Doc Rivers is an elite NBA head coach,
but his mistakes are costing the Boston Celtics right now.
Having won one NBA title back in 2008 and nearly two others during the last five years, there is now, no doubt that Boston Celtics respected head coach Glen ‘Doc’ Rivers is as elite as any head coach in the game today.
However, Rivers certainly isn’t perfect and to be honest about it, has actually committed a series of glaring blunders that have hurt the Celtics more than most casual observers may realize.
This review of Rivers’ missteps will inform NBA fans and Celtics diehard followers how even a widely respected NBA head coach can make more than his fair share of mistakes.
Back in the Day: The Kendrick Perkins Trade
I know that Doc Rivers is just the head coach and that GM Danny Ainge is the man actually responsible for pulling the trigger on this franchise-altering trade, but I genuinely believe that if Rivers had vehemently vetoed this transaction, then it would have never happened. The bottom line is that the Celtics haven’t been the same team since ‘back in the day’ before Kendrick Perkins was jettisoned to
causing the team to lose its once unrivaled defensive mindset and toughness
within the interior defense.
He’s No Bill Bradley: Avery Bradley over Ray Allen
Avery Bradley is a fine young player that plays absolutely outstanding perimeter defense, almost ensuring that he’ll have an NBA job for years to come. However, he’s certainly no Bill Bradley, if you’re old enough to remember the New York Knicks Hall of Fame guard and that in itself is quite a statement seeing as how Bradley only averaged 12.4 points per game for his career
Still, Doc Rivers was wrong to give Bradley the starting nod late last season after the Hall of Fame-bound Ray Allen went down for a short stretch with an injury and now the move is backfiring on the Celtics as they look towards the near future.
Once a terrific high school scorer, Bradley has shown himself to be nothing more than mediocre offensively at the NBA level, choosing to focus first and foremost on defense. While that’s fine and admirable, the lack of offense from the shooting guard spot has left
at a major offensive disadvantage against elite opponents, particularly when
the Celtics’ other top offensive options are all getting a bit long in the
tooth. Putting Bradley in Allen’s spot a year ago was one of the moves that
made Allen feel unwanted and this costly mistake by Rivers is hurting his
offensively-challenged ballclub right now.
Petulant Over Professional: Rajon Rondo over Ray Allen
How Rivers – and Ainge for that matter – could ever choose petulant point guard Rajon Rondo over classy veteran professional Ray Allen is beyond me, but this is another costly blunder that Rivers allowed and one that should have never occurred in my estimation.
The enigmatic Rondo has never been able to shoot the ball consistently from the perimeter, not even from as close as 15-feet away and that flaw in the fleet-footed point guard’s arsenal has been a detriment to
offense that many seem to have overlooked. While Rondo is undoubtedly an
excellent defender and passer, many NBA analysts (me included) believe almost
any point guard with a heartbeat could consistently average double digits in
assists playing alongside three future Hall of Famers as Rondo once did.
Another problem with making Rondo the unquestioned leader of the team moving forward is the fact that he’s still lacing in the maturity department. Rondo was set to assume the mantle of team leadership from aging stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce this season, but prior to tearing his ACL, he showed almost as many flashes of the same petulant me-first attitude as he had in previous seasons.
Putting the ball in Rondo’s hands too much this season also turned the Celtics into an even more stagnant offensive ballclub than they previously had been, with most of the mercurial floor leader’s teammates standing around waiting for him to make a play.
This former notion has now become more of a concrete fact since Rondo went down with his season-ending ACL tear. The Celtics now move the ball more fluidly and willingly than they had all season and the team’s other players like Courtney Lee and Jason Terry, among others, seem to have benefited nicely from the team’s now more cohesive offense.
By basically choosing Rajon Rondo over Ray Allen, Doc Rivers lost not only his best perimeter shooter, but arguably the greatest three-point shooter of all-time and that has to hurt no matter how you look at it. Combine that with the fact that Allen was also one of the teams’ best locker room leaders (mostly by example) and Rondo, the teams’ new ‘leader,’ a mostly immature youngster and it’s easy to see how this move has hurt the Celtics as they move forward into what now looks like a murky postseason awaiting.
Bygone Big Bodies: Ryan Hollins and Greg Stiemsma
Go ahead and laugh all you want. I know Ryan Hollins is a journeyman big man that hasn’t been able to stay on one team for very long and that rookie Greg Stiemsma bolted for the greener financial pastures the Minnesota Timberwolves offered him, but the loss of these two unheralded big men has hurt the C’s in a big way if you ask me and Rivers is partially to blame.
The Celtics don’t have nearly the competent big men they had when they were contending for NBA titles, not just Eastern Conference championships. Now, outside of Kevin Garnett, who has never been what anyone would call an ‘interior’ player,
is nearly bereft of big men that can come in off the bench and make a
consistent positive contribution while grabbing
a few offensive rebounds, but hey that’s a story for a different day. The
bottom line is that Rivers should have found a way to keep Hollins on the cheap
while giving a bit more money to Stiemsma, like maybe some of the money they
overpaid for Jeff Green.
Speaking of Jeff Green,
really overpaid this likable guy by giving him a whopping $36 million over four
years. Still, that’s not what is getting him mentioned in this column.
No, it’s the fact that Doc Rivers found little use for him during the early going this season when clearly, he should have been a more featured part of
Green is as versatile as any forward in the game today and needs to be on the
I mean, it’s not everyday a guy scores 43 points on LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Green is averaging 21.5 points in games he has started this season. For Rivers to wait so long in the season to really give Green some burn is a mistake of epic proportions and one that likely cost the Celtics a couple of wins this season.
He’s No Speedy Gonzalez: Pitiful Pace of Play
Another area I believe that Rivers has made errors in is with his style of offense, which, to put it mildly, is akin to watching paint dry. The Celtics continually play a half court style that limits their ability to get easy baskets in transition. Combine this with the fact that the Celtics are an absolutely abysmal offensive (and defensive) rebounding team and now, not nearly the defensive ballclub they once were and it’s easy to see how they lose games because of the pace of play Rivers likes to play at.
Gotta’ Have My Pops: Doc’s No Gregg Popovich
Two things I love about San Antonio Spurs head coach is his ability to make his style of play fit his personnel and the ability to incorporate young players into the team from the moment they’re either drafted or acquired.
While today’s Spurs are still centered around their terrific trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, anyone that knows a thing about basketball knows this perennial title contender plays nothing like they did, let’s say, five years ago.
The Spurs were once a defense-first team that played at a fairly slow pace offensively with the offense running through Tim Duncan. Now, that the Spurs’ trio is getting up there in age, head coach Gregg Popovich has altered his style of play accordingly.
Antonio now plays at a faster pace and run their
offense through Parker first and foremost. Popovich has also done an absolutely
masterful job of resting his veteran stars when they need it while seamlessly
incorporating young contributors like Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
Rivers would do well to take a page out of Pop’s venerable coaching manual and start giving more meaningful minutes to his younger bench players, starting first and foremost with Terrence Williams and Jordan Crawford.
With Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce really nearing the end of the line, the Celtics are in the midst of a huge transition even if they don’t admit it and Doc Rivers had better start making more adjustments in his coaching style and roster management than we’ve seen recently.
If the Celtics respected leader doesn’t, then the NBA’s most storied franchise could be headed back to their ‘pre-Big Three’ days early this millennium when wins were so hard to come by that just competing for a postseason berth meant a good season.