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Rivers wants another try with his Big 3

Celtics coach puts departure talk to rest

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / July 1, 2010

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A diehard Celtics fan base that was prepared for the departure of popular coach Doc Rivers received surprising news yesterday when Rivers announced he would return for a seventh season, in hopes of leading the “Big Three’’ of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen to one more NBA title.

“I’m coming back. I want another crack at it with this group,’’ Rivers texted yesterday to the Globe.

A reflective Rivers was near tears two weeks ago as he spoke about his team following the Game 7 NBA Finals loss to the Lakers, giving strong indication that he was ready to step down and spend more time with his family. Rivers has four children, two of whom play Division 1 college sports and a third who is a top college basketball prospect.

And he was undecided June 24 when he spoke to the media after the Celtics drafted Texas guard Avery Bradley.

But yesterday Rivers appeared refreshed, prepared to make one final run with the core of the team that upset the Cavaliers and Magic to win the Eastern Conference championship.

The news of Rivers’s return was rivaled by the apparent intention not to overhaul the team this summer. Instead president Danny Ainge will use free agency to attempt to retool the roster and prepare for another title run.

The team Rivers is staying on to coach is expected to be very similar to the 2009-10 unit that, two weeks ago, came within a better-executed fourth quarter of winning the NBA title.

“This group’’ that Rivers refers to in his text message also includes guard Tony Allen and potentially another free agent big man to replace the retiring Rasheed Wallace. Center Kendrick Perkins is also part of that core, and likely will rejoin the Celtics early in 2011 after surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Ainge knew of Rivers’s intentions a few days ago, and now must prepare an offseason agenda to bring the band back together, which will be a challenge considering Pierce opted out of his contract to become a free agent late Tuesday night, joining unrestricted free agents Tony Allen and Ray Allen.

From the start, it was highly unlikely Rivers was going to return to a rebuilding project. He would much rather watch his son Austin play his senior season at Winter Park (Fla.) High School than coach a bunch of upstarts. So Ainge’s offseason plan has been charted.

The Celtics are going for another run or two because neither Pierce nor Ray Allen would return to Boston on a one-year deal. Although Pierce opted out of his contract, he is more likely to return to Boston with Rivers as coach.

And don’t be stunned if Wallace reconsiders his retirement stance now that Rivers has made his decision.

With Garnett signed for another two years and with Pierce and Ray Allen seeking multiyear deals, the Big Three could be together for longer than Ainge expected, and he has to determine how long “this group’’ should remain intact.

He said yesterday that he wants to pursue extensions with the key Celtics free agents. “We’ve been preparing for all the different scenarios that have been possible for us and . . . Paul will be one of our top priorities,’’ he said. “So now if we want Paul back, we need to present an attractive situation. I think Paul wants to come back to Boston. He could be ours to lose, but there could be other circumstances that prevent him from coming back. We understand that.’’

The worst-case scenario for Pierce was exercising his option for next season only to have Rivers leave, Ray Allen sign with another club, and the Celtics being lapped in talent by other teams in the East.

Ray Allen will demand attention on the open market, but Ainge made it clear he wants his 34-year-old sharpshooter and soothing locker room presence back in green.

“I met with Ray at his house the other day,’’ Ainge said. “He knows we have interest in him and he has interest in us. Again, he’s going to go out and see what the market bears for him.’’

Another key player during the Celtics’ postseason run was Tony Allen, who came off the bench to defend LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Allen became an unrestricted free agent at midnight last night.

“We like Tony,’’ Ainge said. “And as I said at the very beginning, we would like to see all of our guys back. We just need to wait and see what the market bears for everybody. We’re trying to put together a team within a budget and collective bargaining rules.’’

Indeed, Ainge will spend the next few weeks making sure that Pierce — an eight-time All-Star and 2008 NBA Finals MVP — has not played his final game with the club, and giving Rivers the best possible team for another title chase.

When asked if he would to see Pierce retire as a Celtic, Ainge said, “I would like to see that, yeah.’’

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