Doc Rivers is signed, sealed and delivered to the Clippers. (Steve Babineau/Getty Images)
The Clippers officially announced Tuesday the hiring of former Celtics coach Doc Rivers as senior vice president of basketball operations and head coach. As compensation for releasing Rivers from the final three years of his contract, worth $21 million, the Celtics received an unprotected 2015 first-round pick from the Clippers.
The announcement comes after weeks of rumors involving the two teams. Originally, Rivers was reportedly headed to the Clippers as part of a package deal that also involved a trade of Kevin Garnett for DeAndre Jordan. NBA commissioner David Stern said last week that the league office was ready to veto any larger deal between the two teams, even if that deal was broken up into separate transactions, citing the league's collective bargaining agreement rules.
CBSSports.com reported Tuesday that the Celtics and Clippers will not be allowed to make a trade involving players until the end of the 2013-14 season, preventing any delayed package deal from taking place.
A deal between two teams involving a coach is rare, but not unprecedented. The New York Timescites two recent examples.
Teams have surrendered draft picks for coaches and executives before. The Celtics gave up a second-round pick in 1997 to Miami in return for the Heat’s allowing Chris Wallace to become Boston’s general manager. The Heat also received compensation from Orlando when the Magic hired Stan Van Gundy.
The final terms are a win-win-win.
The Clippers receive one of the league's most respected coaches. Rivers, 51, coached the Celtics to six straight playoff appearances, including three trips to the Eastern Conference finals, two trips to the Finals and the 2008 title. Known as an excellent communicator and motivator, Rivers holds a career coaching record of 587-473 (.554) in 14 years with the Magic and Celtics. In Boston, he went 416-305 (.577), and his teams consistently ranked among the best in defensive efficiency.
Despite a strong season, the Clippers lost to the Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs this year and chose to part ways with coach Vinny Del Negro back in May. Rivers' task will be simple: guide the Clippers, and franchise point guard Chris Paul, to their first deep postseason run ever. The Clippers have never advanced out of the conference semifinals in a franchise history that dates back to 1970 and includes stops in Buffalo and San Diego; Paul, an All-NBA First-Team and All-Defensive First-Team selection last year, has similarly never made a conference finals and was pushing for Rivers to come to Los Angeles, according to reports.
This sounds like exactly the type of task that would excite Rivers, who was otherwise looking at the possibility of a long-term, full-scale rebuilding effort in Boston. The Celtics finished in the No. 7 spot in the Eastern Conference this season, battling injuries and age through an up-and-down year. The roster faces major question marks as to the future of Garnett and Paul Pierce, and All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo is currently rehabilitating from a season-ending knee injury. What's more, the Celtics' salary cap is loaded down with longish-term deals to the likes of Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry. Some serious excavation needs to be done, and Rivers, having tasted the playoffs every year since 2008, can't really be blamed for preferring a talented Clippers roster that wants to go from very good to great as opposed to the Celtics' mediocre mishmash.
In Los Angeles, Rivers inherits a 56-win team that captured the first division title in franchise history and a roster that includes two All-Stars in Paul (once he officially re-signs, as is widely expected) and Blake Griffin, as well as a number of other talented pieces, including Jamal Crawford, Caron Butler, Jordan and Eric Bledsoe. Paul has also shown the ability to act as a free-agent magnet, which will be helpful as the Clippers look to compete with the Spurs and Thunder next season. Throw in the obvious benefits of the L.A. market and a similar contract to his big-dollar deal in Boston, and this looks like a no-brainer for Rivers, even if it will leave some of his admirers in the Northeast feeling jilted.
File the Celtics' haul under the ancient "something is better than nothing" bargaining principle. Just as the rebuilding Celtics didn't make a ton of sense for Rivers, the same could be said for Rivers' fit in Boston. Seven million dollars per year is a very high salary for an NBA coach, a premium price generally reserved to lead a premium roster. Lacking the premium roster, that number starts to look excessive, and that appearance really crystallized when it became clear Rivers was interested in other opportunities. If he was all the way in, maybe the expense is justifiable, and he becomes the face of the franchise during a down cycle, serving as a reminder of the championship glory years and a popular figure for everyone to rally around. If he's got one foot out the door, though, there's more sense in letting him walk than trying to pull him back in. Let him go and get what you can.
The 2015 first-round pick is no major haul, but it is a legitimate asset, one that wouldn't have been acquired had he decided to step away from coaching. Rivers is a more attractive name than any of the other coaches currently on the market, and a first-round pick years down the road is a reasonable price to pay for the Clippers, particularly if it helps seal Paul into a contract extension.
Because the pick is not in this year's draft or in the loaded 2014 class, the Celtics miss out on immediate help and the possibility of a relatively better player that a deep draft offers. And, assuming the Clippers remain a strong team over the next two seasons, as they have been for their two seasons with Paul, the pick will likely wind up in the 20-25 range. While this isn't a top-shelf resource, Celtics fans will be quick to remind you that Rondo was selected No. 21 in the 2006 draft. On top of that, the reported lack of protections offers a ray of upside. Both Paul and Griffin have dealt with knee injuries in recent years. The Clippers certainly look like a solid playoff team for years to come, but nothing is guaranteed, especially when that body part is concerned.