Burke: Criticism of Doc Rivers in Boston is largely unfair

Doc Rivers has taken some heat recently for his wishy-washy responses on whether he would return to the Celtics for a 10th season. (Getty Images)
Doc Rivers has taken some heat recently for his wishy-washy responses on whether he would return to the Celtics for a 10th season. (Getty Images)

So, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers may or may not leave the team he has coached since April of 2004.

It’s been a long journey to respectability here and across the NBA landscape for Rivers, once considered a horrible in-game coach by most in the early and mid-2000s, before he received some future Hall of Fame help. Today, Rivers is the gold standard of coaching in the league. He commands respect from all and gets it 99.9 percent of the time. Part of the train of thought with him signing a contract extension two years ago was that his presence alone could bring free agents to Boston. Although Jason Terry hasn’t exactly worked out, he was a big-name free agent at the time and Rivers’ presence on the C’s bench was a huge reason why he landed here. Young guys in the league, no longer wearing Celtics green like Al Jefferson and Tony Allen, swear by Doc and word spreads quickly in the NBA.

In a 2012 Sports Illustrated poll, Rivers was voted No. 1 by NBA players as the coach they would most like to play for. So while the Celtics look like they are headed back into lottery-land before they flirt with the Larry O’Brien trophy again, Boston will remain one of the league’s more respected franchises as long as Rivers is on the bench.

 Recently, C’s fans have been calling 98.5 The Sports Hub and WEEI and the majority of talk show hosts on both of those stations have actually agreed with their callers that Rivers needs to poop or get off the pot, so to speak, when it comes to making a decision of whether or not to return. This, while the NBA calendar has yet to even turn to the 2013-14 season with the NBA Finals still going on and with the draft still weeks away. Is it really a crime that Rivers hasn’t flat out said that he’s returning for his 10th season?

All the great coaches in sports get to a point where they should be allowed to decompress for a month, if not three. Bill Parcells was wishy-washy on returning for nearly every single one of his 19 seasons as an NFL head coach. Phil Jackson held the Lakers hostage for about a decade. Red Auerbach nearly left the Celtics to coach the Knicks at one point. And then there’s our own Bill Belichick. The guy hasn’t discussed his contract situation since 2007 and even then it was as vague as that Tim Tebow “press conference” the other day.

Once a great coach has enough clout with a team and a city, he can decide things on his own terms. Rivers has certainly earned it in his near decade here and definitely deserves better.

Follow Metro Boston sports editor and columnist Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS


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