Doc Rivers Tells Fib, Intentionally or Not, in Account of His Departure From Celtics

Doc RiversDoc Rivers is his own man with his own concerns, and if his worst crime is accepting $21 million to leave the dreary cold of Boston for the antiseptic beauty of Los Angeles, then there are a lot of would-be convicts out there.

If you gave me $21 million to live in California, maybe I’d take it. Maybe I wouldn’t. I don’t know. Nobody has ever offered me $21 million to do anything before. They’re welcome to do so, though. I know I’d like to see what would happen.

Still, even as Rivers sets up his new digs 3,000 miles away, he has not given up performing damage control on his image in Boston. In a radio interview on Thursday, Rivers contested Danny Ainge‘s version of events, painting Rivers’ departure as ultimately Rivers’ decision. It was predictable, and not entirely noteworthy. Rivers and Ainge will likely be offering slightly different stories about this summer right up to the day Jackie MacMullan writes a book about it.

But a keen listener’s antennae should have gone up at one comment made by Rivers on The Dennis & Callahan Show. It sounded like Rivers framed the situation when he signed his five-year, $35 million extension with the Celtics in 2011 in terms that were not, well, accurate.

Sure enough, Ben Rohrbach at WEEI provided a transcript of Rivers’ remarks, and the former Celtics coach indeed seems to be either misremembering the circumstances around his re-signing or stretching the truth a bit in his favor.

“I signed the deal because at the time it was the right thing to do,” Rivers said. “I was going to be a free agent. Kevin [Garnett] and Paul [Pierce] had three and four years left on their contracts with Ray [Allen], and at that time I wasn’t thinking about going anywhere else, but I was thinking about taking a break. I just didn’t think it was the right thing to do to the organization, so I signed a deal more for that than I did thinking about what happens three or four years from now.”

Wait, what? No. Incorrect on all three counts, in fact. Garnett and Allen had one year each remaining on their contracts when Rivers signed his extension — you may remember the hand-wringing over what might happen if Garnett retired, and we seem to remember Allen making the not-too-popular decision to sign with some team whose identity escapes us — while Pierce had two more years, plus a team option for 2013-14.

Under those circumstances, Rivers had to have understood that he would need to oversee a rebuild at some point, since his contract covered at least four seasons in which Garnett and Allen’s presence was uncertain. It therefore is much less plausible that Rivers would have been blindsided by Ainge’s moves this offseason to retool the roster. That doesn’t make Rivers look so hot for leaving the Celtics this summer, regardless of whether the decision was mutual.

This is not to say Rivers was telling an outright lie. Lying involves deliberately altering the truth, whereas Rivers may simply have some mistaken memories. Yes, he loved it in Boston, that was clear. To help him come to grips, personally, with leaving a place he loved, maybe his mind has played tricks on him to ease his conscience. Perhaps believing Garnett, Pierce and Allen had multiple years remaining on their contracts when he re-upped makes it easier for him to accept no longer being a part of their lives on a daily basis.

I don’t know. But I’m willing to try to figure it out for a fee, if you’ve got a spare $21 million laying around.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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