This is one of Rivers' best coaching efforts

Posted: May 17, 2012 at 1:17 am


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Doc Rivers has found the right touch with the Celtics, leading Boston to a championship and two Finals appearances.

AP

Glenn "Doc" Rivers is living up to his nickname again. The Boston Celtics coach loves to joke that he's Doc, not a doctor, when you ask him about player injuries. But Doc is quite skilled at making ill teams healthy.

During these NBA playoffs, Rivers is attempting to complete one of his best coaching jobs, squeezing the most he can out of a creaky Big Three, maximizing the strengths of mercurial point guard Rajon Rondo and helping the Celtics lurk as a surprising contender. It figures Doc would be ideal for this challenge. Among Rivers' greatest traits is the ability to survive. He smiles frequently, even amid hardships, revealing pearly replacement teeth because he lost a few as a player. He is not one to be dismissed easily.

I know this because I called for Rivers to be fired nine years ago. It's the only day in my journalism career that I regret. And with Rivers poised to defy detractors yet again, it's time to admit it.

In November 2003, the Orlando Magic fired Rivers after a 1-10 start. One bad stretch and he was done. He had won the NBA Coach of the Year award in his first season and then guided the Magic to three straight playoff appearances despite Grant Hill's notorious ankle problems, but now he was a scapegoat three weeks into his fifth season.

Looking back, the Magic organization was a laughable disaster. John Weisbrod, a former minor league hockey general manager with a Harvard degree and a serious power trip, was the team's chief operating officer and made the decision to fire Rivers. General manager John Gabriel had fallen out of favor and would soon depart. And star guard Tracy McGrady was balking at signing a new contract, feuding with Weisbrod and planning an exit strategy that would come to light at season's end.

Rivers was the first to go because that's what it says to do in the "How To Wreck A Franchise In Seven Months" book. As a former Magic beat writer recently promoted to columnist at The Orlando Sentinel, I let the news junkie in me overtake the critical thinker.

We're bad at humility in this business, but for some reason, I feel like I owe it to Rivers. He's perhaps the most honest and introspective coach I've ever covered. That's why he is able to change and persevere. If you think Rivers made a bold and season-changing decision by moving Kevin Garnett to center earlier this year, consider that he once turned around an extremely limited Magic team by promoting an undersized, skinny 6-foot-9 shooter named Pat Garrity to starting power forward. Garrity couldn't jump over a basketball, but he gave the Magic enough of an edge to make the playoffs by playing cat-and-mouse basketball with bigger, more physical teams.

Nevertheless, sources were indicating nine years ago that Rivers was on the hot seat. The whispers started when the Magic had a 1-4 record, which is hardly enough time to judge a coach who was juggling a roster with eight new players.

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This is one of Rivers' best coaching efforts

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May 17th, 2012 at 1:17 am

Posted in Life Coaching