The Celtics officially named Glenn "Doc" Rivers the 16th head coach in franchise history during a press conference held yesterday afternoon at the FleetCenter. The announcement came amid applause from ownership, players, and team employees. Executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge sat beside Rivers and smiled, knowing he landed the man he wanted for the job since Jim O'Brien resigned Jan. 27.
Ainge, along with owners Wyc Grousbeck, Steve Pagliuca, and Robert Epstein, flew to Orlando, Fla., Monday night for a three-plus-hour interview. Ownership walked away from the meeting believing Rivers would be a perfect fit for the franchise. A four-year contract worth $20 million sealed the deal.
"I don't know [if taking this job] is a gamble," said Rivers. "Well, I guess it is, but it's the one I wanted to take. There were probably safer situations out there, but I liked this one right away. This is the Boston Celtics. I don't think you take the safe job all the time. I'm going to make this work. I have a great relationship with Danny. And I'll tell you something -- they haven't won it every year here, but they want to win it every year."
After opening remarks in which Rivers noted his strong relationship with Ainge and the cachet of the Boston franchise, the newest head coach demonstrated the communication skills that made him the top choice, the honesty that earned the respect of former players, and the drive that helped the Magic reach the playoffs from 2001-03.
Rivers turned in the direction of current Celtics players Walter McCarty, Raef LaFrentz, Jiri Welsch, and Kendrick Perkins, who were watching from the front row, and said, "To the players, I'll say this: You'll find me with no agendas. I just want to win. However we can figure out to do that, that's what we're going to work to do. We're going to work to do it every single day, till we get it right. We'll both make mistakes. There will be times where I'm going to want to hug you and times when I'm going to want to kill you. I guarantee you it will come back my way also. But after it's all done, if we're still shaking hands, then we're in business."
While Rivers will continue to fulfill his duties as an ABC analyst through the NBA Finals, he will also spend the next few weeks introducing himself to his new players.
Besides Chucky Atkins, who played under Rivers in Orlando during the 1999-2000 season, the new head coach does not know the Celtics all that well, and vice versa. Rivers will have his work cut out helping Ricky Davis to accept his role, reassuring Paul Pierce the team can, and will, win, trying to convince Mark Blount to stay in Boston, and developing Marcus Banks.
Rivers knows the difficult task he faces. He saw the Pacers sweep the Celtics in the postseason. During the offseason, Rivers and Ainge will work together, shaping a roster and structure both believe will bring success. Without question, Rivers will have Boston playing uptempo ball.
"Well, I think basically you will see a different team," said Rivers. "If you watch us in Orlando minus this year, we definitely tried to get up and down the floor and that's very important to me, but I don't want to get running mixed up with soft. I think there are people who believe you have to be one or the other, and I've never believed that and I don't believe that."
The Celtics may play at a fast pace under Rivers, but he will take his time selecting and assembling a staff, likely bringing in former assistants from Orlando. He will have input on personnel decisions, including the upcoming NBA draft, in which the Celtics have three first-round picks (Nos. 15, 24, and 25).
In discussing their working relationship, both men emphasized the importance of "trust." Ainge trusts Rivers to handle the coaching duties, freeing him for scouting trips throughout the regular season. Rivers trusts Ainge to bring in quality players.
Asked about his willingness to give minutes to younger players in light of Ainge's desire to develop inexperienced talent, Rivers said, "If they can play, they should play, that is the way I look at it. Again, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my relationship with Danny. That is the least of my concerns. My biggest concern is getting more wins right now. That is my only concern right now, and we are going to figure out a way to do that sooner than later.
"Obviously, Danny and I will talk [about draft picks]. Danny kind of knows the type of player I want. My job is to coach the team the whole season . . . I think the No. 1 important thing is you've got to have trust with the guy who is making the decisions with input, and I have that trust." O'Brien and Ainge parted over irreconcilable "philosophical differences." And the relationship between Rivers and Orlando general manager John Gabriel fractured before Rivers was fired Nov. 18, 2003. So, Rivers and Ainge went out of their way to highlight their friendship and compatibility. "The search probably started back in 1988, when I was teammates with Doc at the NBA All-Star Game in Chicago and we had lockers next to each other," said Ainge. "A little bit of a friendship developed then, and mutual respect from all the games we played against one another. Doc was one of the most incredible competitors I played against throughout my career. He was what Red [Auerbach] always referred to as an instigator. I can assure you Doc was an instigator on the verge of dirty most of the time [laughter]. But Doc is a champion person. The reason Doc is the guy that we want is because we're investing in Doc Rivers the person."Said Rivers, "I'm looking forward to this opportunity. Basketball drives me. Danny called me and offered [to let me] coach the Boston Celtics. If you like basketball, I don't know how you can say no to that. I saw the team last year. I saw them in the playoffs. And I know this is not going to be a job that you walk into and you walk to the Finals. I understand that fully." And that's an important start.