LOS ANGELES (AP) — Even Doc Rivers got weary of the two-week saga of his move to the Los Angeles Clippers. He thought the unusual deal was dead several times, and he insists he really didn’t mind the prospect of returning to the Boston Celtics.
“I felt like I was the only guy in all this that was in a win-win,” Rivers said.
The Clippers think they’ve got plenty of winning in store after landing one of the NBA’s most respected veteran coaches.
The Clippers formally introduced Rivers at their training complex Wednesday after dealing a first-round pick to the Celtics. Rivers was simply grateful to end his self-described “strange ordeal” ever since the Celtics floated the possibility of moving the NBA’s highest-paid coach to a talented team determined to replace Vinny Del Negro with a topflight leader.
“The reason I wanted this when it was made available was because of what we have,” said Rivers, who also will be the Clippers’ senior vice president of basketball operations. “I clearly think this is an extremely talented basketball team. There were times last year they were the best team. I like the talent we have here.”
Rivers believes the Clippers have the ingredients to be a title contender, although unrestricted free agent Chris Paul is a major part of that recipe. Rivers’ arrival is widely expected to cinch a new deal for CP3 — and Rivers believes their partnership will lead to chances for championships.
“We’re going for it, let there be no mistake,” Clippers President Andy Roeser said. “We’re going for it. We want to win, and we think Doc will help us get there.”
Rivers largely sat out the negotiations about his fate over the last two weeks, staying at his offseason home in Orlando while Celtics President Danny Ainge and the Clippers’ top brass hammered out details of the move. Rivers gave up on the deal multiple times, even discussing the Celtics’ roster for next season with Ainge on Sunday, convinced he would return for a 10th season in Boston.
Rivers turned off his phone and watched his youngest son, Spencer, in an AAU game. When he turned it back on, he found out he might be on the move after all — and a few hours later, the deal was done.
With all of his formal clothes in Boston, Rivers couldn’t even wear a suit when he headed out to the West Coast to accept his next coaching challenge.
“Things always find their path,” Rivers said. “This took a long and winding path, but it found a way. … I didn’t intend it to be this way. I didn’t want it to be this way. Danny and I thought it was something we would explore, and it would be quick.”
But it’s finally over, and Rivers has started to consider what he’ll do with his new team, which won a franchise-record 56 games and its first Pacific Division title last season, only to lose to Memphis in the first round of the postseason. Rivers is eager to improve the Clippers’ defense while maximizing the potential of Blake Griffin and Paul, whose return is the franchise’s top offseason priority.
Paul and Griffin didn’t attend the news conference, but backup big men Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins showed up for a look at their new coach. Rivers said he had already spoken to most of his new players and most of the Celtics.
“Very excited about the future with Coach Rivers and his staff,” Griffin tweeted. “Can’t wait to get to work. Thanks for all the support clipnation!”
Rivers was understandably cagey about any conversations with Paul, who was widely thought to desire an established, veteran coach in Los Angeles. Roeser has been steadfastly confident the Clippers will hang on to CP3, and Rivers’ arrival only made him more optimistic.
“I think we’re just going to have to wait until he makes his decision and signs his contract, but all the indications are that he likes Doc and respects him,” Roeser said of Paul.
Rivers was greeted in Playa Vista by a huge Hollywood media contingent, baffling a few longtime Clippers employees used to toiling in the glitzy Lakers’ shadow. With each passing month, the Clippers are stealing the spotlight from the 16-time champions who share their hallway at Staples Center.
“I don’t understand what the fuss is,” Roeser said with a laugh. “It’s not even the first time we gave up a first-round pick for Doc.”
Roeser referred to the 1991 trade that brought the veteran point guard to the Clippers for one season in 1991-92. Rivers wore Los Angeles’ No. 25 jersey that year — the same number on the ceremonial jersey he held Wednesday to herald his return.
Rivers’ front-office title means he’ll have a say in the Clippers’ personnel moves, but Rivers clearly indicated he’s only one part of a decision-making team including Roeser and Gary Sacks, their vice president of basketball operations.
“I think titles don’t mean that much,” Roeser said. “What matters is we’re going to sit down together and find a way to make this team better.”
Roeser confirmed the Clippers won’t be making any player transactions with Boston in the near future, but said the Clippers “will be active in the free-agent market.” A reunion between Rivers and Kevin Garnett in Los Angeles remains unlikely after the NBA banned any potential trades including both men, but Rivers seems confident the Clippers already have enough talent to be even better.
“That’s the only reason I’m coaching, is to try to win titles,” Rivers said. “We’ve got to prove we can win a series first.”