Where there’s Donald Sterling there’s smoke but no fire
CLNSRadio’s Nick Gelso just wrote a great piece about the ongoing Doc Rivers saga. If you haven’t yet checked it out, it’s a great read. My attitude towards the rumors, innuendo, and general teeth-gnashing and wailing has been to not let myself get too worked up about the situation. The reality is that no one other than Doc himself and maybe Danny Ainge, has much of an idea of what is really going on and how it will play out. Everyone else, especially the media and their unnamed sources, is either just guessing, creating drama to earn their paycheck, or worse, trying to influence the situation to their ends.
Nick’s piece resonated with me and got me thinking a little bit more concretely about the three potential outcomes that have emerged:
· Doc and likely Pierce and Garnett return for another season
· Doc decides he’s either worn out his welcome in Boston and/or needs a break and goes back to the broadcast booth
· The Celtics and Clippers work out an incredibly complex series of transactions that land Doc, Pierce, and KG in LA
I list these in that order intentionally. While that last outcome is understandably getting most of the attention, it’s hard to make an argument that it’s not the least likely – by a long shot.
First, the two teams have to agree on an equitable exchange of assets. This is harder than it might seem on the surface. Both sides probably value Doc pretty similarly. He’s one of the 3-5 most highly regarded head coaches in the league, has a proven track record, and players love playing for him. Problem is, there isn’t a lot of precedence for how to translate the value of a head coach into player assets and picks. As Ken Berger of CBS Sports points out, Doc has strong non-compete language in his contract and that would suggest that, from the Celtics point of view, significant compensation would be in order if they were to allow him to coach elsewhere. Do the Clippers see it that way?
Beyond Doc, the teams need to agree on the value of KG and Pierce or more accurately, they need to construct a deal that provides appropriate value to both teams. From the Celtics perspective, Pierce and Garnett bring value well beyond their contributions on the court and given that Pierce’s deal (assuming his option is picked up) runs out after next season, and KG (if he indeed does decide to come back) will likely retire at the same time, they don’t represent long-term financial commitments. The names that have been thrown around are some combination of Caron Butler, Deandre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe and a couple of first round picks.
Second, the teams need to structure a deal, or more likely, a series of deals that work under the CBA. ESPN.com’s Larry Coon does a great job of explaining why, even if the teams manage to agree on an exchange, structuring it will be a complicated endeavor. There has also been talk of the Celtics jettisoning Courtney Lee or Jason Terry’s contracts in the deal. If Ainge is adamant on shedding additional salary it makes the scenario even more complex.
Third, the deal will involve the owners of the two franchises. On the Celtics side, while Danny Ainge is the one who would be aiming the gun, Wyc Grousbeck would be the one pulling the trigger on a deal like this. Wyc has proven to be a respectful and thoughtful caretaker of the Celtic legacy and guardian of the team’s future. He has openly expressed appreciation for Pierce and Garnett’s place in the franchise’s history and is on record as saying he hopes Pierce retires as a Celtic.
It would also be interesting to understand Wyc’s perspective on what a deal such as this would mean to the Celtics future. Even in a dream scenario where the Clippers are willing to send Blake Griffin, Deandre Jordan, Caron Butler and Bledsoe (along with a couple of picks) in exchange for Doc, Pierce, KG and say Jason Terry, does that make the C’s ‘contenders’? They would basically become last year’s Clippers with a downgrade at point guard from Chris Paul to Rajon Rondo. That Clippers team made it exactly as far as last year’s Celtics without Rondo – a first-round exit. Sure, the Celtics would have a couple of extra first round picks but they would likely be mid first-rounders at best. The Celtics would be capped out for the next 3-4 years with very little opportunity to add complementary pieces to the new core. Is that worth the hit to the franchise’s legacy and the disruption of the culture of accountability, teamwork and hard-nosed defense that has been built over the past half-decade?
Donald Sterling would be involved on the Clippers’ side. That might be the single biggest impediment to a deal happening. It is hard to see Sterling appreciating the full value of Doc, KG and Pierce and signing off on a deal that probably won’t be very marketable or financially beneficial. It is even harder to see him agreeing to pay Doc Rivers’ current price tag of $7M/season, especially when he can simply hire Lionel Hollins for $2M/year and get some favorable press, for a change, for making that decision.
If a deal does happen, Celtics fans will move on and embrace a new era for the franchise while still appreciating the experience of watching Doc, Pierce and KG in Green.
If it doesn’t happen, there will surely be some moaning about a ‘missed opportunity’ or how ‘being mediocre is worse than being in the lottery’. Don’t buy that nonsense. If the Celtics bring back the band (with a minor deal or two and the #16 pick), the emerging core of Rondo, Green, Sullinger and Bradley will get the benefit of another year of experience alongside Pierce and KG. The following offseason, they will be flush with cap room and the flexibility to make a significant deal if the opportunity is there.
One last thing to think about until the dust settles – Chris Paul is a free agent. It is probably useful to think back to how he ended up in LA and consider that the Clippers are desperate to ensure he stays there. Is it possible that the sources of these rumors have a vested interest in creating the impression that the Clippers are trying to do whatever it takes to put the right pieces around him? Only World Wide Wes knows THAT for sure.