Austin Rivers didn’t plan for his NBA career to turn out this way. Four teams in seven years, waived by the Suns, looking for work not even a year after the Clippers traded him to the Wizards in what was supposed to be a fresh start.
But there he is, in the Rockets’ locker room after signing a contract to provide scoring punch for an oft-injured roster, trying to make the best of what has been a bumpy ride.
Doc Rivers’s middle son was supposed to be an NBA star. He was a high school phenom in Orlando, then moved on to Duke to play for famed coach Mike Krzyzewski, before leaving after one year to enter the NBA Draft.
Austin Rivers’s career has been series of flashes of approaching his potential, followed by slumps, injuries, and being cast as an offense-only player. Rivers came to Los Angeles to play for his father, and it worked out decently, but then he was shipped to Washington for Marcin Gortat, as the Clippers wanted to add a big man.
Rivers was never a fit with the Wizards and was then dealt to the Suns, who never had any intention of using him. Rivers was waived and then signed by the title-seeking Rockets, for whom in 32 games he is averaging 10 points, mostly as a reserve.
He feels comfortable, but he knows that feeling is fleeting in the NBA.
“It’s been a whirlwind to be honest. It’s been the toughest year of my career, to be completely honest,” Austin said. “I haven’t been used to change. I was in New Orleans for a couple of years and then I really adjusted to LA, and then you get traded to D.C., it’s not that big of a change, and then you get traded [to Memphis] and the trade doesn’t go through, and then you get traded, then waived, and then you come here. It’s a lot to deal with, physically, mentally, for my family.
“Where I was lucky where some guys aren’t is you get to land on a good team, in a good situation. The way I played, I knew I wasn’t worried at all about when I got waived. I’m happy I made the right choice.”
Rivers said he wanted to stay in Phoenix because of the perception that could result from being waived. He didn’t want to be a free agent during the season, a discarded former lottery pick looking for work.
“It looks bad because I’m sitting here thinking about my ego and my career,” he said. “This is my seventh year in the league. I need to be on a playoff team. I want to be on one of those teams. When [the trade] happened, I questioned what are we doing, and it was a lot mentally. Those four days I was waived, it was like two years. I’m watching people play basketball and I’m sitting here at home, like what the hell is going on?
“When Houston called, I was like, ‘I think this could be a great fit.’ I knew it was going to work, but I didn’t know it was going to be this [good].”
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni asks his players to shoot when open, try to play defense, and give the ball to James Harden when he wants it. Easy.
“It’s been such an amazing fit,” Rivers said. “I’m very thankful.”
Rivers said he is at peace with his career not turning out the way he planned. He was thinking All-Star Games, scoring titles, and stardom. Instead, he has been with five organizations and played on four teams in seven years. Rivers is averaging 9.3 points for his career, including 15.1 last season with the Clippers.
“You just try to maximize who you are. I’m not caught in up trying to be better than the guys I [was drafted] with,” he said. “I’m trying to be the best me I can be. So whatever that is, that is, and I’m OK with that. I was the 10th pick, people were thinking could be an All-Star, but I turned out to be a pretty damn good pro. I’ve been here seven years. I’m a solid [expletive] player. On any team I’ve played for, I’m going to play good minutes.
“Am I an All-Star? No. Doesn’t mean I can’t be in the future. You never know. There’s been guys like Kyle Lowry, guys who been in the league for six or seven years and they go somewhere and it clicks. No one thought D’Angelo Russell was going to be who he was this year, and then he goes to Brooklyn and turns into an All-Star.
“I’ll never count myself out, but in terms of accepting who you are, I’m fine with that. I love where I’m at. I was 19 years old. I thought I knew everything and things don’t work, which is the first time in my life it didn’t work. Even at Duke it was easy for me, I was better than everybody. I come here, and I didn’t play well.
“I had to stop trying to point the finger and take ownership and figure it out myself. Once I did that, I did a complete 180 and every year I continue to build. I’m OK where I am at.”
Rivers said fatherhood has changed him. He and his fiancée, Brittany Hotard, had a son, Kayden, in August.
“I think [becoming a parent] changes us all,” Doc Rivers said. “It matures. I definitely think it’s helped him, no doubt about that. That was a blessing for him in a lot of ways, not just having a child, but I think it takes your eye off of other stuff, and none of that other stuff means anything anymore. It’s just the health of your family and doing your job, so I think that’s refocused him, for sure.”
Said Austin Rivers: “It’s given me an understanding of what’s important and not to overreact. Bad games. Good games. You come home and you’re still Dad. He don’t know nothing else. It gives you a perspective on life. It changes you. You have a kid and realize what’s really important. It actually takes pressure off everything. Nothing will come before fatherhood for me, ever in my life.”
IT HASN’T BEEN EASY
Stevens, Irving take a look back
Celtics coach Brad Stevens acknowledges this has been one of his more trying seasons in Boston because of the high expectations, his team’s 10-10 start, and then losing streaks and turmoil coming out of nowhere.
In Stevens’s six seasons as coach at Butler University, the Bulldogs reached the NCAA Tournament five times and the national championship game twice. In the one season Stevens’s team missed the tournament, Butler went 22-15. He didn’t have too many hard years in college.
The Celtics won 25 games in his first season with a rebuilding club. Since then, they have won more games each year. But then came this season.
“I don’t think there’s any sense in really sugarcoating it or avoiding it, it’s been a challenge all year, and it has nothing to do with the character of the people in the room,” he said. “They’re all good guys. They all have good intentions. But there’s a big difference between having good intentions and competing for 48 minutes, and that’s where we have to get to.
“Ultimately, if teams don’t get [cohesive], they usually don’t get far.”
Stevens refused to say whether this has been his most difficult season. “ Every year is its own entity,” he said, “but there have been a lot of big challenges this year. I’ve thought from the outset, especially after watching us play in the preseason, we were going to have to hit a low point to become the team we want to be. At 10-10 I was hoping that would be it. This has been another tough stretch. Who knows if that’s it or not?
“But the reason I say that is it’s all about coming together. It’s all about competing together and I think, as a coach, you just try to maintain the belief that if you stay the course, good things will happen, but ultimately those are decisions.”
Stevens reflected on his time at Butler, his team essentially having to win the conference tournament every year to reach the NCAA Tournament. There was a lot of pressure, especially in early March, where one stumble could burst a tournament bubble.
“The college thing is really interesting because the heat that you play with as a college coach in a mid-major conference in January and February is pretty significant because one loss is subjectively critiqued and can keep you out of the ultimate goal, and that’s the tournament,” he said. “It’s a little bit different than the [NBA] playoffs where the top eight go.
“So there’s pressures that are different, but there are probably more similarities from some of those teams to this team as far as expectations.”
Kyrie Irving has decided to decrease his use of social media to avoid stories and comments about the Celtics’ struggles, his free agency, and his issues with teammates. Irving reiterated he is about the team and won’t allow what he perceives as negativity to affect his approach.
“I don’t try to read any more of that. I’m disconnected completely from that social media hub, which has helped me,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s what makes me great as well is really just coming to work every single day and doing my job at a very high level and putting on a show.
“I’m an entertainer out there, but I’m a winner first and foremost. When I used to be in my backyard playing one on one with my dad, that what was instilled in me was that winning mentality. When he taught me how to be on a team, it was the same thing. It’s just part of growing in this business and understanding how to find a balance between a work environment and your personal life.”
Smith weighs in on the hot topics
TNT analyst Kenny Smith has been so impactful as a commentator on “Inside the NBA,” it’s hard to believe he was a standout point guard who played 10 NBA seasons and won two league titles. He uses his basketball knowledge and acumen to educate fans on the game.
Smith offered opinions on a variety of topics:
■ On the Eastern Conference: “There is no weak team in that top four anymore. The top four in the East and the top four in the West are going to go head to head.”
Smith said he still believes the Celtics can make a run in the Eastern Conference, and that it’s possible to win when not every player likes each other. He points to his 1994-95 Houston Rockets team that featured the mercurial Vernon Maxwell.
“I played with some volatile personalities and won a championship and then we had a calm personality when we had Clyde Drexler,” Smith said. “You’ve just got to know how to make them work, it depends on what your management and coaches do. Which coaches are able to adapt to that, if your coach is able to adapt to that moreso than the players. The players can adapt to anything. We’ve been around it our whole lives. But the coaches sometimes can’t handle it, and that’s when it backfires.
“Now, [as a coach] you have to do so much more because of the influence of what the game is socially and the finances of what the game brings.”
■ Duke University phenom Zion Williamson is expected to return to the Blue Devils for the ACC tournament after missing the past two weeks with a knee sprain that occurred in the rivalry game against North Carolina. Williamson is expected to be the No. 1 overall draft pick, but at 6 feet 7 inches, 285 pounds, he does not have a natural position in the NBA. Some observers have speculated he will play small forward, but he could play as many as three positions.
“He is a freak of nature when it comes to college basketball, but does that always translate to the NBA?” Smith said. “No. In college basketball, he is different. In the NBA, you’ll start carving that territory out and creating a new position, like Charles Barkley did, a 6-foot-4½-inch power forward. He created that. You create that space in being a great player among great players. He is different. Let’s be clear. Carving space is different in the NBA than it is in college.”
Smith, a North Carolina alumnus, actually said it’s a good thing for the rivalry and for the ACC for Duke to have such standout players. The Blue Devils could have three of the top five picks in June’s draft with Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish.
“As much as we have a hatred in the school over in Durham, we love seeing them good too because that does make us at North Carolina, it propelled us,” Smith said. “When I first got there, it was North Carolina State. We wouldn’t want it any other way to have those type of players because that’s what ACC basketball — that’s what it is. It starts with North Carolina and that school in Durham.”
■ Smith has heard the rumors of Kevin Durant bolting Golden State this summer in free agency for the Knicks. And he doesn’t understand why Durant would leave a franchise that has won three of the past four league titles for any franchise that hasn’t enjoyed nearly the same success.
“I don’t know if KD would ever do that,” Smith said. “He’s in a great situation. This is the crazy part. He’s in a dynasty that he created. You’re going to leave a dynasty you created. It wouldn’t make sense to me.”
The first player has declared early for the NBA Draft and he’s an intriguing prospect —
Shaw University guard
, who led Division 2 with a 29.4-point scoring average. The junior guard is vying to be the first Division 2 player to be drafted since 2003, when the Heat selected the University of North Dakota’s
. Utah drafted
out of NAIA Walsh University in 2005. Hinton is trying to become the first Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association player drafted since the Bucks took Shaw’s
in 2002. The three most notable NBA players from the CIAA are
(Virginia Union), and
(Virginia Union) . . . The NCAA has been more open recently to hiring former NBA coaches to resurrect their programs. But two ex-league coaches could be fired in the coming weeks —
(Portland). Tulane is 0-17 in the American Athletic Conference heading into the conference tournament, while Porter’s Pilots went 0-16 in the West Coast Conference and lost in the first round of the conference tournament . . . The Bucks re-signed
to a four-year, $70 million extension after he bounced back with a solid season following his listless performance in the first-round playoff series against the Celtics. The decision for the Bucks to commit to an additional four years with Bledsoe is interesting. He will be 30 next season and is not a top-15 point guard, despite the Bucks’ success. In-season extensions are also rare in the NBA because players generally want to test the free agent market to gauge their value. But for veterans such as Bledsoe, it offers long-term security at a very fair price for the player. Now you know why a player such as
, who dominated Bledsoe during the playoffs last season, is eagerly awaiting free agency. If Bledsoe can earn $17.5 million per year, Rozier figures he can also live in that financial neighborhood.
A visit for the Celtics to the University of San Francisco’s War Memorial Gym for practice this past week yielded a display for all-time great Bill Russell, the Dons’ most prestigious alumnus. It is about time for the school to erect a statue of Russell, perhaps the greatest basketball player in history. USF was an NCAA powerhouse in the late 1950s, during which Russell led the Dons to two NCAA national titles, but has never come close to that success since.