The Celtics can clinch the second-worst record in the NBA with a loss to the Bucks tonight, and, with all the talk of tanking that has surrounded these clubs, one half expects Doc Rivers to be breathing through a snorkel on the sideline.
Intent is open to debate, but there can be no question the Celts have been putting player development and caution with injuries ahead of winning in recent weeks. And even though this approach has given his team better odds of landing a top-three pick, Rivers doesn't like the current weighted system.
The NBA began its lottery with all the non-playoff teams having an equal shot at the top pick, but it switched to a process in which those with poorer records have a greater chance. There may be no perfect system, but Rivers finds the alleged jockeying for position distasteful.
``Go back to the old way,'' he said. ``Every team that doesn't make the playoffs gets one ball. I've said that for 10 years, and even though obviously where we're at the way they do it now benefits us, I would love it to be that way. I think that's the way it should be.
``I don't think the teams with the worst record should be rewarded, and I've always said that. You're rewarded for being bad? I think you reward champions. I know it's a tough thing to say, but I do think it would be a great way of doing it.''
The whole concept behind professional leagues drafting in inverse order is to help the have-nots catch up with the better clubs in the great search for parity.
``Yeah, but everybody that doesn't make the playoffs wants to get better,'' countered Rivers.
The way things are being done now, he claims, invites chicanery.
``If we changed back to each team out of the playoffs getting one shot, we would not see what you're seeing now league-wide,'' Rivers said. ``It's tough. Even if you weren't seeing it, the perception is there.
``I mean, I got killed two weeks ago for literally making a very good decision when I decided to keep the starters on the bench for a very good reason. It actually paid dividends a couple of games later when we won because our bench played well. But the assumption was, `They're just dropping games.' ''
Following that loss to Charlotte on March 21, Rivers announced he had not tanked even before the subject was raised. And it didn't pass without notice when he left Ryan Gomes and Kendrick Perkins on the bench in the last quarter of Tuesday's come-from-ahead loss to the Hawks. Assuming Rivers is taken at his word and that he wasn't simply trying to fend off the falling Bucks, he is swimming against perception.
``You can't do anything,'' he said. ``The game in Atlanta, I wanted to go to Gerald (Green) down the stretch to see what he would do in that situation. I'm coaching for next year. . . .
``But right now, anything we do or anything Milwaukee does - or anybody - there's suspicion behind it. There should be, honestly. That's the way it is.''
That's certainly the way it will be tonight when winning is in neither team's best interest. In the immortal words of Paul Pierce before that Charlotte game, `We'll see who don't want it more.'''