When Doc Rivers left the Celtics for the Los Angeles Clippers in the summer of 2013, he did so knowing a rebuilding effort was coming to Boston.
A mere two-plus years later Rivers returns to TD Garden for his third visit as Clippers head coach to face a franchise that’s arguably in better shape than his own. The Celtics currently own the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Clippers are stuck at No. 4 in a very loaded Western Conference.
With plenty of young players, future salary cap space and draft picks at their disposal, the Celtics have created a situation that impresses Rivers.
“I don’t know what I expected, but they are in a great spot,’’ Rivers said Wednesday at the Clippers’ shootaround. “They are playing winning basketball. They are tough to play because they are 12 deep and they clearly have a lot of decisions to make in the next year or two. They are in a really good place. I think when you look at them compared to other teams that are in a ‘rebuild’ it’s not even close. I just think they are in a really good place to take a huge next step.’’
Rivers raved about his successor, Brad Stevens, who he believes has already established himself among the league’s elite leaders in just his third NBA season.
“He’s a heck of a coach, I think, one of the best coaches in the league,’’ he said. “I love his offense. I love his movement. I just like everything about him. He’s a great guy. He’s one of the best.’’
With the firing of several NBA coaches already throughout the 2015-16 NBA season, Rivers showed his appreciation for Celtics general manager Danny Ainge and team ownership for supporting him early in his tenure before the team’s historic turnaround during the 2007-08 season.
“I was lucky,’’ Rivers said of his time rebuilding in Boston. “I hate these firings where a team is rebuilding and at the beginning of the rebuild they’ll go to the coach and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to lose some games here, we want you to hang in there.’ And then right when the heat starts they fire the guy. And I say it about Danny Ainge every day: Danny, the more we lost, the more he came in and would apologize to me and say, ‘Hey, hang in there.’
“Danny was the guy telling me to hang in there and, ‘We’re going to get this right. We’re going to get you a team. We’re going to get you players.’ And that tells you that you’re working with the right guy. When you see these other situations where guys have been fired where they start the same way, and then right when the heat starts they bail on the coach, it is what it is. But you don’t like it from my perspective. And it’s bad for my profession so I don’t enjoy it.’’
Rivers also took a stroll down memory lane during his media session, reminiscing about some of his favorite moments during his tenure in Boston.
“I remember the loss of the Game 6 to Miami [in 2012] where 99.9 percent of the fans would have left the arena,’’ Rivers said. “And our fans stood and cheered thinking this may be the end of that team. That was an extremely special moment. You have a chance to have a lot of special moments here, and some of them are created by the fans and not the game. That moment was created by the fans. It had nothing to do with the game. We got our butt kicked. And the fans created a special moment for us because they got it. And one thing you realize here over any other place in my opinion is the fans get it. And that’s really cool.’’
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