Rivers has gone into radio silence while reports swirl around a potential trade to send him to the Los Angeles Clippers in what would be a bizarre deal, even by Clippers’ standards.
The deal apparently has died – no surprise there, given what the Clippers would have to give up – but lost amid all the chatter of whence and where Doc is going is the decision that spurred all the talk.
The Celtics have decided to part ways with Paul Pierce.
There’s really no other way to look at this. One of the greatest players in the history of the franchise is, well, history. The Celtics have a $5 million buyout they can exercise on Pierce’s deal. They must fish or cut bait by June 30.
The only real unknown is whether the Celtics can get something back for Pierce via trade in the next 13 days. That would necessitate a team absorbing Pierce’s regular salary (in excess of $15 million) for the 2013-14 season at a time when teams are reluctant to take on big contracts. The qualifier is that the contract has only a year to run – and Pierce has said he wants to play another season.
Either way, it certainly looks like Pierce is a goner. His buyout was to be the first of many dominoes this summer. If the Celtics were to keep Pierce, then Kevin Garnett would return as well and the team would fire it up one more time for a last, long-shot run at Banner 18.
You could see Rivers going along with this scenario, even though you would be hard-pressed to include the Celtics as a top-four team in the East, even with Pierce and Garnett. But if the team cuts its ties to Pierce, that also means Garnett is likely to resist returning. He would have to accept a trade. Or retire.
And that leaves Rivers with a team that, to be charitable, would likely struggle just to make the playoffs.
Would Rivers coach such a team? Contractually, he is bound to do so. He said when he re-upped for five years that he knew he would have to oversee another rebuilding job. But his annual, post-playoffs Hamlet routine has now crossed into mid-June. And where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
The Brooklyn Nets asked permission to talk to him. Why would they do that with a coach who has three years left on his contract unless they had heard that he might be interested in leaving? It doesn’t make sense otherwise.
Now the Clippers – who apparently are being run these days by Chris Paul – are in the picture. At some point, even with the Clippers, someone in Los Angeles is going to look at the reported deal (Doc and KG for Eric Bledsoe, DeAndre Jordan and draft picks) and go, What???? We’re going to surrender two of our best young assets for a guy who maybe – maybe – has one good year left in him?
The Celtics, clearly, would love this deal. They would get two young players, and while they would lose their coach, they would also lose the $21 million they owe him. That little bit can’t be overstated. If you own the Celtics, do you want to be paying $7 million to the coach of a 35-win team when you could get someone for a lot less money to do the same thing?
Yes, Danny Ainge probably should have done this a year ago, when the Celtics were coming off an inspiring run to the Eastern Conference finals and his veterans still had some value.
But Danny, like a lot of us, was fooled by the Celtics’ deep run into thinking they were better than they were. So he added role players who, for the most part, underachieved. A team that many expected could challenge Miami won 41 games and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
The irony of all this is that Ainge’s best trade asset now is his coach. The rumored Clippers deal would not be even up for discussion if Rivers were not a part of it. He’s the lure. He is why Ainge is hoping the Clippers revert to the Clippers of old and do something stupid. Where’s Kevin McHale when you need him?
But while we breathlessly await Doc’s fate, it sure looks like Pierce’s already has been decided. He passed Hall of Famers Elgin Baylor and Charles Barkley this season on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He probably can lay claim to a spot in Springfield as well.
He has done it all wearing a Celtics uniform. It now looks like it’s time for the game presentation crew at TD Garden to get the Pierce tribute video ready. There will be a lot for them to consider.
Peter May is the only writer who covered the final NBA games played by Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. He has covered the league for three decades for The Hartford Courant and The Boston Globe and has written three books on the Boston Celtics. His work also appears in The New York Times. You can follow him on Twitter.