Doc Rivers is a Clipper. Ultimately, it probably had to happen — maybe not in the way it did, but sometime around the third round of negotiations, the teams passed the point where the coach could just waltz back into TD Garden and coach the Celtics next season as though nothing had happened.
So as Rivers heads west, agonizing over the parameters of the transaction is largely useless. The deal was neither good nor bad for the Celtics or Clippers. It was merely necessary.
It was necessary for the Clippers because Chris Paul made it so, with the free agent point guard dictating the terms of his re-signing with the long-troubled franchise. Without Rivers, there is no Paul, and without Paul it is right back to the dark ages for the least-decorated organization in major pro sports. It was necessary for the Celtics because they want to rebuild, and their top-five head coach was their most attractive asset — and getting rid of him was the quickest way to convince Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett that they would be better off elsewhere.
From the Celtics’ perspective, trading an elite coach for an unprotected pick in the 2015 draft that will be somewhere around the mid-20s may seem like a low return. For the Clippers, giving up anything for any coach, when they could simply hire Lionel Hollins or Brian Shaw without surrendering anything, apparently seemed unreasonable. But a week’s worth of reports about both sides hanging up the phone and abruptly leaving discussions in disgust were clearly little more than posturing. The Celtics and Clippers were determined to get a deal done, for their sakes.
In offering rationalizations for the move, both sides will try to sell the public on minutia to suggest they got what they wanted. The Celtics are already quietly trumpeting the “unprotected” nature of the pick, meaning they will get it whether or not the Clips fall off a cliff in two years and are back in the draft lottery, but any protection likely will be extraneous if Rivers pans out the way Los Angeles hopes. The Clippers will insist Paul had input yet did not push a deal, lest they create the impression that the inmates run the asylum, but by now the world knows the truth. To borrow a phrase from NBA commissioner David Stern, if you believe any of the teams’ versions of this story, I’ve got a bridge that connects to Brooklyn that I would love to sell you.
Again, however, even though the Clippers reportedly restarted the talks by finally offering the first-round pick the Celtics demanded, this situation had no “winner” or “loser.” In the end, everyone can say they won because they pulled off the deal they needed to make, but that is all. By accomplishing something they had to do, rather than something they wanted to do, neither side truly can call itself the winner.