WALTHAM -- Doc Rivers never misses an opportunity to mention how much he loves coaching the Celtics, how much he looks forward to further developing the younger players, how much potential he sees for seasons to come if the core group remains together. Between the play of Paul Pierce, Delonte West, Ryan Gomes, Kendrick Perkins, Al Jefferson, and even Gerald Green of late, there is ample reason for optimism and enthusiasm. Rivers also talks about his plans for his future with Boston.
But after the Globe published a story Feb. 5 detailing the trips Rivers takes from Boston to Orlando, Fla., to watch his children play basketball and volleyball and as the Celtics found themselves mired in a season-high six-game losing streak, several league sources indicated that Rivers would not be returning next season, that he hoped to negotiate a buyout of the two years worth approximately $10 million remaining on his contract, that he planned to return to broadcasting.
Rivers insists he wants to be here, that he is happy coaching the Celtics, though there remain issues on and off the court that make the job difficult and sometimes unpleasant. Off the court, the separation from his family in Orlando is the most obvious. This season, Rivers also has dealt with the added burden of his terminally-ill father-in-law, who moved from Milwaukee to Orlando this winter. On the court, there is the Celtics' inconsistency and inability to do what 29 other teams have managed to do -- win more than two games in a row -- making their chances of reaching the playoffs this season remote at best.
Those league sources primarily cited the strain of family life in separate cities as reason for Rivers wanting to leave. Some also said members of the ownership group were not entirely pleased with Rivers. After all, upon taking the Celtics job, Rivers told team officials he would move his family to Boston.
In recent conversations, Rivers acknowledged talk of him leaving the Celtics had circulated around the league, but denied there was any truth to it. When it came to talk of a buyout, Rivers said yesterday he has ''never, ever, [had] one discussion" about it. He called it ''untrue," and ''a fabrication." He wouldn't, however, offer a denial, because he believed doing so would only lend the talk credibility.
''The day I quit it will always be due to the family," said Rivers. ''But that doesn't mean I'm thinking about it or anything else. I can turn around tomorrow and say, 'I give up. I can't take it.' I'm not. This is the single best situation that I've been in . . . Why would I walk away from that? If I do, it will always be family."
When asked if it was his intention to return next season, Rivers said, ''Oh yeah. I have no intention of even making that decision. This is a great working environment for a coach. And the owners are Celtics fans who want to win and loved the team before they bought it."
Then, Rivers reiterated his excitement about the future.
''I love the guys," he said. ''I love the way the organization and [executive director of basketball of operations] Danny [Ainge] have things worked out. We can see the light. We obviously need to improve. We're extremely young. But you can see where we need to go. You can see it.
''We have so many nice pieces and things are going to grow. And I love the situation. The guy I trust the most is Danny. His draft picks have been off the charts. We beat Philadelphia with second-round picks as starters, and not because we had to, but they can play."
Ainge and Rivers appear on the same page when it comes to the Celtics' needs for next season and beyond. Like Ainge, Rivers wants to acquire more scoring off the bench, preferably with an athletic shooting guard. Rivers also would like a backup point guard for West and Orien Greene, as well as veterans. Like Ainge, Rivers is confident the Celtics can find players to fit the wish list at a reasonable price.
But it is non-basketball matters that have raised questions about Rivers's commitment to the team. He not only travels regularly to Orlando to watch his sons play basketball, but during the Celtics' most recent road trip he flew from Los Angeles to Orlando then back to LA in less than 24 hours for a Saturday night Florida state high school tournament game and a Sunday afternoon showcase between the Lakers and Celtics at the
Rivers does the same work on the plane that he would otherwise do in his hotel room. And Rivers said he was unconcerned that people might construe all the time away from the team as a lack of commitment to the organization.
''I don't worry about it," he said. ''But I know it gives people room for talk, no doubt about that. If we were in first place and rolling, no one could say anything. But we're not, and so people can.
''At the end of the day it's not going to stop me from doing it as long as I know I'm doing my job. There's only a certain amount of hours a day that you can work, and I've done that. I'm paid to do my job here and I'm doing it. I'm also a father and I'm doing that, too."
Despite the exhausting toll taken by his travel habits and the fact that his agent, Lonnie Cooper, represents both coaches and high-profile broadcasters, Rivers maintains he has no intention of returning to broadcasting in the near future.
''I love broadcasting," said Rivers. ''It was a ball. It's a great job. I worked with Verne Lundquist and Al Michaels, two of the nicest people in the world. But it never gave me and it never will give me what this gives me. I love coaching. I love practices, far more than the games. I love teaching. I love working with the young guys. You can't get that in anything else. I'm too young to not want to do that. But when you have family issues, you think, 'Geez, do I need to stop for a year?' No, that never came up. More from my wife, who said, 'Get through this.' If I ever did quit, it would be because of family. But that doesn't mean I want to quit. I love the intensity here. It's great if you like sports, negative or positive, it's great.
''I can look you in the eyes about that [wanting to return to broadcasting] and say it didn't happen. I called my agent and said, 'Have you been making calls?' He said, 'No. I know you're happy here.' That's wishful thinking and if they want me, it's flattering. But I love what I'm doing."
There still may be changes, however, in Rivers's life on and off the court. First, with the exception of Tony Brown, who signed a three-year deal, the contracts of his assistant coaches expire after this season. Ainge declined to discuss extensions for any members of the staff, saying those talks would wait until the offseason. Second, Rivers is house/condo hunting, looking for a more permanent Boston residence for himself and his family. Once his daughter finishes her senior year of high school after next season, Rivers plans to move his wife and two younger sons to the area.
But that doesn't mean the talk of Rivers leaving will stop. He has spent enough time in Boston to know that.
Peter May of the Globe staff contributed to this report.