Celts' Rivers: Focus on Possible Departure Was Overblown
"I wish he'd told me that,'' Ainge interjected. "I lost sleep.''
After The Finals, it was like Waiting for Godot as both coaches took their time before officially announcing they would return for next season. Finally last week, with the anticipation of white smoke billowing out of a Vatican chimney to announce a new pope, word came that both Rivers and the Lakers' Phil Jackson will return.
Even though Ainge and others were hanging by fish wire, wondering if Rivers would return, he shrugged off the two-week stretch when there was uncertainty after The Finals concluded June 17.
"It was really no different than any other year,'' Rivers said in an interview with FanHouse at the Air Tran Orlando Pro Summer League. "It was a much bigger deal made about it than it was. It's what we do every year. We (his family) go home and relax and we sit around.''
Rivers has one year left on his contract. However, he was considering stepping away from coaching for a year to watch his children, including star-studded, high school rising senior Austin Rivers, play.
Rivers admits there were "times'' he came close to stepping away. Still, he didn't think his decision process deserved as much focus as it got.
"Because it got out that's what we do, I thought it was embarrassing to me because it was just so much attention about it,'' Rivers said of what he called an annual evaluation. "Once you made (the decision), it was great. The family was good and everybody was happy. And now you just worry about your team and you got to get everybody back, and you got to add a couple of guys.''
Rivers, who led the Celtics to the 2008 NBA title, came up short of his second crown in three years when Boston lost in Game 7 to the Lakers. He said it was imperative to get away from the emotion of The Finals.
"I'm sure I did at times,'' Rivers said of being close to stepping away. "You can't make that decision during the season. It's too emotional. But I love coaching. That's what I am and so for me I just had to make sure our family stays connected. And it's a very close family and they told me to get the hell out (of the house). They all say, 'We're doing our job and you keep doing your job.'''
In addition to Austin, a senior at Winter Park (Fla.) High School who might end up at Duke, Rivers has sons Jeremiah, a senior at Indiana, and Spencer, who will be a freshman at Winter Park. Rivers said having two sons at the same high school gives Spencer the convenience of being able to play in the same gym for the junior varsity before Austin takes the floor.
Rivers also has a daughter, Callie, who will be a senior volleyball player at Florida. Rivers believes he will have enough chances to slip away during off days next season to catch many games featuring his children.
Despite Rivers downplaying his pondering, Ainge said he didn't know what his coach would do until he got the message from him last week.
"I was hopeful, but I was uncertain,'' Ainge said of Rivers' return. "I thought there was a chance (Rivers might leave). It was a relief. I was happy (to hear) he was coming back.''
While going through the decision process, Rivers said he shut down his cell phone to avoid distractions. The time away came after the Celtics blew a 13-point lead in the 83-79 Game 7 loss, which Rivers said he'll never truly get over.
"I never will,'' Rivers said. "I still haven't gotten over Game 5 Knicks and the Bulls (1993 Eastern Conference finals). I don't think you get over those things. I don't think you should. ... We were running on (empty) in Games 6 (an 89-67 loss) and 7. We missed open shots. ... We got great shots.''
Game 7 marked the final time Rivers was alongside defensive specialist Tom Thibodeau, who had been named coach of the Bulls. But Rivers isn't overly concerned about the loss of his top assistant.
"It will be different, but we'll be fine,'' Rivers said. "We'll be bringing in another (assistant). Tom is terrific. He did a great job for us, but I don't think that's going to be an issue for us.''
After the Lakers' win in Game 7, Jackson, 64, also considered stepping away. But Rivers said that was a different situation.
"Phil is making the decision about not coaching ever again,'' said Rivers, 48. "And mine was more taking a break for a year just to be with the family. So Phil, in a lot of ways, (had a much tougher decision). The finality of what he was trying to decide. I'm not making that kind of decision for 20 years.''
But if Rivers does indeed evaluate his future every year, it certainly figures to be the same situation again for him next summer when his contract is due to expire. Unless he lets his decision known beforehand, he might want to be ready for again having an "embarrassing'' feeling about a situation made "much bigger'' than he believes it warrants.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson