Tag:2011 Playoffs
Posted on: June 12, 2011 12:54 pm
 

Even if Mavs win, it's all about the Heat

MIAMI – With the Dallas Mavericks on the verge of an improbable championship in a closeout game on the road against the Heat on Sunday night, the worst part of the equation for them was delivered with those last three words.

“Against the Heat.”

Because no matter how compelling the angle of Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd finally getting their rings, no matter the possibility of Dallas’ comeback-strewn, destiny-filled postseason run culminating with a title, and regardless of Mavs owner Mark Cuban spontaneously bursting into flames during the trophy presentation, there’s only one angle capable of trumping all of that.

The Heat. The Heat losing. The Heat failing.

That’s what this is about. That’s what this NBA season has been about since LeBron James crudely announced to a national TV audience that he was leaving Cleveland for Miami. It has been about the Heat – either the beginning of a hastily assembled, store-bought dynasty or the possibility of utter, spectacular failure.

So the prospect of the Mavs clinching the title in Game 6 Sunday night and Nowitzki winning Finals MVP, thus establishing himself as 1(b) to Kobe Bryant’s 1(a) among clutch performers of their generation? The impressive fortress of double-digit comebacks the Mavs have relentlessly constructed during this postseason run? The idea of Cuban, who has been fined at least $1.6 million since buying the Mavs in 2000, celebrating a championship? This year, and only this year, all of it shrinks in comparison to the Heat not winning.

That’s right, not even Cuban – who was famously fined $500,000 in 2002 for saying the NBA’s director of officials, Ed Rush, wasn’t fit to work at a Dairy Queen, and $250,000 for repeated misconduct after the Mavs blew a 2-0 lead in the 2006 Finals and lost to the Heat in six games – will be able to steal the spotlight from LeBron and Dwyane Wade failing to make good on their championship covenant.

Not even the culmination of a riveting, remarkable postseason run for the Mavs – in which they’ve come back from a 16-point deficit on the road against the Lakers and 15-point holes at Oklahoma City and Miami in consecutive rounds – would shield the nation from its obsession with the Heat. Not even Dallas’ unblemished record in postseason closeout games – 3-0 during these playoffs, a six-game winning streak overall – would stop folks from Northeast Ohio to North Carolina to Northern California from standing at the water cooler (or the modern-day version of it, Twitter) and saying, “Do you believe it?!?!? LeBron lost!”

So what’s going to happen? What’s my prediction? Same as it was before the series started: Mavs in seven. So if I’m right, the only force of nature that can delay the conflicting analysis of one team’s accomplishment viewed through the prism of another’s failure is – appropriately enough – the Heat themselves.
Posted on: May 30, 2011 7:01 pm
Edited on: May 30, 2011 7:04 pm
 

30 days to the lockout: momentum, but no progress

MIAMI – Driven by record TV ratings in the conference finals and worldwide interest in the Miami Heat’s quest for a championship, the NBA will embark Tuesday on a heavily anticipated NBA Finals. It should be good, and it better be. This could be the last competitive NBA event for a long time.

The Heat vs. the Mavericks promises the kind of drama that can cement a sport in the nation’s consciousness for years. And yet the league continues to face the very real possibility of a work stoppage, with the negotiating clock at T-minus 30 days and counting.

Publicly, the signals have been decidedly mixed since All-Star weekend in Los Angeles about whether a lockout – presumed inevitable for at least a year – can be averted. The rhetoric was significantly softened at All-Star weekend in February, and deputy commissioner Adam Silver made the most optimistic comments to date at the draft lottery in Secaucus, N.J., earlier this month, saying the “throttle is down” on efforts to hammer out a deal before the current one expires June 30.

But those olive branches subsequently were snapped in two by National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter, who has described the owners’ revised proposal – in which they offered the non-offer of phasing in their draconian changes over several years – as worse than the original one. Last week, the NBPA filed an unfair labor practices charge against the NBA with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging, among other things, that owners have not negotiated in good faith or provided suitable financial proof of their claims that the league is losing hundreds of millions a year under the current system.

So where are we? Thirty days out from what would be a debilitating and foolish display of stubbornness by both sides, sources familiar with the negotiating climate say it isn’t time to panic – but that time is coming soon.

“If there’s going to be a deal, I would say there are tipping points," one person familiar with the negotiations told CBSSports.com. "One tipping point is June 30. Once you get past June 30, people are inclined to sit around until the next tipping point, which is September.”

While the two sides remain far apart on the issues of a hard cap, reduced player salaries and an eventual elimination of guaranteed contracts, they at least are in agreement that they are farther along in negotiations than they were prior to the 1998-99 lockout, which resulted in a 50-game season. But one of the people familiar with the talks said there has been less progress at this point than there was in 2005, when noxious lockout fumes were in the air and catastrophe was averted with a surprise agreement during the NBA Finals. The owners, clearly, are no longer celebrating that victory, since they are trying to detonate most aspects of the deal that was ratified at that time.

Representatives for the owners and players met for a small bargaining session last week in New York, and a larger session is scheduled when the Finals shift to Dallas for the middle three games next week. Despite immense differences, the dialogue has been consistent for weeks – proof that neither side likes its chances if the dispute follows the NFL path to the courts.

“I think everybody is taking every opportunity right now to see if something can be done without a whole lot of distractions and rhetoric,” a person familiar with the negotiations said.

Developments in the NFL lockout have affected the NBA talks in significant ways. The NFL players’ initial victory in having their decertification validated in court, followed by the owners’ victory in temporarily preventing the lockout from being lifted, has only underscored the notion that commissioner David Stern and Hunter do not want this negotiation taken out of their hands and into the hands of politically appointed judges they don’t know. In some ways, both understand they’ll get a better deal through negotiation between now and July 1 than they’ll get in a courtroom after months of negative publicity and venom.

A ruling on the NBPA’s unfair labor practices charge isn’t expected for 6-8 weeks, sources say, which means the owners may have to decide to impose a lockout without knowing the outcome of the ruling. But the NLRB charge, sources say, has more to do with leverage than outcome. By putting their complaints in writing, the players have put the onus on both sides to hold good-faith negotiations and exchange legitimate proposals until the current deal expires.

“It puts the onus on both sides not to stall,” said another person familiar with the bargaining talks.

Of more importance is a ruling from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on the validity of the NFL lockout. Oral arguments are scheduled to be heard June 3, with a ruling possible before the NBA lockout begins. If the appeals court upholds the portion of U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson’s ruling that proclaimed the NFL lockout of a decertified union illegal, leverage in the NBA negotiations would swing significantly toward the players. At that point, the proverbial throttle would be pushed even harder toward a negotiated deal; why would NBA owners want to follow the same futile path through the courts that foiled their NFL counterparts?

A ruling in favor of the owners in the Eighth Circuit would shift the leverage to the NBA owners, and raise the chances of a lockout to a near certainty.

But while there is no disputing the communication and momentum, there are a few problems with comparing the NBA’s current situation to the NFL’s – or even the NBA’s in 1998 and 2005. As for the NFL comparison, legal experts believe the NBA owners would have a better case in the courts because they are claiming to be losing millions under the current system – and have provided audited financial statements and tax returns to prove it. NFL owners don’t claim to be losing money; they just want to make more.

As for comparing this to the NBA’s ’98 or ’05 negotiations, the NBA is in a different place than it was then. In ’98, salaries were out of control and the game was about to embark on the uncertain journey of life without Michael Jordan. In ’05, owners were looking for tweaks to the ’99 agreement. Now, they are looking to permanently and dramatically alter the landscape of the sport.

Which they most certainly will do with a prolonged lockout. They will forfeit the lofty place in the sports world that the NBA finally has attained after the golden era of Magic and Bird and the golden goose that was Jordan. The Finals begin in about 24 hours, but it’s T-minus 30 days and counting to the showdown that matters a lot more.
Posted on: May 23, 2011 5:57 pm
Edited on: May 24, 2011 10:57 am
 

Buffoonery at its best in Portland

The way things are going in the circus that is the NBA these days, with the tents and elephants and freak show setting up shop in Portland once again, there’s never been a better time to resurrect this memorable quote from Tayshaun Prince.

You know what they call this? They call this buffoonery.

Except this goes way beyond comedy – beyond even the wackiness Prince experienced in Detroit this season. The firing of Rich Cho as the Trail Blazers’ general manager Monday, and the search for the team’s third GM in less than a year, means the Blazers are no longer simply a joke. They are a league-wide embarrassment, a proverbial Petri dish for the experimental breeding of ego, incompetence, and the kind of empty-suit entitlement that rears its ugly head when rich guys think money and malice trump class.

On July 19, 2010, when Portland hired Cho to replace Kevin Pritchard – who was fired, for reasons that remain a mystery, hours before the previous month’s draft – team president Larry Miller issued the following statement: “Rich is the perfect fit for our organization.”

Whoops!

On Monday, a month before the next draft, the Trail Blazers announced they’ve “parted ways” with Cho. The first line of Miller’s statement explaining that bombshell went like this: “The fit between Rich and our team simply wasn't right.”

Can I get a whoops, whoops?

Of course it wasn’t right, because Cho was an independent thinker who wanted what any GM in the NBA should have as long as his business card bears that title: autonomy. The Blazers do not believe in autonomy, unless your name is Paul Allen or you are employed by Allen’s Seattle-based Vulcan Inc. The “Vulcanites,” as NBA front office insiders call them, ran Pritchard and assistant GM Tom Penn out of Portland and now someone has run out their replacement. Cho probably doesn’t feel this way now, but he’s better off. Or at least that’s what his colleagues in the GM profession hope.

“Rich is such a nice guy, such a good, gentle guy, and this could destroy him,” one of Cho’s colleagues said Monday. “He may never get another job as a GM because people will say, ‘How weird is it that you got fired after only 10 months on the job?’ But they don’t care about that stuff. They don’t care how they treat people.”

The person in the GM’s seat – now, it’s Chad Buchanan, who will hold the interim title until, or rather if, Portland is able to persuade some other poor soul to take the job – is never the one calling the shots there. Ultimately, that is Allen, who gets his advice from two key Vulcanites who’ve lurked behind the scenes in the organization for years: Steve “Hat Man” Gordon and Bert Kolde, a longtime friend of Allen’s who is listed in the team’s front office directory as director of the board.

“He’s the de facto GM,” said a person familiar with the Blazers’ hierarchy. “He’s the guy always trying to make calls and make decisions.”

Echoing the tasteless, underhanded way the Blazers fired Penn and Pritchard, NBA front office sources told CBSSports.com Monday that word began circulating at the scouting combine last week in Chicago that Portland already was looking for Cho’s replacement. Good luck to Allen, Miller, Hat Man, Kolde, the dancing bears and clowns on a unicycle in their quest to find a better person for the job than the three aforementioned executives, who were all capable – not to mention deserving of the freedom to make their own basketball decisions.

Was the mild-mannered Cho, after working under Sam Presti in Oklahoma City, prepared for this kind of hot seat? Was he as capable and accomplished as his predecessor, Pritchard? Of course not; but that’s the organization’s fault for firing Pritchard in the first place. And it was their responsibility to hire the right person, and to give that person a chance to grow into the job. The Vulcanites didn’t like Pritchard’s talkative, cocksure ways, so they hired the quietest person in any room; they overcompensated. Next, they should sew themselves a puppet and put it on the payroll, or go to the pet store and buy a parakeet. Hat Man will have him chirping, “Yes, sir, Mr. Allen,” in no time.

What the Blazers want above all else is a weak-minded yes man – not the kind of team-first, independent thinker that Cho proved himself to be when a report surfaced in the Oregonian last week that he wanted to suspend star Brandon Roy over his complaints about playing time after Game 2 of the first-round series against Dallas. This is the kind of authority a GM has to have if he’s going to shape the organization according to his vision. It is the kind of moment when, if an executive is undercut by ownership, it becomes apparent to everyone how much juice he has.

None.

All NBA executives face pressure from above. It’s part of the job. It’s the first thing they think of when they wake up and the last thought that crawls through their weary brains when they go to sleep: How do I keep my owner happy? Owners from coast to coast meddle in coach hirings and firings, weigh in on personnel decisions they know nothing about, and generally exert the influence that goes along with the flourish with which they sign the checks.

But Portland? This is ownership run wild. This is an organization that deserves to have no one – and I mean no one – even agree to interview for the job that was unfathomably vacated for the second time in less than a year.

At least the Blazers didn’t wait until draft night to drop the hammer on Cho, who made no discernable mistakes since taking over for Pritchard – and, hell, didn’t even have time to make any. Unless you consider getting Gerald Wallace from the Bobcats and losing a first-round playoff series to the Mavericks – still in the running for the NBA title – with his star player hobbling around on one leg a mistake.

And so the Blazers are right back where they were less than a year ago, when they fired Pritchard for no good reason and were firm in their belief that money and the allure of working for an owner with limitless pockets would trump any concerns candidates might have about working in the theater of the absurd.

Here’s hoping that this buffoonery hurts the Blazers more than Cho. Here’s hoping that their hunt for the next victim turns up much the same as the cache of credibility they have left.

Empty.
Posted on: May 23, 2011 2:36 pm
Edited on: May 23, 2011 2:55 pm
 

ESPN stands behind Rose interview on PEDs

MIAMI – ESPN the Magazine stands “firmly” behind its representation of Derrick Rose’s response to a question about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the NBA, editor in chief Gary Belsky said in a statement provided Monday to CBSSports.com.

Belsky also revealed that the interview with Rose, published May 16, was conducted by a “contributing reporter” six months ago. In the piece, Rose purportedly was asked, on a scale of 1-10, how big of a problem illegal enhancing was in his sport. Rose responded, “Seven. It’s huge,” but issued a statement Sunday saying he didn’t recall answering or being asked that question. If that was his response, Rose said, he clearly “misunderstood what was asked of me.”

“‘Scale of 1-10’ is an ongoing project in The Magazine, for which a group of contributing reporters routinely ask athletes in various sports a series of questions about all manner of topics,” Belsky said in the statement provided to CBSSports.com. “On Nov. 26, 2010, one of these contributors interviewed Derrick Rose before a Bulls-Nuggets game in Denver, and while we firmly stand by our representation of Derrick’s response to our question about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in his sport, only he can speak to his understanding of the question and the intent of his answer.”

For a feature in the May 16 issue of the magazine, Rose was one of several professional athletes asked, on a scale of 1-10 with one being, “What are PEDs?’” and 10 being, “Everybody’s juicing!” how big of a problem is illegal enhancing in your sport? Rose’s response:

"Seven. It's huge and I think we need a level playing field, where nobody has that advantage over the next person."

After the comment began circulating online Sunday, hours before Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Bulls and Heat, Rose issued a statement disavowing his response and what he was asked.

"Regarding the quote attributed to me in ESPN The Magazine, I do not recall making the statement nor do I recall the question being asked," Rose said in a statement released by the Bulls. "If that was my response to any question, I clearly misunderstood what was asked of me. But, let me be clear, I do not believe there is a performance enhancing drug problem in the NBA.”"

Bulls spokesman Tim Hallam told CBSSports.com that Rose told him he would “never say anything like that.” Sources said Rose may have thought he was being asked how important it was for sports to be PED-free. A person close to Rose told the Chicago Tribune Sunday that Rose believed he was being asked, "How big of a problem would it be if steroid use were rampant in the NBA?"

League officials were made aware of the matter and decided to take no disciplinary action against Rose, an NBA spokesman told CBSSports.com Monday.

Though the comment was printed more than a week ago – and, as it turns out, generated from an interview conducted almost six months ago -- it did not begin widely circulating online until Sunday morning. Other athletes were polled for the magazine piece, including baseball player Andruw Jones (who gave his sport a five), and NFL player James Laurinaitis (who ranked his sport as a seven on the 1-10 scale.)

ESPN the Magazine did not reveal the identity of the contributor in its statement. The piece did not carry a byline.

Asked about Rose’s comments, Heat star Dwyane Wade said Sunday, “Haven’t seen nothing, haven’t heard nothing.” Asked if there’s a steroid problem in the NBA, Wade said, “No. I just don’t think there is. It’s nothing I’ve ever experienced in basketball. Never seen it. It’s nothing that I think takes place.”

NBA players are subject to four random drug tests between Oct. 1 and June 30, and can be tested more frequently if an independent expert rules that reasonable cause exists.
Posted on: May 22, 2011 2:16 pm
Edited on: May 22, 2011 6:17 pm
 

Rose denies saying PEDs 'huge' problem

MIAMI – Derrick Rose may not have been clear what he was being asked when he told a reporter from ESPN The Magazine that performance-enhancing drugs are a “huge” problem in the NBA.

"Regarding the quote attributed to me in ESPN The Magazine, I do not recall making the statement nor do I recall the question being asked," Rose said Sunday in a statement released by the Bulls. "If that was my response to any question, I clearly misunderstood what was asked of me. But, let me be clear, I do not believe there is a performance enhancing drug problem in the NBA.”"

For a feature in the May 16 issue of the magazine, Rose was one of several professional athletes asked, on a scale of 1-10 with one being, “What are PEDs?’” and 10 being, “Everybody’s juicing!” how big of a problem is illegal enhancing in your sport? Rose’s response:

"Seven. It's huge and I think we need a level playing field, where nobody has that advantage over the next person."

Bulls spokesman Tim Hallam told CBSSports.com that Rose told him he would “never say anything like that.” Sources said Rose may have thought he was being asked how important it was for sports to be PED-free. A person close to Rose told the Chicago Tribune Sunday that Rose believed he was being asked, "How big of a problem would it be if steroid use were rampant in the NBA?"

League officials were made aware of the matter Sunday and were looking into it. 

Though the comment was more than a week old, it did not begin widely circulating online until Sunday morning – hours before Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Bulls and Heat, and after Rose and the rest of the Bulls had completed the media availability prior to shootaround at American Airlines Arena. As reporters were gathered in the interview room for sessions with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Dwyane Wade, a post by IamaGM.com began making the rounds on various smartphones in the room.

Other athletes were polled for the magazine piece, including baseball player Andruw Jones (who gave his sport a five), and NFL player James Laurinaitis (who ranked his sport as a seven on the 1-10 scale.) It is not clear which ESPN the Magazine reporter conducted the interview with Rose; the piece did not carry a byline.

Asked about Rose’s comments, Wade said Sunday, “Haven’t seen nothing, haven’t heard nothing.” Asked if there’s a steroid problem in the NBA, Wade said, “No. I just don’t think there is. It’s nothing I’ve ever experienced in basketball. Never seen it. It’s nothing that I think takes place.”

We may not hear from Rose on his comments until the media access period prior to Game 3 Sunday night, so stay tuned.

NBA players are subject to four random drug tests between Oct. 1 and June 30, and can be tested more frequently if an independent expert rules that reasonable cause exists.
Posted on: May 16, 2011 6:31 pm
Edited on: May 16, 2011 9:44 pm
 

To stop Rose, Heat may need big change at point



CHICAGO – The Heat convened for practice Monday on the University of Illinois-Chicago campus with a big problem on their hands. That problem was named Derrick Rose, who was hunkered down with coach and film junky Tom Thibodeau at the Bulls’ practice facility 45 miles away.

By the time I arrived at the Berto Center in Deerfield, Ill., Rose was seated in the corner of the practice floor next to Thibodeau, deeply entrenched in another video session. They watched, they gestured, they scratched their chins as they dissected everything the Bulls did wrong in Game 1.

To the outside observer, that wasn’t much. Chicago has a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals because Rose played a nearly perfect second half, and because the defensive attention he commanded allowed the Bulls to dominate the offensive boards in a 103-82 victory Sunday night. The team with the problems, and with the adjustments to make in Game 2, is Miami.

“They’ll do different things, put different players on him, adjust coverages,” Thibodeau said. “We’ve got to be ready to handle that.”

Although Rose had only two shot attempts within five feet of the basket in Game 1, the defensive attention he attracted left the Heat vulnerable on the boards. The Bulls used this advantage to corral 19 offensive rebounds, which they converted into 31 points. That was the difference in the game, delivered mostly by Rose and the way he forced the Heat to play him.

“Any way you can get an offensive rebound, they got them,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, downplaying Rose’s impact on the Bulls’ huge night on the glass. “It wasn’t necessarily about Rose’s penetration.”



But the Heat’s disadvantage is more pronounced when they play with a true point guard on the floor: starter Mike Bibby or backup Mario Chalmers. This has been Spoelstra’s overwhelming preference, as nine of his 10 most-used lineups during the regular season featured a point guard, according to 82games.com. (If you count Eddie House as a point guard, it’s 19 of Miami’s 20 most-used lineups.)

With Rose being the single most important player for the Heat to contain, Spoelstra is in a quandary as he considers making what would be the most significant tactical adjustment of the series: going for longer stretches without Bibby or Chalmers on the floor. This bigger lineup would feature LeBron James initiating the offense and guarding Rose on the defensive end, which would limit the amount of traps and double teams the Heat have to deploy. Dwyane Wade would be at the other wing, with floor-spacer James Jones at small forward and Joel Anthony and Chris Bosh up front.

Spoelstra only used this configuration for 40 minutes this season, counting regular season and playoffs – and 30 of those minutes have come during the postseason, according to adjusted plus-minus guru Wayne Winston. It’s impractical for Spoelstra to play the majority of the game that way, but in proper doses and in the right situations, this bigger lineup with James at the point (or Wade, for that matter) would solve three of the biggest problems that imperiled Miami in Game 1.

First, a bigger, stronger defender would be able to limit Rose’s penetration and bother his jump shot without overloading the floor with help. Staying at home defensively would give Miami a better chance to keep the Bulls from dominating the offensive boards, and a better defensive rebounding performance would ignite the Heat’s transition game – or, at the very least, get them into their offensive sets faster, before Chicago’s disciplined defense has a chance to get set.

Aside from how long Spoelstra is willing to play with Jones instead of James guarding Luol Deng, the key factor in deploying this strategy is James’ willingness to give up scoring opportunities while being more of a facilitator on the offensive end and also embracing the challenge of guarding Rose.

“It doesn’t matter,” James said Monday. “I’ve guarded all five positions throughout this regular season and postseason. Whatever it takes for us to win. If it means guarding Rose from the start and playing more point guard, I’m up to the task.”

One Eastern Conference coach familiar with both teams agreed that playing James at the point with Jones at small forward is “feasible,” but added, “Not full time.” One problem is Jones’ defensive matchup against Deng, who scored 21 points including 4-for-6 shooting beyond the 3-point arc Sunday night with James guarding him. The other issue is whether James has enough quickness to check Rose, and how he would handle defending pick-and-roll situations.

To that extent, Wade could defend Rose some of the time, with James on Keith Bogans or Ronnie Brewer. And whatever problems this presented defensively, the Heat would more than make up for it by putting tremendous perimeter pressure on the Bulls’ defense. With James and Wade penetrating from either wing, they’d have options: kicking out to each other, to Bosh on a pick-and-pop, or to Jones for an open 3-pointer. This way, Miami would steal Chicago’s offensive momentum and force the Bulls to come up with something to counter it.

In 30 minutes of floor time during the playoffs, the lineup of James, Wade, Jones, Bosh and Anthony has performed 20 points better than average, when adjusted for the strength of the opponent, according to Winston. That’s only slightly better than the plus-19 rating for 73 minutes with Bibby instead of Jones. When Chalmers plays with those players instead of Bibby or Jones, the Heat have played 30 points better than average during a 75-minute stretch.

The first step in Spoelstra’s tactical adjustment will be to play Chalmers more than Bibby when he goes with a true point guard on the floor. With Chalmers on the floor during the playoffs, the Heat have played 12 points better than average and only three points better than average with Bibby.

If that doesn’t work, look for Spoelstra to step up his experimenting with a bigger lineup featuring James and Wade as co-facilitators on offense and co-Rose-stoppers on D. As I've said before, the Heat should’ve played without a true point guard more often during the regular season – a look that would’ve made better use of their transition and off-the-dribble skills – so it wouldn’t be such a significant adjustment now.

But like LeBron said: Whatever it takes. And it might just take an unorthodox approach to beat a team like the Bulls, and to stop a disruptive force like Rose.
Posted on: May 13, 2011 12:39 pm
Edited on: May 13, 2011 1:00 pm
 

Rivers' return keeps Celtics whole

How the Celtics bounce back from getting toppled by the Heat, that is a question for another day. Priority No. 1 was taken care of Friday when coach Doc Rivers agreed to a five-year extension to remain a Celtic.

This is what Rivers said he was at his core the other night, gracious and optimistic in defeat after the Heat beat the Celtics 97-87 to evict the defending Eastern Conference champs from the postseason in five games. At a time when his players and assistant coaches were hurting -- and worse, uncertain about the future -- Rivers threw them a lifeline when he calmly revealed in the postgame news conference that he was "leaning heavily" toward coming back.

The finer points of a five-year, $35 million extension were still being discussed, but there will be no hang-ups here. Rivers and general manager Danny Ainge work together like left hand and right, and Rivers revealed in a quiet moment after that Game 5 loss Wednesday night that he was serious about returning. Several weeks ago, he basically informed Celtics management that whatever they worked out with his agent, Lonnie Cooper, he'd agree to.

The five-year deal at $7 million annually has been on the table for three months -- perhaps longer, a person familiar with the situation told CBSSports.com Friday. Rivers alluded to the offer Wednesday night on his way out of American Airlines Arena.

"There’s been a contract basically for three months there and Danny and Wyc (Grousbeck) and them have been on the other side of patience," Rivers said. "And it gave us a long time to talk about it as a family. So I haven't signed anything or done anything. But it’s there and I probably will sign it."

The only job that would've remotely tempted Rivers, the person with knowledge of Rivers' situation said, was replacing Phil Jackson with the Lakers. But that wasn't happening, not with Rivers -- not with a Celtic.  

"Leaving the Celtics to go to the Lakers would be akin to selling out," the person said. "He's old fashioned in a good way that way. That's the only job that would've been of any interest."

As for the Knicks, a team Rivers played for, New York executives are not believed to have explored whether Rivers would be available or interested. Mike D'Antoni has a year left on his contract, and team president Donnie Walsh is committed to giving D'Antoni a full season with a stable roster before making any rash decisions. But make no mistake: It wouldn't have mattered. Rivers has grown as close with his players in Boston as any coach in the league, and simply couldn't walk away -- even though some retooling at minimum and rebuilding at worst will be part of the job.

Does Ainge give in to the temptation to trade one of the Big Three at draft time -- the same way he acquired Ray Allen in the first place? Does Paul Pierce accept a secondary role, or even go to the bench? Does Jeff Green stay? How do the Celtics upgrade the size and toughness that was lost in the Kendrick Perkins trade?

All these decisions will be made with Rivers completely in the mix, working as effectively with Ainge as any coach and GM tandem in basketball. And don't forget this: Whatever challenges confront the Celtics, Rivers was adamant about showing the organization the same kind of loyalty it showed him. Before the Big Three were formed, Ainge stuck with Rivers and ignored the groundswell of opinions and speculation that he should be fired. It's no surprise they're finding a way to stick together now.

So close are Rivers and Ainge that one person familiar with their relationship suggested that Ainge may have been inclined to leave if Rivers did. That would've brought about a swift and painful end to the Celtics of the Big Three era, who progress now into a transition period with the most important piece of the puzzle firmly in place.

Posted on: May 11, 2011 10:53 pm
Edited on: May 12, 2011 12:19 am
 

Rivers: 'I'm a Celtic'

MIAMI – Doc Rivers received a contract offer from the Celtics three months ago, but invoked one of his favorite rules: No contract talk during the season. So the issue was tabled, the future of the Big Three era Celtics on hold.

Over the past couple of weeks, Rivers came to the conclusion that he wants to come back and coach the Celtics next season as opposed to taking a year off to watch his son, Austin, play at Duke. On Tuesday night, after the Celtics were knocked out of the playoffs with a 97-87 loss to the Heat, Rivers revealed what he concluded during Boston’s latest playoff run.

“I’m leaning heavily toward coming back,” Rivers said. “I haven’t made that decision, but I can tell you I probably will. I’ve kind of come to that over the last couple of weeks. You know, I’m a Celtic. And I love our guys and I want to win again here. I do. I’m competitive as hell, I have a competitive group, and so we’ll see. But I can tell you that’s where I’m at today.”

On his way out of American Airlines Arena, Rivers said Celtics management came back to him after the playoffs started to press for a decision. There was a meeting after one of the opening games of this series in Miami.

“Danny (Ainge) and Wyc (Grousbeck) and them have been on the other side of patience,” Rivers said in the hallway of the arena. “And it gave us a long time to talk about it as a family. So I haven’t signed anything or done anything. But it’s there and I probably will sign it.”

The Lakers losing to Dallas and facing an uncertain future without Phil Jackson and speculation about the team being broken up contributed to Rivers’ desire to get his status resolved quickly.

“I know after listening to the Lakers being broken up after they lost, I’m sure, hell, we’re all done, our team,” Rivers said. “We have to add some people, but other than that I love that locker room. … I don’t believe this team is done.”

Rivers' decision isn't final, though he gave Ainge the go-ahead to speak with his agent, Lonnie Cooper -- a gesture that was understood to mean Rivers is serious about staying.

"I just told them, 'You can just talk to Lonnie,'" Rivers said. "'I don’t want to hear nothing, I don’t want to see nothing. I just want to do my job.' And then we talked last week ... and I told them, 'Whatever you work out with Lonnie, I’ll probably do it."

The pause gave Rivers time to focus on the task at hand and also speak with his family; his wife has only one child still at home, Winter Park High School senior Spencer.

"And he told me he doesn't want me home," Rivers said with a smile.

Rivers' decision has massive implications for the future of the Celtics' veteran core. Kevin Garnett, who has said previously he wouldn't play for a coach other than Rivers, has one year left on his contract. Ray Allen has a player option for next season, and he said Tuesday night, "I don't have any plans of going anywhere else." Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo are under contract for three more seasons.

Rivers staying in Boston also takes him off the market for any number of teams that may have been hoping he'd take a sabbatical and be ready to return to the sideline in 2012. New York, where Rivers played, and Orlando, where he coached, were two of the most logical landing spots.

But sources say Rivers has not forgotten the loyalty Ainge and the Celtics showed him when they stuck with him through one losing season after another before the 2007 trades that brought Garnett, Allen and Pierce together.

"It would be hard for him to leave," one person close to Rivers said. "He wants to show the same loyalty they showed him."

 
 
 
 
 
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