The question is intriguing. The answer is complicated. This past week, Celtics coach Doc Rivers up and bolted to the L.A, Clippers for a No. 1 pick in 2015. His team, anchored by two veterans; Paul Pierce who turns 36 this October, and Kevin Garnett who just turned 37 last month were in the way of Boston entering into a re-building mode. The Nets were the only team that could accommodate and afford the two All-Stars and have something to give the CEltics in return, so Danny Ainge made the deal this past week, garnering three future first round picks plus four players.
So Rivers ends up with the Clippers, surely a contender in 2014, while leaving a Celtic team that will win 40 games, be competitive, but who will do no damage in next year’s playoffs. There are those who say that he quit on the team because they would not have been in contention, to go to a team already poised to go deep into the 2014 post season.
Jeff Van Gundy, who had been an assistant coach of the N.Y. Knicks for six years prior to landing the head coaching duties in 1995, was very successful, taking the team to the Conference Semi-Finals his first three years, the NBA Finals (in his 4th) and Conference Finals in his 5th season, and then lost in the first round of the playoffs in ’00-’01 season. In his seventh year as Knick coach, and after just 19 games, Van Gundy shocked everyone when he just decided to quit the team after having posted a 10-9 record at that point in the season.
So which one of these two elite NBA coaches was more of a quitter?
I don’t think put in the same situation as Doc Rivers that you wouldn’t make the same decision that he did, although there are reports that Danny Ainge didn’t even want him back. We’ll just have to wait and see how that story shakes out. Regrets? Rivers has a few. He’ll always feel that he and the Celts should have won a couple more championsips but injuries to Rajon Rondo one season and Paul Pierce another, prevented that from happening. We’ll say this about Doc, what he did is similar to the move LeBron James made. Something better came along and with the “Win now mentality” ever so prevelant in most sports today, he chose the place where he felt the opportunity for winning now was more prevelant, and you can’t blame him for that.
Jeff Van Gundy’s departure, on the other hand was more bizarre and selfish given his previous success with the N.Y. Knick franchise. He had invested 13 years with the organization as assistant and head coach. To this day he ranks third in franchise history in wins. Red Holzman had 783 wins and a .595 winning percentage, Joe Lapchick 573 and a .595 WP and Jeff Van Gundy 420 wins with a .590 WP. He certainly was in good company with those two legends in front of him. Van Gundy was one of the most popular coaches the Knicks ever had, one who was not afraid to run on the floor to prevent fights from getting out of hand and to protect his players.
Knick fans were shocked and upset upon hearing that Van Gundy had just decided to hang ’em up after just 19 games into the 2001-2002 season. What has helped endear him to the fans even more, was his admission recently that he, unlike Rivers, was the quitter between the two coaches. Van Gundy has said that he regrets the way he did it, without allowing more time to contemplate the decison. He actually regrets making it so hastily, much more than the actual decision.
That takes a certain kind of individual to come out with this revelation 11 years after it happened without prodding or going through a gruesome interview. He didn’t have to say a word. Or he could have just said that Rivers was the bigger quitter. But he didn’t. He is too classy & professional to do that. If you remember when Avery Johnson was let go by the Nets last season and P.J. Carleismo was made interim coach,Van Gundy, when asked if he would seek that job, said that…” there was nothing to discuss…the Nets already have a coach.”
The Knicks, over the next eight seasons after Van Gundy quit the team, never won 40 games. In fact they they didn’t win even 30 games in three of those seasons. The fans were left with a team that never had the same identity it did when Van Gundy was there, nor the personnel. The fans were also upset with his sudden departure, but after what he said this week, they would undoubtedly take him back in a heartbeat!