There was a rhythm to Doc Rivers that people who around him on a regular basis got used to. It was how Rivers could simultaneously be one of the most candid coaches in the NBA, yet provide absolutely zero information he did not want the outside world to know.
It was not a bad trade-off. Whenever lowly sports writers wanted a break from the monotone and detached irritation offered up by the guy down in Foxboro, they could hop on up to TD Garden for a refreshing taste of what people in the business call a “good quote.”
Reporters filed stories filled with funny anecdotes and observations. The fans loved Rivers. Everybody won.
It was genius, and after a while you knew when to buy what Rivers was selling and when to roll your eyes. At those times, he knew that you knew that he was as full of it as he knew was.
That rhythm allowed Rivers to rest Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce in a late-winter game against the Bobcats or the Kings, tacitly acknowledging that those non-marquee matchups did not mean all that much. On the flip side, the rhythm allowed Rivers to be disgusted when his squad went a laid an egg against an opponent that had no business being on the same court as them.
“I believe in the basketball gods,” Rivers said following a March loss in New Orleans last season. “I believe when you mess with the game, the game messes you up.”
This does not mean Rivers is “wishy-washy,” as he suggested in a Yahoo! Sports interview, or that the Celtics should be thankful that his brand of coaching is gone. Rivers was extremely successful in Boston and he did things as close to the “right way” as an individual can in professional sports. But he is gone now, and gone with him — for the time being — is the ability to read between the lines of the coachspeak.
Brad Stevens, who makes his training camp debut as Celtics coach on Monday, is no slouch in either critically analyzing the game or in falling back on euphemisms when need be, depending on which approach the situation calls for. In his young relationship with the Boston media, he has deftly sidestepped talk of tanking or rebuilding or any of those other words that are toxic to pro sports teams. At the same time, he has been forthright about the emotional difficulty of leaving Butler and about the challenge facing him, team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and Celtics ownership over the next two or three seasons — or more.
By virtue of this summer’s roster house-cleaning, Stevens gets to enjoy a grace period with Celtics fans. No rational person expects the Celtics to be back in the Eastern Conference title discussion this year, but many diehard fans will be watching closely to see how the future is taking shape.
While those fans watch, they must remember that Stevens is not the only person who needs some time to break things in. The players and reporters will need time to adjust to a style that is very different from what they became used to under Doc, and fans should be patient while everyone tries to decipher a very different rhythm from a very different coach. Eventually, with Stevens as with Rivers, everyone can win — Stevens, the media, the fans and, above all, the Celtics.