It's a popular question any time a former favorite comes to town. To boo or not to boo?
How Shakespearean, right?
Tonight, long-time Celtics coach Doc Rivers will step foot inside the Garden for the first time as a visitor when he guides his Pacific-leading Clippers against the -- it's still weird to say -- first-place C's.
To debate the issue, Chad Finn and I joined forces to celebrate Ubuntu ... and hypocrisy.
CF: First, Adam, this should come with the standard disclaimer: He's not really a doctor, it's just a nickname. That was one of his standard go-to lines whenever he was asked about an injury, and I'm looking forward to hearing it again tonight when he's asked about any banged up Clippers.
Hey, I miss Doc, and I hope he gets cheers. That 17th banner happened on his watch in 2007-08, they could have had another one or two along the way with better luck and health, and that was not an easy team to coach.
You had an incumbent superstar in Paul Pierce who hadn't won anything of significance, and two incoming superstars, including one in Ray Allen who averaged 26.5 points per game the year before he got here and was used to being the man.
(Kevin Garnett, of course, was the most unselfish superstar since -- who, Bill Walton, maybe? -- and his personality made a huge difference. But Doc had to mesh it all together. Remember, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins entered that championship season as unproven players in the league, and there were questions about their worthiness in joining that starting five. Doc made it all work, juggling the egos, getting the defensive commitment, running those brilliant inbounds plays, and so on.
He deserves to be remembered well here, and it's disappointing if he's not.
AK: Personally, I think the whole meshing of egos argument gets a little overplayed. It’s relevant, certainly, and his reputation as a players’ coach was proven time after time (how much do you think Pierce and KG would prefer playing for Doc, even if their teams’ records were reversed?), but it’s paramount to remember that each and every one of those superstars and subsequently acquired veterans (Sam Cassell, P.J. Brown, to name a couple) were playing for a common goal. I think Garnett was equally if not more important to that team’s united front and it all began with the suit shopping in Italy. Ubuntu, through Doc, gave it a name, but Garnett brought that spirit to life.
Regarding the fact that his teams thrived defensively, I’ll argue until the end of time that Tom Thibodeau was the mastermind of those clubs while Doc was the smiling, candid face of the staff. But, that’s probably an argument for another time.
Remembering Doc fondly for his tenure is one thing. Heck, we should reminisce over Allen with a smile. But, the way people leave town can leave a stain, and Doc left under more uncertain circumstances than the guy many of us have blasted for well over a year for choosing the enemy as a free agent.
Doc left while he was still under contract for three more years and, all along the way, tried to say he never wanted to go.
CF: Plenty of players could have blown it up along the way. Cassell already had a couple of championships -- he could have been divisive. Hell, some guys were behind the scenes, especially in subsequent years when Rondo and Allen no longer got along. Doc -- and Garnett, a great first lieutenant -- policed it all well enough. And yes, Thibodeau was a defensive wizard. Still is. He also had the personality of a baked potato and has proven as a head coach in Chicago that he'll run his starters into the ground to the detriment of the big picture. He'd have worn out Garnett by Game 60 in Charlotte. If he were the head coach then, I'll bet you a Greg Kite rookie card that they'd have one fewer banner than they do.
Doc was disingenuous on his way out. No doubt. I think Danny Ainge probably was to some degree as well, though it's tough to know for sure because they both have stuck to their stories. It stinks it ended that way. But you know, Doc has the right to change his mind. He took a look at the future without KG and Pierce and decided he didn't want to be a part of it after all. He did tremendous work for six years. He was relevant if not central in restoring Celtic Pride. Those of us who grew up watching Bird, McHale, DJ and Parish were starving for a championship-caliber basketball team again. He coached the team that made Celtics basketball meaningful again, he did it well, and it's really shortsighted to hold a mildly messy departure against him when measured against all the good things he did. If you have questions about him as a coach and whether he was the right fit for that particular team, come over and we'll watch the highlight DVDs.
Maybe I wouldn't feel this way if not for the most glaring fact of all: It's all worked out for the best ... well, except for KG and Pierce, I suppose. Doc is in LA with a team that is at least on the fringe of championship contention. Ainge got a first-round pick for him to go with the picks he acquired from the Nets, which look pretty good right now. And the Celtics replaced Doc with an absolutely terrific young coach in Brad Stevens, and one who is going to grow with the team as it stockpiles talent these next couple of years. Boo Doc? Maybe we should be thanking him for leaving.
AK: I think you hit the nail on the head with that last thought. It’s worked out, coach, picks, and trade chips in tow. Call me a Green-Teamer, but I’d rather have Brad Stevens today than Doc Rivers, especially with this group. You know what else? In a decade or so, I bet we’re saying Stevens is a better NBA coach, too. Did I take it too far?
It’s the lack of story continuity between Doc and Danny that, for at least a short while, will stick with me, though I agree neither side has offered the complete truth. It was interesting how pointed Danny was in saying Doc was going to a place he “wants to be” and “chose to go.”
I also could not stand the way he dragged his feet most every offseason over whether he’d return, and then left once the rebuild became a reality and a great opportunity presented itself. He’s just not a good enough coach to put an organization through all that "Will He, Won’t He." I’d probably feel differently if he spent a year with an IFB in his ear before heading elsewhere, but obviously that’s not the way it unfolded.
Doc turned “I am a Celtic” into an ad campaign and, in the end, that’s what it feels like. As a fan, I feel jilted. I am a Celtic, Chad. I’ll go through a rebuild, not start rooting for the Nets because they have my favorite stars or because Jason Kidd (a terrible coach and a worse hire) is one of my all-time favorite players. Doc walked out, and I have trouble viewing it another way, even if I’m thankful for his efforts.
So, final thoughts: Does he get booed? I’m expecting a mixed bag with more cheers. Let’s be honest, most people don’t care all that much about a coach, even if he was a media darling.
CF: I Am A Celtic WAS an ad slogan. And he sold it well. As did KG and everyone else. Doc left. It was the best thing for him, yes. It was the best thing for the team he left behind as well. I don't get booing someone who helped win a championship because he didn't stick around during the rebuild. But as he said himself, he got booed when he coached here from time to time, so if he gets booed Wednesday, it won't be the first time. But he should be cheered. Those were some good times when he was holding that clipboard.
And I'm with you on this: Brad Stevens is a tremendous coach. I'm not sure Doc would be getting such consistent quality performances out of the spare parts and misfit toys on this roster. (That means you, respectfully, Jordan Crawford.) Stevens may be better than Doc someday soon, and by my accounting Doc is the second-best coach in franchise history, though I'll listen to arguments for Tommy Heinsohn. Stevens is too good, actually, for what's best for the team this season. But that's a debate for another day, right?
AK: Funny, I actually started touching on that one a little bit about a month ago, but boy has that story evolved. With a healthy Rondo, the Celtics might be the third best team in the Eastern Conference. But, that is definitely a debate for another day.
So, to boo or not to boo? What say you?
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Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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