Blakely: Rivers the only man for Celtics

Blakely: Rivers the only man for Celtics
May 13, 2011, 10:46 pm
Share This Post

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

WALTHAM As Danny Ainge made his way towards the media gathered to hear his annual state-of-the-franchise spiel Friday morning, his phone rang.

He stopped mid-stride and headed towards a more secluded room.

Behind the closed door, Ainge had one last conversation with Doc Rivers, before announcing that Rivers had agreed to a five-year deal to remain head coach of the Boston Celtics.

Yahoo! Sports reported the deal is worth 35 million.

There are a litany of reasons why re-signing Rivers to a long-term contract makes sense to Boston.

At the top of that list has to be the trust factor that exists between Rivers and Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations.

Ainge has witnessed first-hand how Rivers has handled the trials and tribulations that come with being the head coach of the most storied franchise in NBA history.

From the franchise-worst 18 game losing streak, to winning an NBA title, Rivers has indeed seen the highs and lows that come with being the head coach of a big market team with an impressive history.

To focus on how Rivers led the team to the 2008 title and the success that has followed, makes for an easy justification for a long-term contract.

But the manner in which Rivers handled himself during that dreadful 2006-2007 season, was all Ainge needed to see to know that this was the man he wanted leading this franchise for many years to come.

"I saw determination, I saw hard work, persistence he's a great leader in the face of adversity," Ainge said. "There's nobody I'd rather have on my side than Doc."

And that feeling is mutual.

Earlier this season, Rivers spoke with CSNNE.com about the importance of his relationship with Ainge.

"Danny and I have an unbelievable relationship," Rivers said. "As you know, we had our rough patches as a team around here we just weren't winning. Danny's support for me and my staff was steady through those rough times; never wavered. You don't forget that kind of support, ever."

That's why the notion that Rivers would commit to a long-term contract with the Celtics shouldn't be all that surprising.

Amid public pressure, Ainge stood his ground in support of Rivers when there were so many who felt a change needed to be made.

Now that Rivers has established himself as one of the NBA's elite head coaches who can essentially command just about any job he wants, he has rewarded the C's and their loyalty with a commitment to be around as the team makes another run at Banner 18 and what will likely be a rebuilding process when the Big Three retire in all likelihood under his watch.

"He knows the circumstances of our team as well as anybody," Ainge said. "He knows the ages, contracts he gets it all. But he wants to be part of this franchise. He wants to be working with us. We have a great relationship that is unique and hard to find in our business. He appreciates that and would prefer to stay regardless of where we are on the ability to win a championship."

And it is that latter point that makes Rivers' decision so special.

With the kind of success and reputation he has garnered throughout the league, there's little doubt that in another year or two, he can latch on to team that might be more title-ready than the C's will be once Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen move on.

"Doc wants to be here," Ainge said. "It's not all because he thinks over the next five years, he thinks we're going to have the best team in the NBA. He feels like he's part of this franchise. He likes working here. He's willing to do whatever it takes to help us be successful."

As competitive as Rivers is, he has always been a coach who sees something in his players that few others can envision.

Take a look at last season.

The Celtics looked like a bunch of zombies as they limped into the playoffs while finishing a disappointing fourth in the East.

With all the struggles and late-game collapses, Rivers' faith in his players remained solid.

In fact, the more they struggled, the stronger his belief that they would turn it around seemed to be.

Sure enough, the Celtics remained relatively healthy throughout the playoffs and advanced to the NBA Finals where they came up short to the Los Angeles Lakers.

And this past season, Rivers' confidence in his team was just as strong - just as long as they could get enough guys healthy in the postseason.

Sadly for Celtics Nation, that was not meant to be as the injury-riddled Celtics were eliminated by the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semi-finals on Wednesday.

Shaquille O'Neal and his right leg injuries limited him to just 12 minutes - total - in the playoffs.

Rajon Rondo played two-plus games of the Miami series essentially with one arm after suffering a dislocated left elbow in the third quarter of Boston's Game 3 win.

Jermaine O'Neal started all nine playoff games for the Celtics, playing all of them with a broken left wrist injury that Ainge said on Friday would require surgery as well as the likely insertion of pins to stabilize it.

There were others with less serious injuries, but Rivers and his players refused to make excuses for falling short to the Heat.

In fact, losing to the Heat seemed to have only served as a reminder that walking away from the Celtics - be in in victory or defeat - is a lot easier said than done.

Right after the Game 5 loss, Rivers indicated that he was leaning heavily towards coming back.

Usually he takes some time off after the season is over to evaluate whether he wants to keep coaching, or whether he wants to take some time off to be with his wife and children.

Here's the funny thing about the Celtics.

For Rivers, they are family as well.

That's why when the C's traded away Kendrick Perkins, Rivers was among the more bleary-eyed C's when the deal was officially done.

That's why no matter how maddening Glen Davis can make him at times, he loves him the way a father loves his son who doesn't always do things the way he's supposed to, but you love him nonetheless because he's family.

That's why no matter how many times he butted heads with Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo in their early years together, both have come to respect and love Rivers the way a young son does when he eventually becomes a man.

In the coming years, the Celtics are surely in for some rocky, turbulent times.

Give Ainge credit.

He's wise enough to know that you can't navigate successfully through those times without a leader who, regardless of how the winds of change swirl, will hold his ground.

That's Doc Rivers, head coach of the Boston Celtics.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn