The Boston Celtics might have found a way to accelerate the potential rebuilding process that no one is particularly excited to endure: find a team willing to mortgage its future for a taste of your past success.
Sources told ESPN earlier this week that Celtics coach Doc Rivers is highly intrigued by the idea of coaching the Los Angeles Clippers should he not return to Boston for a 10th season on the bench. That snowballed to the idea that West Coasters like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce might desire to follow Rivers in a potential offshoot of February's trade talks between Boston and Los Angeles. That could bring back a package of young talent, expiring contracts and future draft picks to aid Boston's long-awaited roster overhaul.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, so adamant that Rivers would return to Boston earlier this offseason and having denied teams permission to talk with him, is likely resigned to letting Rivers and Garnett (and maybe Pierce too) walk away so long as it could bring back a king's ransom. It benefits no one to have a coach who's not 100 percent committed to the rebuilding process, and Rivers is almost certainly the team's biggest current trade asset if the Clippers are willing to mortgage their future to bring his talents to Manhattan Beach.
Ainge has no reason to let Rivers walk away without demanding a monster haul from his next team. There are three years and $21 million remaining on Rivers' rather ironclad deal, and while he could bide time with maybe one year in the broadcast booth, waiting three years for a contender to pay for his coaching freedom would be an eternity for a coach who might simply need a change of scenery, and a surefire contender, to reignite his fuse.
Make no mistake, Rivers could still return to Boston. It's simply mutually beneficial to examine this Clippers situation.
If he does come back, will there be backlash? Probably not. Rivers, who has smartly bunkered down during this process while still doing his typical offseason chores for the Celtics, can brush it all off as overcaffeinated speculation. He could say he's a Celtic until the end, that this was all a ploy to take the heat off Pierce and Garnett (whose futures are a whole 'nutha can of worms).
And Boston fans, ill at ease over the uncertainty of a rebuild, will rejoice at having their familiar helmsman back to lead them in whichever direction the team elects. To most, it sure beats Vinny Del Negro.
But the lingering questions are these: What makes the most sense for Boston? Is bidding farewell to a beloved, but not fully committed, coach acceptable if it drastically reduces the rebuilding time frame? Does it make sense to pay Rivers $7 million per season to babysit a roster in transition?
The Celtics, stuck at a crossroads, are practically at the mercy of another team to pry Rivers away in order to ease the roster overhaul that surely looms sooner than later.
Can the Clippers make a deal happen? Absolutely, but they would have to part with an awful lot. That would include future draft picks to satisfy Rivers' release (not a huge loss if you plan to be a title contender), while bringing in Garnett and/or Pierce is likely going to include a combination of young players (Eric Bledsoe, DeAndre Jordan) and expiring deals (Caron Butler) to make salaries match. Ainge will shoot for the moon if the Clippers view Rivers as the true prize of the transactions.
At some point, don't the Clippers have to wonder if it would be more economical to simply go with the likes of Lionel Hollins or Brian Shaw? They can land either of those candidates without ransacking their roster (or enduring the headaches in making complicated Boston deals happen). It might come down to whether they believe either of those candidates is enough to ensure Chris Paul won't wander off.
And if you're the Celtics, do you really want the two years and $22.4 million remaining on Jordan's deal (plus the 15 percent trade kicker that will drive the value even higher)? After Jordan fizzled in the playoffs, didn't they already dodge that bullet? The Clippers would probably have to eat another of Boston's cap-clogging midlevel deals to really entice the Celtics to go along with that plan.
For the sake of argument, let's assume both sides found a way to make it work. Boston would bolster its young core and have increased financial flexibility for the bonanza that potentially awaits in the summer of 2014. There could be an awful lot of positives, even if it means having to search for the next Rivers down the road.
The Celtics could turn around and eye a bit of a transition coach, one who could nurture that younger core but may not be the Rivers-like closer that's needed for a championship push. Then again, Rivers exceeded expectations when given the chance to work through his own initial rebuild.
Shaw, a first-round pick of the Celtics in the 1988 draft, makes some sense as a first-time head coach, assuming he's still available. But the team could benefit from finding a low-priced, nonestablished coach to start the overhaul process.
It's all tough to swallow but has to be considered. There are no easy answers for the Celtics while working back to contender status. For now, all the team can do is wait.