Less than 24 hours after Paul Pierce‘s agent announced he would opt out of the final year of his contract with the Boston Celtics, word is surfacing that head coach Doc Rivers will return to the team and, at the very least, finish out his current contract. For those of you who are interested in the Celtics and wondering what this means for their off-season plans, the answer is a lot.
The fact that Doc has chosen to return probably answers most of the questions that Boston had after the playoffs ended and is an indication that they plan on keeping their core in tact for at least another year. Rivers has at times been given a bit too much credit as a coach when you consider the roster he was handed a few years ago, but there’s something to be said for being a players’ coach that a team responds to. Let’s go over a few implications that the return of Rivers has for the reigning Eastern Conference champs.
1. Paul Pierce’s opt out doesn’t mean he’s leaving Boston.
The reason players have been opting out of the final years of their deals, regardless of where they want to play, has to do with the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA will expire after next season and it’s pretty much a certainty at this point that it will result in the league’s top players making less money. The ceiling for a maximum contract players can sign is going to be lowered, therefore players are opting out (when able to) and seeking a long-term deal under the current CBA rather than waiting until next off-season.
Paul Pierce wants to finish his career as a Celtic. Why wouldn’t he? He’s been the face of the franchise for over a decade and the only mainstay the Celtics have had as their roster has been torn apart and reworked almost annually. When he calls it quits, his No.34 is certain to join the likes of Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Bill Russell, Kevin McHale, and all the other Celtic greats in the rafters of the Boston Garden. Pierce and Doc Rivers have as good a relationship as any player and coach can have. Pierce loves playing for Doc and Doc loves coaching him. You can bet your you-know-what that Rivers wouldn’t be returning if the Celtics didn’t intend to keep their captain.
2. Ray Allen will probably be back.
If the Celtics are going to start rebuilding around Rajon Rondo — which they will inevitably do at some point — they would probably have to renounce their rights to Paul Pierce and let him sign somewhere else. That would create enough cap room for them to pursue a maximum contract player and start thinking about the future. With Rivers returning, Pierce is most likely staying. That means they won’t have as much cap space available and will likely bring Ray Allen back on something close to a two-year, $20 million deal, rather than pursuing a player that demands a huge contract and would be here for the long haul.
3. Kevin Garnett has something left in the tank.
Garnett was extremely spotty throughout the 2009-2010 season. At times we saw the K.G. we’ve grown used to seeing — a ferocious defender who can take over a game on both sides of the ball and whose intensity propelled the Celtics to a championship in 2008. Other times we saw an aging big man whose knees are starting to go and taking the spring in his step with them. That being said, he’s an integral part of what the Celtics do on offense and, more importantly, with their swarming defense. Rivers would not be returning unless he thought the current Celtics team had a chance to repeat their playoff success from last season. If he didn’t think K.G. had anything left, I doubt he’d think the Celtics stood a chance at winning another championship.
4. Rasheed Wallace is probably serious about retirement.
Overall, Rasheed Wallace had a pretty rough first season with the Celtics. Plays like this one sum up his regular-season contributions to the team. Doc’s too classy of a guy to say anything negative about one of his players publicly, but there’s no reason to believe coaching Rasheed wasn’t an extra headache for him. The two butted heads a couple of times during the regular season — something only Rasheed could manage to do with a coach that players love as much as Doc. Between his lack of effort and hot-headed temper, I’m sure Doc would rather not have to deal with Wallace next year. I suppose there’s an outside chance the two could sit down and chat about how they’re going to get along next season, but the more likely scenario is that Rasheed isn’t joking when he said he’s probably going to retire.
5. This group might have a chance to make one more championship run.
It’s tough to walk away from a team you like — no matter what the situation. Doc’s reason for contemplating leaving the Celtics is that he wanted the chance to spend more time with his family and watch his kids play. For him to return, it’d take more than just a love for the guys that play for him. He also has to believe those guys have enough left in them to win a championship. There’s no point in returning for one more year if you don’t think you have a shot at winning a title. Sure, money is always a motivator. But Doc knows he’s going to have no problem scoring a job and a lucrative deal whenever he decides to return to coaching (if he takes a leave at some point). Assuming Danny Ainge brings back the Big Three — or The Big Four now including Rondo — and grabs a couple more pieces to put around them, Rivers is confident he can make another deep run with the group he’s grown so fond of over the last three seasons.
Doc Rivers will be back as Celtics coach [Boston Herald]