LAS VEGAS – With all that’s transpired for his old man in the past month, Austin Rivers has been engulfed with issues of his own. Like the Celtics faithful and Clippers fans, the younger Rivers was closely monitoring the month-long ordeal involving Doc Rivers, Danny Ainge, and the Clippers.
The deal is done now. Doc is coaching the Clippers and was checking out his summer league team before bolting to New York while the Celtics have moved on with Brad Stevens and a revamped roster. As for Austin, things are pretty much the same personally; he remains with the New Orleans Pelicans but is here in Las Vegas with an agenda.
He wants to prove worthy of being a lottery pick, that he’s part of the Pelicans’ future and he’s more than a capable shooting guard after a difficult rookie season. Rivers struggled with injuries, lack of playing time, and maddening inconsistency.
His highlight was beating his father in January, when he played one of his better games of the season. When playing well, Rivers is a crafty, fearless shooting guard. In Monday’s matchup with the Cavaliers, Rivers spent the entire 40 minutes exchanging pushes, screams, trash talk, and buckets with second-year Cleveland guard Dion Waiters, who like Rivers, entered the 2012 draft after just one year in college.
Rivers finished with 13 points, including one of the game-clinching baskets in the 66-62 win. Yet, nothing Rivers will do here in the Summer League will appease his critics, many of whom believe he is overrated or not worthy of being a starting shooting guard. The Pelicans even acquired Tyreke Evans to join a crowded backcourt of Rivers, Jrue Holiday, and Eric Gordon.
So the challenge has been presented and Rivers has not had time to focus on dad’s change of locales.
“I use this as an audition just to go out there and work hard,” he said Monday. “I’m just excited. People are asking me, ‘What do you feel about the pieces?’ I know I’ll play. I’ve worked too hard my whole life, so I’m not really worried to be honest. I know I’ll be a big piece next year that’s got to continue to work, stay humble, and things will fall in place for me.”
Confidence has never been an issue for Rivers. Health has. He missed 21 games last season with various injuries, including sprained ankles, a broken finger, bone spur surgery, and a broken right hand. He averaged 6.2 points and shot just 37.2 percent from the field.
“That’s a pretty long list [of injuries], especially for a rookie trying to find his way,” Rivers said. “So I was dealing with injuries and I am coming back and I’m thinking about my injuries and at the same time I’m thinking about fitting in and I’m thinking about pressing. This is the best I’ve felt ever in my life, shooting wise, dribbling wise, explosive wise. I’m 100 percent healthy. I have confidence, my coaches have confidence in me, so it’s like, ‘Wow, I have nothing to worry about.’ ”
Rivers was the first to confirm through Twitter that his father was traded to the Clippers for a 2015 first-round pick.
“It is strange, you’re used to flying up to Boston real quick, he’s way out in LA now,” Rivers said. “I’ll play him four times a year instead of two and it’s just crazy. It’s the Clippers. He’s been on the East Coast his whole life. He changes all the way, the farthest you could possibly go. They’ve got a heck of a team, they’re going to be a force next year.”
Rivers said his father’s move will affect Spencer, his youngest brother, the most. Spencer is a senior at Winter Park (Fla.) High School and plays for an AAU team sponsored by Austin.
“That’s tough, my dad is my little brother’s role model,” Austin said. “And for him to be across the country now, it’s going to be a little tough on [Spencer]. And there’s where I come in and help him out. If anything I’ve had to deal with that my whole life, my dad’s been gone and people felt like I’d wake up and go to Celtics practice. I never did that. I had to do everything on my own. I had to get everything on my own, so my little brother will be fine.”
If he didn’t know already, Rivers now realizes the NBA is business first. Not only did his father leave the Celtics after nine seasons, but his team revamped its roster, acquiring two guards capable of starting. Being the least-proven of those guards, Rivers understands that New Orleans may not be his permanent home.
“That comes in your mind, especially with all these moves that have been made,” Rivers said. “I can’t control that. I have to continue to work and get better. I really do. I love our franchise. I love our fan base.”Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe