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Rivers, too, at the core of Ainge's plan

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  March 2, 2011 08:09 AM

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In the middle of it all now is Glenn "Doc" Rivers, a man unfailingly trusted by players, fans and his boss. The Celtics could have just let it all be. Instead, they are remodeling on the fly. So as much as anything, this speaks to the confidence that Danny Ainge continues to have in his distinguished coach.

Rivers' future in Boston remains uncertain as the Celtics enter what amounts to the fourth quarter of their season, but let there be no doubt: Ainge trusts him now as much as he did five years ago, when the fans at TD Garden were calling for the coach's dismissal. Ainge thumbed his nose at fans then, even stood his ground within the Celtics organization, and that remains as critical a decision as any Ainge has made during his tenure as the architect of these Celtics. Before the arrival of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, Ainge endorsed Rivers to orchestrate it all. Now he is doing so again.

Kendrick Perkins is out. So are Nate Robinson, Semih Erden, Luke Harangody and Marquis Daniels. Jeff Green and Troy Murphy are here. Corey Brewer and Eddy Curry may be. Ainge is rolling the dice big time on these Celtics by tweaking a nucleus that has been the NBA's best over the last three-plus seasons, all at a time when he could have passively stood by and let his team succeed or fail without really taking on any of the onus.

But no.

What Ainge has opted to do here is to essentially rebuild the Celtics from 5 through 12, keeping intact a team built around Garnett, Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo.

And, lest we overlook him, Rivers.

We all know the story with Doc. About a year ago at this time, with the Celtics fighting themselves through a lackluster regular season, word leaked that Rivers might call it quits at the end of the year. This was hardly a coincidence. The Celtics were a difficult group to handle last year, a team Rivers himself called "crazy," and nobody would have been shocked if Doc checked out. In fact, when Rivers elected to return, the decision was more shocking than his departure would have been.

Now, several months later, Ainge is entrusting Rivers with the strings in what has been an unexpected makeover. Even if the Celtics are better on paper, as many of us believe they are, there is still a great deal of risk here. Rivers already has threatened to replace Glen Davis with Green at crunch time depending on which man is playing better, as sure a sign as any that Rivers is still fully vested in the process, that he can cajole and tweak the Celtics as necessary to get them all pointed in the same direction by the time all the snow melts.

So Rondo might be unhappy about the departure of Perkins. So Garnett and others might have been stunned. Rest assured that Rivers will let his players - at least the most important ones - have their say before asking them to turn the page and move on, and rest assured that they will all do so because they believe in their coach.

Really, isn't that a critical element here? Were someone other than Rivers coaching the Celtics this year, Ainge might not have been able to approach this season as he has. Players like Garnett, Pierce and Allen have egos - do not interpret that negatively - and they must all play for a coach they respect. In the NBA, especially, superstars must be managed delicately. Ask Mike Brown about this. Or Erik Spoelstra. Or Jerry Sloan. Players will sell out coaches as if addicted to eBay, and Rivers has the unique people skills to both challenge his stars and maintain their respect.

They will follow Doc. The title certainly helps. But they followed him before he had the title, too.

Ainge, as much as anyone, deserves credit for that. He and Rivers have been together for seven seasons now, and it would have been easy to fire the coach after year three. A less secure executive would have. Instead, Ainge defiantly stood by his coach and trusted his instincts as surely as he is trusting them now, in the wake of a deal that has sent ripple effects through both Boston and the rest of the basketball world.

Danny Ainge shook up his roster in recent days, and part of the reason he felt he could do it is because he a positively unshakable coach.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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