OFFSEASON

Rivers: 'I'm leaning heavily toward coming back'

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Rivers: 'I'm leaning heavily toward coming back'

MIAMI -- The Celtics were beaten soundly by the Heat in Game 5 on Wednesday night, 97-87, but Doc Rivers still loves the core of his team and believes it can win. He loves it so much, he's already leaning toward returning as the Celtics' coach next season.

"I'm leaning heavily toward coming back," said Rivers in his postgame press conference. "I haven't made that decision, but I can tell you I probably will. I've kind of come to that over the last couple of weeks. I'm a Celtic, and I love our guys.

"I want to win again here. I do. I'm competitive as hell, I have a competitive group. And so well see. But I can tell you that's where I'm at today. Tomorrow I may change my mind, but that's where I'm at today."

Though injuries plagued the Celtics down the stretch, and though many believe this season was the Big Three's last legitimate shot at a title, Rivers said he thought otherwise.

"These guys aren't done," he said. "We need to add some pieces, but I love those guys in the locker room."

With green ink visible on his fingers, Rivers elaborated on his future and got emotional.

"I love our guys. I love 'em. I love the people I work for. It's tough . . . We'll see. That's we're I'm at for sure. Thanks, guys," said Rivers.

As tears welled up in his eyes, the Celtics' coach left the room.

Paul Pierce said Rivers' presence with the team would be vital if the Celtics were to make another run at a championship.

"Doc is very important in my opinion," Pierce said. "It's huge if we're trying to move forward, trying to be back next year and win a championship, he's one of the main pieces coming back."

Rajon Rondo joked with reporters that he saw Rivers sign a contract soon after the game ensuring Rivers would be back in Boston next season. Rondo laughed, but he seriously did not want to picture his playing career without Rivers as his coach.

"I don't even want to imagine," Rondo said. "I really want him to come back. Hopefully he can."

OFFSEASON

Kevin Durant solidifying invitations for free agent meetings, including Celtics

Kevin Durant solidifying invitations for free agent meetings, including Celtics

The wheels of the Kevin Durant free agent train have been set in motion.

"Durant’s representatives at Roc Nation are working to solidify invitations" for meetings with a list of five teams, which includes the Boston Celtics, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski. The other teams listed are the Warriors, Clippers, Heat, Spurs and Thunder. The Nuggets, Knicks, Lakers, Rockets, and Wizards could "could still find audiences with him," but they are considered outsiders.

Wojnarowski says the Thunder remain the frontrunners, but "the Warriors have Durant's attention."

If Durant chooses the Warriors it could happen very quickly. Warriors restricted free agent Harrison Barnes could sign an offer sheet for a contract on July 1, which would mean the Warriors would have only have three days to match the deal. They'd likely need a decision from Durant before then, or they'd risk losing one of their valuable pieces without being able to fill his role.

Durant plans on making his decision before July 9 anyway, according to Wojnarowski, because that's when he's leaving for a publicity tour in the Far East.

The fact the Celtics are even on Durant's primary list shouldn't come as a surprise considering his actions after his game in Boston against the Celtics earlier this year. They do have tough competition though. Both the Warriors and Heat have the cap space to absorb Durant's likely max contract worth about $26.4 million, and the Spurs can easily create the space if necessary.

The Clippers are interesting though, because they'd have to deal one of their stars (Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, or Blake Griffin) to free the cap space to sign Durant. If he does choose the Clippers, maybe Danny Ainge could help Doc Rivers swing a deal. How about something involving Blake Griffin and Jae Crowder?

But the Celtics have an edge. Their the only team listed that can sign two max contract free agents. If Durant wants to play with his buddy Al Horford, or anyone else for that matter, the Celtics can make it happen easily. How about a 2007 draft class reunion with Durant, Horford, and Jared Dudley? It's an odd trio, but Dudley has already expressed interest in joining the Celtics.

No matter what happens, though, the Celtics are in the race. Celtics fans might be disappointed after Thursday night. But we're just getting started, folks.

Kevin O’Connor can be followed on Twitter: @KevinOConnorNBA