Rivers will be introduced as the Clippers’ new coach and senior vice president of basketball operations at a news conference Wednesday at their Playa Vista training complex, capping a lengthy process by completing a rare trade involving a championship-winning coach.
The Clippers and Celtics finalized the move Tuesday when the NBA approved the deal. Boston will get an unprotected first-round pick in 2015 from the Clippers for Rivers, who went 416-305 and won the 2008 NBA title during nine seasons with the Celtics.
Boston’s front office mostly had warm words for Rivers after he took off for his exciting new team on the West Coast, apparently not eager to stick around for the aging Celtics’ rebuilding process.
“We don’t have a championship without Doc Rivers coaching,” said Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations. “He did an unbelievable job. He has a long history of great success with us in the last nine years, and we wish him the best in Los Angeles.”
Rivers is likely to be the NBA’s highest-paid coach with the deal, and he’ll also have a prominent role in the Clippers’ front office with his additional title.
Clippers owner Donald Sterling will expect impressive results for such an investment, but his long-suffering franchise has never been in better shape on the court — providing Los Angeles re-signs Chris Paul, who is eligible for a five-year contract worth nearly $108 million in July. Paul is widely expected to stick with the Clippers, and Rivers’ arrival might cinch the deal.
With Boston likely to spend the next few years revamping, Rivers seized the chance to take over one of the league’s most compelling young teams. He was eagerly pursued by the Clippers, who are coming off the best regular season in franchise history with a roster built around Blake Griffin and Paul.
“He felt like it was time for a change,” Ainge said. “He felt like we all needed a change. That was his rationalization or justification for going to the Clippers, that this was better for everybody. I don’t think there should be any resentment. I know how Boston fans are. This may be a win-win for everybody.”
The 51-year-old Rivers replaces Vinny Del Negro, who wasn’t re-signed after the Clippers won a franchise-record 56 games and their first Pacific Division title last season. Los Angeles’ first-round playoff loss to Memphis likely cost Del Negro, who went 128-102 over three years and became the only Clippers coach to post consecutive winning seasons in 35 years.
Rivers’ new deal is expected to be similar to the three years and $21 million that remained on his contract with the Celtics. Boston was knocked out of the first round of the playoffs by New York last month, and Rivers gradually became more interested in the Clippers’ vacancy than the Celtics’ rebuilding process.
The negotiations for Rivers proceeded deliberately and abruptly over the past two weeks, with several potential moves discussed by the franchises. Ainge would have welcomed Rivers back to the Boston bench, but Rivers apparently saw the Clippers as a golden opportunity.
“Sometimes you’ve got to let your good people go to pursue what they need to pursue to make themselves happy,” Celtics President Rich Gotham said. “While it’s tough to see Doc go, I think we feel good about what he did here. We will be lucky to find as good a coach as Doc was.”
Los Angeles also spoke to Boston about acquiring star forward Kevin Garnett in another element of the trade involving Rivers, but NBA Commissioner David Stern won’t allow teams to trade active players for a coach.
Garnett and Southern California native Paul Pierce won’t be reuniting with Rivers in Los Angeles any time soon: Ainge said the NBA has forbidden player trades between the two teams for the rest of the year, and both aging stars are under contract for next season. Garnett has discussed the possibility of retirement with two years and over $23.5 million left on his deal, while Pierce is due to make $15.3 million next season.
Rivers played one season for the Clippers in 1991-92 during his 13-year NBA career, and they made the playoffs that season for the first time since the former Buffalo Braves moved to the West Coast in 1978. Los Angeles has made only five playoff appearances and won just two rounds since that season.
But the Clippers are coming off the best two-season stretch in club history, and Rivers’ arrival further alters the franchise’s decades-long reputation.
Rivers will be an intriguing match with the high-flying Clippers and their Lob City acrobatics, but his coaching pedigree and leadership skills will provide him with immediate credibility in his new locker room.
Rivers’ Boston teams played at a more deliberate pace than last season’s Clippers often used last season, but the veteran coach is likely to adapt his offensive plans to fit the Clippers’ talent. Rivers’ impact on Los Angeles could be felt most on defense, where the Clippers often struggled last season despite their lofty record.
After his playing career ended in 1996, Rivers went into broadcasting before serving as the Orlando Magic’s head coach for just over four seasons from 1999-2003, going 171-168 and winning an NBA coach of the year award. He is one of four active NBA coaches who have won a championship.