I love watching basketball. Loved playing it too, back in the Millennium. I grew up a Knicks fan. In my North Carolina years (’65-’85) I was a fan first of Guilford College (my alma mater), then of the ACC’s Big Four (Carolina, Duke, State and Wake). I have many family connections to Wake, lived in Chapel Hill, worked at Duke, and loved the way Norm Sloan and Jim Valvano coached State. When I moved to California in ’85 I became a Golden State Warriors fan, and for several years had shares of season tickets. They were good years too. (e.g. Run TMC.) After moving to Santa Barbara I got into the Clippers a bit, but mostly followed the game itself. Then, when I got the Berkman gig in ’06, I became a Celtics fan. More about that after the next paragraph.
I’m no better a judge of teams and their management than the next fan, and possibly worse. Like, when Mike Krzyzewski replaced the much-loved Bill Foster at Duke, I said “there’s nothing about that guy that a blow-dry and a sense of humor wouldn’t cure.” (For that to make any sense, you had to be there.) Anyway, it became something of a meme, which was mean and unfair, as well as wrong. Coach K’s job at that time was re-building a team that wasn’t playing much better than .500 ball. He never smiled and seemed to spend whole games doing nothing but snapping at officials. Who knew he was building the most solid and productive program in all of college basketball? Or that he would become the winningest college coach of all time? Not me.
The Celtics under Doc Rivers were easy to like, especially after they put together the Big Three: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. They won a championship in ’08 and came close twice after that. Garnett and Pierce were, respectively, the heart and soul of the team. It was a bummer to lose Ray Allen to the Heat in ’11, but the team stayed strong, and got another solid outside shooter with Jason Terry. If they hadn’t lost Rajon Rondo to an injury this season, they might have made a run at the championship. But it was clear, after getting wiped out by the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs this year, that the Celtics had to re-build. The only question was how. The answer came a few days ago, when GM Danny Ainge traded Doc Rivers to the Clippers for a first-round draft pick, and then sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to the Nets for three more first round picks and a collection of second-string players. Now the Celtics have nothing but promise, and the Clippers and Nets are richer by far. How does this make sense?
In sports media the decision by Celtics GM Danny Ainge gets a lot of bad reviews, because he seems to have given up a lot of something (including their heart and soul) for a literal nothing — at least until they draft well, in future years. But Danny had no choice. He had to rebuild with what he had, which was trade bait. If he continued to ride his old horses into the ground, he would have had nothing to deal with. So he got the most he could while they were still valuable. As for Doc Rivers, who can blame him for not wanting to coach a losing team through the rest of his contract? I don’t envy whoever gets the Celtics coaching job; but I do like Danny’s chances of building a good new team, especially if Rajon Rando is a capable leader. Remember this: basketball players keep getting better and better. There will be no bad players among Danny’s draft picks.
The Nets look good for now. With Pierce, Garnett, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams they have the best starting five in the game. Yes, Pierce and Garnett are both old and bound to run out of gas, but they’re still all-stars, and make the Nets a solid franchise. Jason Kidd as a coach is an unknown, but I suspect he’ll mix well with the new talent, who are guys he knows well and respects. You can bet Jason Kidd counseled Brooklyn GM Billy King on trading for the three Celtics players. Billy clearly wants to make the boldest possible moves for at least the next year. Which won’t be easy. Not only are the Heat still the best team in the league (and champs the last two seasons), but — with the Bulls, Pacers and Knicks — the East is still the strongest division in the game. And Brooklyn is now a marquee franchise, up there with the Knicks in New York and the Lakers and Clippers in Los Angeles. Great players from lesser cities will want to play there. This will help after Garnett and Pierce are gone in a year or two.
So, hanging as much as I do in New York and Boston, I expect watching basketball in both will be plenty of fun this next year.
As for the Clippers, they got a great coach. I’ll miss Doc, but I wish him luck.