BOSTON -- Doc Rivers returned to Boston on Wednesday for the first time since May 4 -- the day after his team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the New York Knicks -- with a number of chores to complete, among them being examined by the Celtics' medical staff for his aching hamstring, sitting in on some organizational meetings, and talking with his own staff regarding next season.
Sure doesn't sound like a guy planning to leave town.
And, yet, Rivers has yet to publicly declare his intentions going forward, even though everyone in the organization expects him to be back. When he said he'd take a step back and catch his breath more than 20 days ago, that made sense. Now, it's a bit curious, particularly since he is under contract to the Celtics and has few viable options.
If Rivers were a free agent, he would be one of the most sought-after coaches in the league.
In fact, team and league sources confirmed to ESPNBoston.com that Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was contacted by the Brooklyn Nets, who wanted to speak to Rivers about their vacant coaching position. Ainge, according to those sources, denied the Nets permission to talk with his coach, who has three years and $21 million remaining on his contract.
Reached late Thursday, Ainge refused to comment on the Nets' interest in Rivers and reiterated that he expects him back on the Celtics' bench next season.
"Doc has told me he's coming back," Ainge said bluntly. "I talk to him almost every day about our team and what we are going to do moving forward."
Since joining the Celtics, Rivers' customary postseason modus operandi has been to retreat home to Orlando following the season to reconnect with his family, play some golf and reflect on yet another grueling NBA season. Those close to him said that while the 2012-13 season was a grind because of significant injuries to key players, he grew to appreciate the resiliency of his squad, epitomized by veteran Kevin Garnett, who gritted through the final weeks of the season with a hip injury and painful bone spurs that may require surgery.
The Celtics' unwillingness to allow a competing team to talk to Rivers suggests they expect him to honor the extension he signed on May 11, 2011, which made him among the highest-paid coaches in professional sports and one of the top two in the NBA along with Spurs mainstay Gregg Popovich. At the time Rivers signed that deal, he was asked about the lean years that would inevitably surface as Paul Pierce, KG and Ray Allen grew older, moved on or retired.
"Well, I don't think anyone is looking forward to [rebuilding]," Rivers said, "but I'm willing to do that. I've had a group that has been very loyal to me, and I think it would have been very easy to just run and go somewhere else and chase something else. … I just don't think that's the right thing to do. Coaches talk about loyalty and team, and I just thought it was time to show it."
That will not stop the offers from coming. Last season, the Orlando Magic offered Rivers the job of team president, which would have entailed everything from schmoozing with corporate sponsors to running the front office. Though he had previously insisted he had "little to no interest" in running a franchise, the financial windfall and unilateral power that would come with such a position (not to mention the proximity to his home base) gave him some brief pause. Ultimately, Rivers rebuffed the Magic and determined he wasn't done coaching.
Ainge acknowledged late Thursday afternoon that Rivers remains a coveted asset among NBA circles.
"We know people want Doc," Ainge conceded. "We know people want [Rajon] Rondo and KG and Paul Pierce. They are the Celtics. They've all had great success."
If Rivers decided to go back to the broadcast booth, where he received rave reviews for his work on TNT, the Celtics still would hold his coaching rights for the life of his contract, preventing him from hopping to another team without some negotiated compensation.
Rivers is expected to sit down with assistant coaches, each of whom has an expiring contract, over the weekend.
Everyone in Boston's hierarchy agrees Rivers will be back, but they also agree it would be nice to hear him say it publicly.