Doc Rivers has always run a tight ship throughout his six years in Boston. He's always been team's No. 1 spokesman — and since he's the one relaying the team's message to the media every day, he's the one getting the blame when things go wrong with the Celtics and the credit when they go right.
Largely, his assistant coaches go unnoticed. But when the C's lose a good one, sometimes the void left is hard to ignore. That's the case this week.
The departure of Clifford Ray, an assistant on Doc's staff for the last four seasons, will not go unnoticed by the savvy basketball fan in Boston. Ray was a big part of the Celtics' infrastructure, and according to a recent report from The Boston Globe's Julian Benbow, he won't be back with the C's this season.
If this is true, then the Celtics are losing more than just an assistant coach — they're losing a guy with a lifetime of experience with NBA-caliber big men. He's observed them, he's mentored them and he was once one of them.
Ray got his start as a wide-eyed 18-year-old kid matriculating at the University of Oklahoma in 1967. He spent four years as a center on the Sooners' basketball team, meanwhile earning his bachelor's degree. He learned at a young age the fundamentals of the post game — boxing out, contesting shooters, scoring down low when he had the chance.
After he graduated from OU in 1971, he enjoyed a decade-long career in the NBA, splitting time between the Bulls and Warriors between '71 and '81. He averaged 7.4 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game over the course of his 10 seasons. He was the defensive anchor of a Golden State team that swept the Washington Bullets in the 1975 NBA Finals, earning Ray his first ring.
Ray worked after his playing career as an assistant coach with the Mavericks, a head coach in the CBA with the Fort Wayne Fury, and later an assistant in New Jersey, Golden State and Orlando. In 2006, he joined Doc in Boston, and it wasn't long before he earned the second ring of his NBA career, on the sidelines with the '07-'08 Celtics.
There's no doubt that Ray earned that second ring. If you've watched the Celtics over these last four seasons, you understand his value to the team — he's been the helping hand that's guided the Celtics' young big men, helping them reach their full potential. Kendrick Perkins has sung his praises, and so has Glen Davis, and so have past Celtics bigs like Al Jefferson and Leon Powe. Without having Ray around in Boston, none of those guys would be the players they are today.
Maybe Ray's work in Boston is done now, and this is the perfect time to fade away, taking with him the satisfaction of a job well done. Jefferson and Powe have moved on; Perk and Big Baby have already been raised from boys to men. Ray's accomplished everything he set out to do in Boston. He's done his work, he's earned his ring and now he can go home happy.
It's a sad story in Boston, where the Celtics have already lost one great assistant coach this offseason in Tom Thibodeau, and they now stand to lose another. It's never easy to watch a good guy go — whether it's a player or coach, the pain is still the same.
But Clifford Ray was good for the Celtics, and the Celtics were good for Clifford Ray. This was a good thing while it lasted.