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Bill Simmons vs. The Celtics

blue corner hailing from New England, currently living in California, making a living working for ESPN, one of the most popular yet simultaneously divisive sports writers around...BILL SIMMONS!

And in the red corner, currently running the Boston Celtics, weighing in at a combined 390 pounds, from Oregon and Illinois respectively...DANNY AINGE AND DOC RIVERS!

Maybe the boxing angle is a little over the top. And publicly it has been for the most part one sided. But for the better part of two years Simmons has railed against the Celtics organization. He initially focused on Rivers, progressed to include Ainge, and recently put Wyc Grousbeck in crosshairs as well. Even Bob Ryan joined the fray at one point. But before I explain the timeline of Simmons' outbursts, let's take a minute to appreciate how amazing it is that this feud exists. Realistically, for a guy who is a national columnist, Simmons spends an inordinate amount of time talking about the 3rd most popular Boston. It has reached the point that people enjoy the C's misfortune. And I'm convinced Simmons was essential to this development. On to the feud.

1. It started back in January of 2006. When Simmons decided Doc was a bad coach. He dedicated a 3,000 word article to this realization and unveiled the Bad Coaching Index, which included eight categories: lousy record in close games, too many turnover, too many offensive rebounds allowed, not enough winning streaks, opposing 3-point percentage, lousy record on the road, lack of consistent rotation, and downright stupidity. Needless to say Doc performed poorly in all of these categories. However, #7 - lack of consistent rotation - caught my eye. Simmons' take:

"The single biggest sign of a bad coach: Someone who can't settle on an eight-man or nine-man rotation. NBA players need consistency. They need to play together for prolonged periods. They don't like looking over their shoulder every time the horn blasts. They don't need a coach whisking guys on and off the court for four quarters, especially a young player battling to maintain his confidence. Of course, Doc can't stop tinkering with his lineups -- in the Dallas game on Monday night, Doc played all 12 guys on the roster in the first half. Who does this? Seriously, when have you ever seen that work? Poor Al Jefferson played 28 minutes against the Hawks on Friday night ... five days later, he played six. Hey, he's only the future of the team. Let's keep yanking him around."

Fast forward to the 2007 season where Doc spoke out against rotations and it was only a matter of time before things heated up again. In Simmons' defense he was not the only one confused. Paul Forrester wrote a NBA roundup with the following criticism:

"It's not just that players such as Kendrick Perkins play 29 minutes one night and 13 a few later. It isn't just that promising rookie Leon Powe sits for the first game of the season, plays in the next four and sits again in two of the next three. It's that someone like Brian Scalabrine plays more often than a promising sophomore such as Gerald Green. The poster boy for brain-typing as a player evaluation tool, Scalabrine, who is supposed to have the same brain type as Michael Jordan, is averaging 1.6 points, 1.6 rebounds and 0.27 blocks a game -- and he's 6-9. Scalabrine isn't a culprit as much as a symptom of Rivers' inability to define roles. And when a big part of your job as a coach is to develop a roster littered with inexperienced talent, uncertainty doesn't help breed confidence -- or wins."

I even wrote a post for my old site where I argued that the injuries were good for the C's in the sense that they helped Doc develop a rotation. Something had to give.

2. As expected Simmons did not remain quiet for long. This time he set forth a nearly 4,000 word epic predicting Doc's firing. If you are scoring at home that's two articles about Doc Rivers in less than a year. And they were a combined 7,000 words long. Wow. My understanding is that Simmons had it on good authority from someone inside the Celtics organization that Doc was on his way out the door. The preemptive article was memorable for four reasons:

- Simmons highlighted two of Doc's more frustrating tendencies - his willingness to throw players under the bus and his questionable decisions:

"Following the game, Doc blamed Pierce for failing to box out on the missed free throw, which was interesting for two reasons. First, Pierce DID box out. I recorded the game on TiVo. The ball just bounced over his head. It happens. And second, instead of putting in two rebounders with Trevor Ariza at the line (a poor free throw shooter), Doc went in the other direction and yanked Kendrick Perkins (our tallest guy) for Ryan Gomes (who's 6-foot-7), leaving two small forwards on the low block to grab a potential Ariza miss with less than 90 seconds to play. I mentioned that he's a career 60 percent FT shooter, right? The important thing to remember is that the whole thing was Pierce's fault because he was too short to grab the rebound."

- Simmons essentially called out Bob Ryan:

"Look, it's never fun to write that someone should lose his job. By all accounts, Doc is a super guy -- that's the main reason both local papers and radio stations kept spinning his B.S. and enabled him to keep his job for this long. Just this week, the one local writer who understands basketball and all its subtle nuances -- the Globe's Bob Ryan -- endorsed Doc and absolved him of all blame. Here was his reasoning:

`And, yes, I'm a Doc guy. I can't help it. I've known him too long. I have too much respect for his intelligence, common sense and goodwill to abandon him in this hour of crisis. Do I know for sure that he can convey all the basketball he knows to others? No, I do not. But I know it's there, and I'd sure like to play for him (assuming he could use a 6-foot, 1-inch forward with 1965 post-up moves).'

With all due respect to Ryan, the greatest basketball writer of my lifetime ... what the hell does that even mean? He's your friend, so you can't admit that he's a bad coach and you need more time to evaluate him? Nearly 200 games wasn't enough? Come on."

  • He argued that gunning for a top pick was the only possible reason the Celtics could keep Doc around.
  • Finally Simmons made it personal by recalling snubs from the Boston media, criticizing the Celtics beat writers, and proclaiming that people no longer needed a press pass to cover a team. This last point was ultimately a reaction to Doc Rivers' derisively calling Simmons a "blogger" on WEEI and questioning his credentials. This was far from over.
3. Ultimately Simmons was incorrect as Doc's firing was not imminent. Yet the man did not give up the cause. Instead Simmons dedicated a chunk of a new article about the terrible Eastern Conference to Doc. This served the dual purpose of further explaining why Rivers was a bad coach and giving a possible reason for why he was not fired:
"The Celtics are playing just hard enough that it doesn't make sense to fire the coach, but not nearly consistently/coherently/decently enough that it would be smart to keep that same coach. It's extremely frustrating. For instance, on Saturday night, as the crows were circling after an embarrassing 24-point home loss to the Knicks (replete with "Fi-re Doc!" chants and the C's being flummoxed by a basic 2-3 zone), the Doc Era was on life support with the team trailing by 14 at halftime in Milwaukee. Of course, Pierce went bonkers in the second half, they played their best team defense of the season and Boston ended up cruising to a comeback win, and I called my half-asleep father just to scream, "He won't diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiie!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Not a fun first month for the current Atlantic Division leaders."

4. Simmons continued to criticize the Celtics whenever possible and then ratcheted things up in February by introducing fantanking:

"We have a term for a team that effectively gives up to increase its draft position -- "tanking" -- but nothing to describe when fans turn on their team for the same reason. Let me create one: "fantanking." Not only can you use it as a noun or as a verb, it sounds like a title of a Weezer CD."

- Looking back this was the point that Simmons' feelings about the state of the Celtics consumed him. Consider the fact that he repeatedly wore a shirt with bird crap on it during the Boston Red Sox World Series run because it was lucky. Why would he completely turn his back on karma? Clearly he was not himself. Whatever the reason, Simmons rode the fantanking train for the rest of the season.

5. A short time later Simmons looked at "The No Balls Association" and aired his criticism of Ainge:

"Still, I'm giving them a retroactive "F" for the hideous Sebastian Telfair trade, in which they passed on Brandon Roy or Randy Foye to acquire a shoot-first point guard who can't shoot. I know they saved $20-25 million in the deal (a big consolation for my dad, who's paying something like $360 a game for his seats) and acquired Theo Ratliff's eight-figure contract as a potential trade chip ... but Danny Ainge hasn't swung a deal in four-plus years that could be considered a home run, much less a triple or double (I'll give him a single on the first Ricky Davis trade), but he managed to hit into two triple plays (the Telfair deal and the Raef LaFrentz/Antoine Walker deal). Will Danny be able to parlay Ratliff's contract into something substantial? I'm dubious."

6. Albert Einstein once described insanity as, "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." So when Simmons decided to keep a diary of a Celtics/Rockets game in March, I knew it would drive him crazy. And of course it did. Bonus points for including this now painful thought:

"Instead of running ticket commercials featuring Jefferson, Pierce and Gerald Green, why don't the Celtics spring for some CGI and run doctored highlights of Oden or Durant lighting it up in a Celtics uniform, with the tagline, "Celtics basketball: There's a 50 percent chance you won't want to miss us next season!"

Simmons also took a shot at Rivers,

"Time for tonight's pregame interview with Doc Rivers, or as I like to call the segment, "Dead Man Walking." I actually feel bad for Doc at this point -- for about three months, he's had the same look on his face that Antonella Barba's parents probably had when they Googled her last week."

And Ainge for good measure:

"* Roy: 7 games, 36.6 minutes, 16.6 points, 7.1 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 51.1 percent shooting.
* Telfair: 6 games, 13.5 minutes, 3.5 points, 2.0 assists, 0.7 rebounds, 27.5 percent shooting.

(Note: These are the things that happen when you deal with a team that initiates trade talks by sending you a DVD of "Through the Fire" with a note that says, `PLAY ME.')"

7. In early April Simmons' let up a bit and only devoted a small segment of a links/mailbag post to a dreadful Bucks/Celtics game:

"Get ready for an epic battle in Milwaukee tonight: Ersan Ilyasova and the Milwaukee Bucks battling Allan Ray and the Boston Celtics, in what Chris Harrison is calling `the greatest double-tank job yet!' Here are the tentative matchups:

Boston starters: Kendrick Perkins, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Delonte West, Rajon Rondo.

Bench players who should see action: Bassy Telfair, Leon Powe, David Noel, Ruben Patterson, Dan Gadzuric, Allan Ray.

Coaches: Doc Rivers (career record: 272-294) vs. Larry Krystkowiak (career record: 2-7).

Sidelined stars with dubious injuries who might be in attendance: Paul Pierce, Al Jefferson, Andrew Bogut, Charlie Villaneuva.

(The NBA ... it's FANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN-tastic!)"

8. By mid April however, Simmons was back on the horse with an article titled, "From Celtic Pride to Celtic Shame." This one stands out for three reasons:

  • It included one of the most bitter top 10 lists of all time or as Simmons called it, "Top 10 Reasons Why We're Extending Doc Rivers That Have Nothing To Do with The Fact That He Successfully Executed His Tanking Mission." I won't even try to summarize. You should read it.
  • Remember how Simmons brought Bob Ryan into this. Well at some point Ryan responded and now Simmons had to counter that counter. Does that make sense? Regardless here goes:
"On the other hand, my opinion doesn't really matter. As Bob Ryan mentioned on local Boston TV a few months ago, I'm just some yahoo who lives 3,000 miles away and can't possibly understand what's happening with this team. I haven't ventured into the clubhouse. I'm not sitting at a press table typing deadline game stories and ignoring the game that's happening right in front of me. I haven't had the distinct pleasure of spending time with Doc after a tough loss and being wowed by his winning charm and humor. I haven't been spun the same BS excuses that everyone else back home has been spun, and my lips aren't covered with green Kool-Aid stains."

After a few paragraphs Simmons went into it again,

"Then again, what do I know? I'm just some yahoo writer who lives 3,000 miles away. And since I'm not moving back home any time soon, I hope the Celtics find time to mail me some of that green Kool-Aid. It would go great with the turd sandwich I've been chewing for the past two years."

- If I put the over/under at 3,500 words for the column what would you take? For the record it was 34 words.

10. On May 11th, refusing to give up the fight, Simmons ran a mailbag under the following premise:

"I have very few rules in life, but here's one of them: Anytime the Celtics inexplicably extend the contract of a head coach who won 56 games in two seasons, I have to make myself feel better about it by writing a mailbag."

He responded to a question about the events for a hypothetical reality TV show about the next Celtics GM with the following:

"1. Convincing a panel of NBA experts that every Celtics young player, except for Al Jefferson, is not a bench player at best.
  1. Looking the other way as Doc cancels yet another much-needed practice during a losing streak so he can fly to Orlando to see his family.
  2. Sell reporters on the fact that Kendrick Perkins has shown real progress over the past four years, even though his offense consists of one move that could best be described as "throw a jump hook against the backboard at 200 mph."
  3. Come up with the best possible excuse why we won't spend the free agent exemption every year that doesn't include the words "we're freaking cheap."
  4. Call Portland, offer Theo Ratliff and Bassy Telfair's $2.5 million cap figure for Brandon Roy, Raef LaFrentz and Dan Dickau, then see how long you can keep them on the phone before they hang up laughing.
  5. Execute as many puff piece interviews as possible in two hours with the Boston Globe, Boston Herald and WEEI in which you get away with saying stuff like, `We feel like we already have two franchise players, and that's before you include Oden or Durant,' and `we may have won 23 games, but I really feel like we're a playoff team trapped in the body of a lottery team' without anyone calling you on it."

Long story short Simmons was not going quietly into the night. I don't see any reason to rehash Simmons' articles on the NBA lottery and karma or the fallout after Boston obtained the 5th pick. As a side note the latter delighted anti Simmons and anti Celtics fans everywhere. Instead I'll focus on a Simmons rant from a NBA themed post he wrote in the days leading up to the lottery.

"Wyc, Danny, Doc ... you guys all need to shut your traps. Seriously. Stop giving interviews. Stop telling your disgruntled fan base that you could have made the playoffs if not for so many injuries. Stop raving about your fantastic young nucleus of players and how they're in such high demand. Stop talking about Doc's great coaching when he won 56 games in two seasons. Stop sounding so freaking smug about everything. Just stop. Don't say another word until May 23. And if you don't start showing some humility and urgency about what happened the past two seasons, and you don't start recognizing that your fans are legitimately concerned that none of you have any idea what you're doing, here's what will happen: you're going to get written off by the majority of your entire fan base (basically, everyone with an IQ better than 80) until all three of you are gone.

It happened to Jeremy Jacobs, Harry Sinden and the Bruins; it's going to happen to you. You've reached that do-or-die point with your fans and season-ticket holders -- trust me, I'm getting the e-mails every day -- and the fact that none of you realize it is more disturbing than anything. So stop talking. Wait to see what happens with the Ping-Pong balls next Tuesday. You have to believe me, I'm speaking for just about everyone who loves your team. The lack of humility and urgency after two straight crappy seasons has been appalling. I can't emphasize that strongly enough."

Tom Hagen once said, "This is business, not personal." Sticking with the Godfather theme, Simmons would be Michael right around the time he decided to kill McKluskey. Translation - he's taking it very, very personal. Simmons simply can't let Rivers' "blogger" comment or Ryan's "yahoo" insult slide. And that is unfortunate because it detracts from his points about how terrible the Celtics have been. This is a Celtics team that has gotten progressively worse under Ainge and Rivers. They appeared to bottom out last season with 24 wins and an 18 game losing streak, which was only bearable because it seemed like the franchise's fortunes were about to turn for the better. And now no one has any idea what the hell will happen. In fact there is a sense amongst some fans that things could actually get worse. And right now it does not seem possible. That's why Simmons can't simply sit back and say nothing.  However, in the end does it really matter with LeBron James being LeBron James? Exactly.

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