March 31, 2013

COMMENTARY — ON BASKETBALL: Fine whine as Riley, Ainge trade harsh barbs

BY ETHAN J. SKOLNICK

NEW ORLEANS -- Pat Riley and Danny Ainge, who battled in the NBA Finals throughout the 1980s when Riley was the Lakers coach and Ainge was a Celtics guard, now compete as executives. Three decades don't dull a real rivalry and, Friday, Riley sent some sharp words Ainge's way, through Heat spokesman Tim Donovan, roughly 100 minutes prior to Miami's tipoff against the Hornets:

"Danny Ainge needs to shut the f - - up and manage his own team. He was the biggest whiner going when he was playing and I know that because I coached against him."

What compelled that colorful if curt outburst, after Riley hadn't spoken to the Miami-based media -- in any form -- about basketball matters since free agency in July?

Wednesday night, after losing to the Bulls in Chicago, LeBron James made the case that many of the fouls committed against him -- including two by the Bulls in that game -- are not "basketball plays." Thursday morning, Ainge, the Celtics' President of Basketball Operations, said on WEEI in Boston that "I think that it's almost embarrassing that LeBron would complain about officiating."

After Friday morning's shootaround, James asked if Ainge's input surprised him.

"I'm not surprised to hear anything from Boston," James said, smiling. "No, not surprised at all."

James, who is averaging his fewest free throws since his rookie season, said he didn't care about anybody's response, even though "I know that everything I say is either going to be blown out of proportion or taken the wrong way. But I said what I had to say, and I move on."

After Donovan relayed Riley's quotes to the media Friday evening, coach Erik Spoelstra was asked to speak on them.

"I love direct GM-to-GM communication," he said, smiling. "It's awesome."

Ray Allen, who played for the Celtics the past five seasons, also smiled when the quotes were read to him.

"That's between Danny and Pat," Allen said. "They obviously have a lot of history."

James does not hold a structured press availability prior to games, but when Riley's just-released statement was mentioned to him -- as he got stretched on the floor and scrolled through Twitter -- he referred to it as "awesome." When told of the statement, a couple of his teammates also heartily approved.

Heat players have frequently expressed amusement that representatives of other teams -- whether players, coaches or executives -- tend to talk so much about them. They are especially amused by the Celtics' chatter about them, whether it's coming from Jason Terry or Paul Pierce or whomever; one Heat player referred to it as an "obsession."

The teams could meet in the first round of the playoffs, if the Celtics slide behind the Bucks. Last postseason, they played in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals -- and, as reported by Yahoo Sports, Ainge confronted the NBA's VP of Referee Operations, Joe Borgia, after James received 24 free throws in Game 2.

The back-and-forth continued until the Celtics tipped off, in Boston against Atlanta.

"We're both right," Ainge told the Boston Globe. "LeBron should stop complaining and I should manage my own team. . Pat Riley's right. I should manage my own team and I complained a lot (as a player). And I'm right. LeBron should be embarrassed by how he complains about the calls he gets."

Doc Rivers played for Riley in New York and now works for Ainge.

"I think it's cool," the Celtics coach said. "I think they should duke it out."

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