Austin Rivers was on his own last week in Chicago while his father was guiding the Celtics in an intense playoff series with the Miami Heat. It should be a prelude to the younger Rivers’s future, with him most likely playing for one NBA team while his father coaches another.
He was at the league’s predraft camp - limiting his workouts, as most lottery-pick candidates did at the suggestion of their agents - as he attempts to build his own image, separating himself from his famous father.
Some say that Rivers never bought into the team concept at Duke, and that coach Mike Krzyzewski did not exactly discourage him from entering the draft after his freshman year. Rivers was a shoot-first, shoot-second guard at Duke and will have to establish a position in the NBA.
He is projected to be a top-15 pick, but his character will be under scrutiny.
“I’m a very competitive player that wants to help the team win,’’ he said. “Obviously things change once you get to the big leagues, but who you are as a player doesn’t too much. The team that drafts me will draft me for a reason, because of the way I play at my best.’’
Rivers said he views himself as a scoring point guard who can make plays for his teammates. He has immense skills and was one of the top high school players in the country, but his one season at Duke did not allow him to establish a basketball personality or reputation, something he is trying to explain during his interviews with lottery teams.
One of those teams is New Orleans, coached by Doc’s close friend Monty Williams. The Hornets own the first overall pick - presumably to be used on Kentucky’s Anthony Davis - but also the 10th.
“I have been blessed to know him most of my life and I had a great workout with him,’’ Austin said. “I felt like things went great, and they have a great organization there and are on the rise, especially with the No. 1 pick.’’
Austin has had the reputation for being arrogant or cocky since his high school days.
“I think he’s a driven, determined player,’’ said Doc Rivers. “The coaches that had him have loved that.
“He wants to win, and he gets frustrated at times - like I did as a player - when things aren’t going right team-wise. But he’s as competitive a player as you’ll ever get.
“In a crazy way, I’ve actually heard people knock that, which blows my mind why you would ever knock a guy that’s competitive.
“Or, I even heard he was cocky. I’ve yet to meet the un-cocky Dwyane Wade or the un-cocky LeBron [James] or the un-cocky Ray [Allen] or the un-cocky Paul [Pierce].
“So those are things that blow my mind when I hear negatives about Aus. But he’s just a competitive guy. He wants to win. He wants to be the best. That’s what you want.’’
Austin has leaned on Doc for the heavier decisions, but the father has also allowed the son to make some significant decisions himself, such as leaving school.
“He helped a lot,’’ said Austin. “Him, Coach K, those are the guys I went with for advice. I used them as a source and they helped me a lot.
“I wanted to come back [to Duke] and [Krzyzewski] wanted me to come back, but I had a great opportunity and we both thought it was best for me to come here and play, and he felt I was ready to do that. I wouldn’t have come out if I didn’t feel like I was ready.’’
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
Seattle can’t really enjoy it
It was ironic that the play-by-play voice for the national radio broadcast of the Thunder’s victory in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals was Kevin Calabro - the Seattle SuperSonics’ radio voice for their final 21 years in the Emerald City.
The Thunder’s rise to prominence was exactly what Sonics fans expected when the franchise traded Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, and cleared salary-cap space before drafting Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in back-to-back years. Their ascent is no surprise, but watching it happen 2,000 miles away is painful.
Businessman Clay Bennett, with help from NBA commissioner David Stern, facilitated the Sonics’ relocation to Oklahoma four years ago, ending a 41-year tenure in Seattle. Many Seattle fans believe Stern aided the move because he owed Bennett a favor for temporarily housing the New Orleans Hornets in Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina.
When he purchased the team from Howard Schultz in 2006, Bennett fired general manager Rick Sund, and then forced president of basketball operations Lenny Wilkens to resign in July 2007, replacing him with rising GM Sam Presti. Presti is responsible for building the Thunder into a championship contender, but gutting the roster before the final season in Seattle led to speculation that they were purposely trying to drain fan interest to foster relocation.
Presti drafted Westbrook just weeks before the relocation, and the press conference introducing Westbrook and Serge Ibaka was held just before the trial that determined whether Bennett could break the lease two years early began. The city of Seattle wound up settling with Bennett for $75 million and allowed him to move the Sonics to Oklahoma.
“A lot of Sonics fans don’t want to admit it,’’ said Brian Robinson, leader of a group called “Save Our Sonics’’ that held rallies for months until the city settled. “But they’re kind of taking some joy in, ‘See, I told you so. The NBA could have been fun and it could have been ours.’ It proves how great the NBA could have been if it was still here.
“There’s definitely a lot of people who are really angry, but it’s definitely subsided in the past few years, the overall anger. I think there’s a certain amount of people this year more than previously that seem to be kind of enjoying this.
“The people who said basketball doesn’t have a future [in Seattle] or isn’t fun or can’t work or we aren’t missing anything, they are wrong, we are missing something.’’
When the Sonics relocated, there was a high level of resentment, with many citizens writing to local papers to say, “Good riddance,’’ to the NBA and vent their fury at Stern for his involvement. There were those who said the city could survive basketball-wise with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and the thriving University of Washington program, but it’s not the same.
Seattle is known for cold, rainy winters, and those December nights were brightened by the Lakers, Cavaliers, or Knicks being in town.
“It took me two years to realize why I was getting so bored on winter nights,’’ said Robinson, who took on the “Save Our Sonics’’ effort with little help from civic leaders. “And all of a sudden I realized I didn’t have a team to root for.’’
While private e-mails released during the trial revealed that Bennett planned to move the team to Oklahoma as soon as he could negotiate a lease settlement, the city of Seattle remained mostly passive during the process, suggesting only upgrades to KeyArena while Bennett insisted on a new venue.
Governor Christine Gregoire did not send a representative to New York when the league’s Board of Governors voted on relocation. Instead, she sent a letter pleading for the NBA to vote against the move. The governors were impressed with Bennett’s presentation and overwhelmingly voted for the move.
“There is a lot of feeling that everybody failed in this situation,’’ Robinson said. “It’s easy for us to be mad at Clay. It’s easy for us to be mad at David Stern. It’s easy for us to be mad at Schultz. It’s easy for us to be mad at the city.
“But the reality is, it was a lousy set of circumstances, and everybody dropped the ball. This city didn’t work as hard as it needed to to keep the Sonics. That’s a little bit hard to face.
“And when you look at how successful they have been in Oklahoma City, that could have been ours and we’re the ones who dropped the ball in finding a way to keep it.’’
Wilkens, who led Seattle to its only major sports championship in 1979, said residents have softened their ire.
“I think most people have moved on,’’ he said. “There may be some people who are a little upset because they were disappointed in losing their team, but to say that they are carrying some kind of anger, I don’t see that. People there are trying to get a new team, get a new building.’’
PASSING THE TORCH
Davis follows Durant’s path
Anthony Davis’s post-college debut will come with Team USA in Las Vegas next month, as he will be one of 20 players vying for the 12 spots on the Olympic team. Davis, of course, is expected to be drafted first by the Hornets on June 28, and is the only college player in competition for the US squad.
Davis’s emergence reminds US team director Jerry Colangelo of 2008, when Kevin Durant, just coming off his rookie year for the Sonics, was invited to try out. He made quite an impression that summer, nearly earning a spot on the Olympic team. What struck Colangelo about Durant was his confidence and desire.
Colangelo recalls running into Durant at the 2007 Final Four just after he completed his freshman season at Texas. Durant recognized him, and the two conversed, with Colangelo inviting Durant to camp.
“His eyes were wide open, excited, big smile, he’s says, ‘I’m there, you can count on it, I’m there,’ ’’ Colangelo said. “Of course the people around him were trying to encourage him and tell him what a big opportunity this was.
“Durant almost made the team that summer as we were preparing for the Tournament of the Americas, and Anthony Davis is kind of in the same boat - finishing his freshman year at Kentucky, he’s going to be the No. 1 pick in the draft.
“He’s got some tremendous assets and the potential to be a tremendous player in the future, and so he’s a player we want to expose to USA Basketball. [John] Calipari has told me, ‘Don’t be surprised if he surprises you about how far along he is.’
“And we have had a few big guys go down, so I would like nothing more than to be pleasantly surprised. He’s going to be in our camp and I’m also thinking ahead, 2014, 2016.’’
Colangelo also approached eventual 2007 No. 1 pick Greg Oden with the same opportunity to try out, but he declined.
“I wanted guys who wanted to be part of our program, and Kevin did,’’ Colangelo said. “Anthony reminds me of that, and I will never prejudge him. Kevin came out there and turned a lot of heads even though he was 19 years old.’’
Team USA begins training camp July 6 in Las Vegas and opens its exhibition schedule July 12 against the Dominican Republic, coached by Calipari.
Colangelo received an extension from the US Olympic Committee to set his roster because of the rash of injuries to players such as Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Big impression at the combine
The NBA combine measurements were released, and the most impressive numbers were those of Iowa State’s Royce White, the hulking guard who is 6 feet 7 inches without shoes and an athletic 260 pounds. He is intriguing teams as a small forward who can handle the ball. The heaviest player at the combine was Connecticut’s Andre Drummond, with 278 pounds on his 6-11 frame. Meanwhile, Ohio State big man Jared Sullinger, whose weight has been an issue over his career, came in at a svelte 268 pounds after measuring 6-8, a good sign for those scouts who questioned whether he possessed the size to play power forward.
Feet have been failing him
While he is grateful for the opportunity, Greg Stiemsma won’t be 100 percent when he joins the US Select Team in July to help Team USA prepare for the London Olympics. Stiemsma hardly participated in practices and shootarounds this season because of a bone bruise in his right foot and plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Stiemsma also experienced foot issues during the playoffs.
Big question with Bynum
The Lakers have picked up the $16.1 million option on the contract of Andrew Bynum (above). Now comes the hard part of determining whether he is worth a maximum contract after his series of clashes with coach Mike Brown and sometimes ambivalent attitude about winning. Bynum is one of the league’s top centers when engaged, but many observers wonder whether he has peaked or has the desire to compete with Dwight Howard to be the league’s best big man.
With Portland’s Jamal Crawford telling the Globe in February that he will exercise his opt-out close and become a free agent - making him one of the more desirable shooting guards on the market - the Blazers will have to figure out what to do with Shawne Williams. Williams was traded to Portland in February and will accept his player option although he never played a game for the Blazers because of a foot injury. Williams signed a two-year, $6.1 million deal with the Nets but was traded to Portland in a salary cap-clearing deal for New Jersey . . . An emerging player on the Celtics’ radar could be San Antonio restricted free agent Danny Green, who had a solid playoff stretch with the Spurs and is one of the league’s most improved players. Green started most of the postseason games for San Antonio, and because he is a second-round pick under the Arenas rule, the Spurs can match any offer to him. The Celtics will be seeking an athletic swingman who can play defense and has long-range shooting skills . . . The Wizards did not go for a big-name, high-priced coach and instead retained Randy Wittman, who led them to an 18-31 record after taking over for Flip Saunders. That leaves Orlando, Charlotte, and Portland as the open jobs. The coaching free agent pool includes longtime Utah coach Jerry Sloan and former Portland coach Nate McMillan, both of whom are making a push for the Bobcats job. McMillan has the inside track because of his relationship with Bobcats general manager Rich Cho. They worked together in Seattle and Portland.