Pierce, Allen key to Doc Rivers' return

ORLANDO -- Doc Rivers was so exhausted from the season, mentally drained from how the Boston Celtics lost Game 7 of the Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, that he was close to telling the Celtics he was ready to take a sabbatical from coaching.

"I was spent," Rivers said Monday night after watching his son Austin play at the AAU Super Showcase at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. "I was most likely leaning heavily the other way -- more because of this," Rivers said, pointing toward his sons Austin and Spencer.

"It was just a tough year, literally a tough year.''

Rivers said when the season ended he was "pretty much done and Danny knew that." Danny is Danny Ainge, the Celtics' general manager and president of basketball operations. Ainge told ESPN.com throughout the lead up to the NBA draft that Rivers needed time to make the decision and the GM said he didn't want Rivers to decide too soon because of how emotionally drained the coach was after the season.

Rivers said he's glad he made the decision to come back for the 2010-11 season, but he had to be sure so he called veteran coaches like Pat Riley and Larry Brown to talk through the process of returning after a grueling season.

"It was very helpful," Rivers said. "They've all been through it."

But Rivers said he wasn't going to come back unless he was certain free agents Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were, as well.

"I wasn't coming back unless they were coming back," Rivers said. "I was first and I thought that was important for them. We all talked. I can tell you that. I made sure. I knew they had to do their business. And Ray scared me a little bit with the money out there. They had said they were coming back and then you see what everyone was getting."

Rivers said that at one point after committing to return next season he called Ainge and said, "Oh my gosh, someone is going to come in and blow them away and [Ray's] going to have to say yes."

"Thank God they want another crack at it -- him and Paul," Rivers said Monday. "In a lot of ways there is a lot of energy on our team. Our team has a lot of energy."

Pierce signed a four-year deal. Allen signed a two-year deal. Rivers re-signed for one.

"I'm just doing it year to year," Rivers said. "Danny was great. [Co-owner] Wyc [Grousbeck] offered a long-term deal but I didn't think it was fair to them. I didn't want to walk out of a contract."

Rivers said he loves the game so much that when he stops he's not going to call it a retirement.

"If I go away, it's for a year or two," Rivers said. "I love this game. Teachers take sabbaticals and come back refreshed. You need to do that. It was great for me."

Rivers was fired by the Orlando Magic after the first 11 games in the 2003-04 season. He wasn't out for long, though, signing on with Boston for the 2004-05 season.

"It gave me a chance to walk around the league and just see a lot of stuff," Rivers said of the break between the jobs in Orlando and Boston. "When you're into your own stuff, you don't see anything and it's important to take a year off and the next [break I take] will be as well."

Rivers said the Celtics are poised to make another run at the title as they continue to reshape the roster. The Celtics re-signed bench players Marquis Daniels and Nate Robinson but lost defensive specialist Tony Allen. The Celtics also added forward Jermaine O'Neal and are looking to add at least one more role player but need to do so at the veteran's minimum. One Celtics source said they have talked about Shaquille O'Neal but for a much lower price than he would want and have also poked around about Kwame Brown in their search for another banger.

Losing Tony Allen to Memphis in free agency wasn't easy for Rivers.

"That hurt," Rivers said. "Tony was terrific. He was like my kid. We've gone through a lot together. Losing him personally hurts you more and hurts you professionally."

Rivers said it was akin to losing defensive stopper James Posey after the Celtics won the title in 2008. Two seasons later the Celtics were minutes away from winning another title.

"We bounced back but we don't need a year to do it, we need to do it now," Rivers said. "Signing Marquis was important. Marquis played great for us in the first half. He got injured and was never the same."

Rivers said getting Robinson for a whole season (he was added in February in a trade with the Knicks) is a big plus.

"We have a chance to integrate Nate now," Rivers said. "He bought in when a lot of people didn't think he could do it. I didn't know. There was a point where I wasn't playing him anymore and then Nate bought in on his own. He saw early I was playing him and then he saw he was getting no minutes. We talked that there's a way to get on the floor and it has to be that way. I give Nate so much credit. He did it and that was awesome for us."

Robinson scored 13 points in 13 minutes in a series-clinching win over Orlando in the Eastern Conference finals and scored 12 points in 17 minutes in a Game 4 win over the Lakers in Boston.

The Celtics will be picked to challenge Orlando and Miami for the Eastern Conference title. But Rivers isn't yielding anything to the Heat after they signed free agents Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

"They're good, they're really good," Rivers said. "I don't know if they're the team to beat. The Lakers are the team to beat. We're the Eastern Conference champs. They're going to have a bull's-eye on them every game but so will we, so will the Lakers and so will Orlando. The East will be fun."

Even if more of the pressure nationally will be directed at the Heat, Rivers said the Celtics will create their own pressure.

"We don't look at the pressure, we look at the chase," Rivers said. "It should be hard. We don't mind that. Listen, they've [the Heat] already had a parade. So we'll see."

In the interim, Rivers continues to watch his sons Austin and Spencer play. Austin, a rising senior guard at Winter Park High in Winter Park, Fla., is considered the No. 2 player in the class of 2011 by Scouts Inc. He committed to Florida but has since de-committed. Austin Rivers is now being hotly pursued by Duke and North Carolina, as well as Florida, Kansas and UCLA.

"At this point, Austin pretty much doesn't know where he's going," Rivers said. "There are three or four schools he likes but he wants to see how they play. He's gone the other way and wants to slow it down and wait. That's the new trend and I think it's pretty smart."

Rivers said Austin may wait until the spring signing period before making a decision. But there is a chance he could make a swift change and commit in the fall. Rivers said they will take official visits in the fall. Austin's older brother, Jeremiah, is entering his senior season at Indiana after transferring from Georgetown. Spencer Rivers is a freshman.

Rivers had to spend more time away from the family than normal earlier in the summer due to free agency. But now he's locked in to being with his family and traveling the summer circuit from the Nike Peach Jam last week in South Carolina to the Rivers' hometown of Orlando for the AAU Super Showcase.

"When I'm home, I'm home," Rivers said. "But me and Danny talk every night. Right now it's easier to be home but it's tough during the season when I come home [flying to Florida], because I'm always thinking about the slice play or how to trap something, but during the offseason I'm home and I'm off completely."

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.