Commentary

Doc Rivers comes to love Purdue

Celtics coach switches allegiances after team drafts pair of Boilermakers

Updated: June 24, 2011, 3:06 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Truth be told, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers wasn't much of a fan of JaJuan Johnson as recently as a few months ago. Watching Johnson and the Purdue Boilermakers dominate his son, Jeremiah, and the Indiana Hoosiers in Big 10 play, it never crossed Rivers' mind that he might be watching a future Celtic.

"I was pissed because Purdue was kicking their butts," Rivers said with a laugh Thursday night after Boston landed Johnson in a draft-night deal with the New Jersey Nets. Boston selected Providence's MarShon Brooks at No. 25 before dealing him to New Jersey for the rights to Johnson (picked No. 27 by the Nets) and a 2014 second-round draft pick.

[+] EnlargeJaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireJaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore didn't put any smiles on Doc Rivers' face when they were playing for Purdue -- and against Rivers' son.

"I actually didn't like [Johnson] at that point. It's funny, though, Jeremiah did. When they played Purdue the last time, he actually said, 'Man, that kid can really play.' I didn't project that, later on, he'd be on my team. I didn't think that. Maybe I should start doing that more."

As it turns out, the Celtics ended up with two Purdue products, taking shooting guard E'Twaun Moore with the 55th overall pick in the second round. Rivers leaves the college scouting and draft process to Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, but watching his sons play in recent years has turned into a valuable research tool.

Jeremiah Rivers played college ball with Jeff Green at Georgetown and provided glowing reviews following the Kendrick Perkins trade last season that brought Green back to Boston (where he was originally drafted fifth overall in 2007 before being moved to Seattle as part of the deal for Ray Allen). Rivers was familiar with Avery Bradley, who was drafted by the Celtics last year, from the AAU circuit.

Jeremiah heaped praise on Johnson again Thursday night.

"When we drafted him, he actually thought that [he] was one of the best players that he'd played against," Doc Rivers said. "He knows what he's talking about hopefully."

Both Rivers and Ainge gave glowing reviews about the incoming Boilermakers, but were careful to temper expectations given where they were drafted. Ainge said both players will compete for roles immediately, but when the conversation shifted to comparing Johnson to Kevin Garnett, Rivers slowed down the hype machine.

Johnson could ultimately emerge as Boston's defense-first power forward of the future, but for now, he might simply help provide the sort of production that Glen Davis has provided over the past four seasons.

Davis is set to test unrestricted free agency, and Boston might not have the resources to re-sign the power forward/center. That depends largely on the market for Davis and what Boston has to spend under a new collective bargaining agreement.

Enter Johnson.

Physically, he's the anti-Davis. While much was made about Davis' size and playing shape following a lackluster postseason, the questions about Johnson on draft night centered around whether he is too thin to play a frontcourt spot in the NBA.

Ainge laughed that off, saying, '"We wouldn't have drafted him if we had that issue."

"I'll just have him eat dinners with me," Rivers quipped. "I don't know if he needs to put on weight. He needs to get stronger, so that usually includes weight. I'm not that concerned by that right now."

Johnson is an intriguing package. He's 6-foot-10, but can run the floor and fits the bill in Boston's attempt to get younger and more athletic, while improving its shooting. Rivers gushed about Johnson in the pick-and-pop, something Davis did exceptionally well at times last season.

But, at the end of the day, Rivers preached patience.

"We don't know," Rivers said of whether Johnson can contribute right away. "Yesterday we didn't think he would be there, honestly, and he slipped to us. Who knows why, but he did. I think you've got to put him on the floor.

"I can't tell you if he's going to help or not. I think he'll be an NBA player and a good one. It may take him some time, and it may not."

Even after only the small glimpses of Johnson, Ainge said he likes what he sees.

"We think he's a both-ends-of-the-court player," Ainge said. "He can shoot, he can rebound, block shots. He's got some good energy and good length. I think that he fits a lot of parts that we need."

Reminded he could have saved himself a lot of hassle in scouting if he had just followed Purdue all season, Ainge laughed and swore it was just a coincidence that both players came from the same program. Heck, Rivers could have done all the scouting himself.

"Just independently, they were the best guys on the board for us when we were drafting," Ainge said. "I didn't even realize that we were picking two kids from Purdue until, actually, Doc was on the phone with JaJuan and just heard that we drafted E'Twaun, and I think that made him more excited than the fact that he was drafted. That was just pure coincidence."

Just like it was pure coincidence that Rivers was in the crowd a few months back unknowingly watching -- and rooting against -- two of his future players. He might not have been a Boilermaker supporter that day, but he's hoping opposing teams will be frustrated by Johnson and Moore moving forward.

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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