The cross-coastal Boston Celtics get-together with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and their former coach Doc Rivers never materialized Saturday night. Garnett and Pierce were among the slew of injured Brooklyn Nets who sat out their game against Rivers' Los Angeles Clippers. In terms of narrative, it might be for the better. The story is no longer what Garnett and Pierce did for Rivers; it's about what they can do for Jason Kidd.
Kidd needs help. That's not an early review of his first season as a coach. It's a fact of life in basketball. Red Auerbach had Bill Russell and a gaggle of Hall of Famers. Pat Riley had Magic and Kareem. Phil Jackson had Jordan, then Shaq and Kobe. Gregg Popovich has Tim Duncan.
So far, Kidd doesn't even have a Paul George to make him Frank Vogel.
To borrow from Col. Jessep in "A Few Good Men": "Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg?"
Deron Williams' arrival in 2011 has yet to yield a playoff series victory for the Nets. (The Nets haven't won a series since 2007, when Kidd still played for them). That's why the Nets brought in Garnett and Pierce, counting on their banner-hanging experience in Boston to make them the top team in New York and a threat to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.
So far it hasn't even brought them a winning record.
Garnett is shooting 30 percent and averaging six points a game. Pierce is averaging 13.5 points.
The early individual returns haven't been encouraging. Nor has there been an opportunity to see the development of the team. Williams' seemingly perpetually sprained ankles kept him out of the preseason. Pierce has a groin injury. Garnett and Brook Lopez hurt each other in a collision during Friday night's game. What does Kidd have to work with? He doesn't know.
"In training camp we didn't have that opportunity and we're trying to do that throughout the season and win ballgames," Kidd said. "It's something that we're trying to do. We're trying to win games, but we've got to get more games under their belt so these guys can play together."
Rivers learned almost immediately when he got his guys six years ago. Garnett transformed the Celtics' culture, and changed the course of Rivers' career. In Rivers' first three seasons in Boston, prior to Garnett's arrival, Rivers had a record of 102-144. With Garnett, Rivers was 314-161. Rivers went from no playoff series victories as a coach to winning 11 of them, including the NBA Finals in 2008.
This isn't to minimize the contributions of Ray Allen. Allen hit a lot of big shots for the Celtics, and it was his acquisition that made Boston's roster look appealing enough for Garnett to sign off on a trade there. But it was Garnett who made the Celtics' defensive schemes work, and also made Rivers' job easier by forcing the players to be both supportive of and accountable to each other.
Years later, after they've both moved elsewhere, it's paying off for Rivers in salary and cachet. That cachet shows up in little moments, such as him telling Griffin at a recent practice to "Step into my office" and Griffin immediately hopping out of his seat to listen attentively to Rivers' words. It's even more evident when Rivers isn't around and the Clippers players constantly repeat Rivers' teachings.
It would have made for some good TV video to get shots of Garnett and Pierce hugging their old mentor before or after the game, but the individuals involved didn't need it. They stay in touch through their cell phones (Rivers prefers texting, because he says it doesn't allow Garnett to swear at him as much). Garnett and Pierce weren't even in Staples Center for the Clippers' victory over the depleted Nets. Their absence in itself was just like the old days.
"I know when Kevin doesn't play he never comes to the game," Rivers said. "Paul either for that matter. That's something we set up in Boston.
Now the Brooklyn Nets have to deal with it."
When the Nets tried to import some of the Celtics Way, that's not what they had in mind.