Jay Larranaga as the only holdover from Rivers's staff in Boston . . . When the Celtics' job opened, Jerome Stanley, the agent for Brian Shaw, informed the Globe that his client was interested in the position. But a few hours later, Shaw agreed to a contract with the Nuggets. The time the Rivers saga dragged on likely cost the Celtics a chance at one of the rising coaches in the league . . . As expected, Bryan Colangelo resigned his position of president of team and business operations for the Raptors last week but will remain a consultant. Colangelo was demoted from GM when the Raptors hired Masai Ujiri from Denver. Colangelo is seeking another GM position . . . Golden State's Carl Landry quietly opted out of the final year of his contract but said he wants to return to the Warriors with a multiyear deal. Landry enjoyed a sparkling season as a reserve.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.