Austin Rivers embraces the challenge of excelling as a pro without stigma of playing for his father
Doc Rivers this week listed all that had happened in his son’s life since he was traded this summer.
“Going to a new city, find a new apartment, new baby,” the Clippers’ coach said. “There was a lot of change for him.”
Austin Rivers is the first to say that not all change is bad.
The Clippers (3-2) and Washington Wizards (1-4) meet Sunday at Staples Center in the first on-court reunion of the father and son who became the first in NBA history to share a sideline. They also saw their coach-player relationship become one of the most scrutinized in all of the NBA and a frequent target for complaints of favoritism during 3 1/2 years together.
The Clippers dealt Austin Rivers to Washington on June 26 in exchange for center Marcin Gortat.
“That was a tough day,” Doc Rivers said. “It would have been a lot tougher if it hadn’t have been for Austin. Austin handled that so well it made me feel good. He talked about, ‘Listen, we did something no one’s ever done in the history of the game.’ There were some ups and downs to it, but there were more ups than downs and he was very thankful.”
Thankful, Austin Rivers said this week in the debut episode of his podcast, “Go Off,” because when his father traded for him in January 2015 he was a “below-average pro trying to figure it out.”
“Let’s call it for what it is,” he said. “I played for my father in the NBA, that’s crazy. I never thought I would want to do that or actually do it and then it happened.”
During 243 games with the club the former 10th overall pick in the 2012 draft averaged 11.1 points a game, played well in three playoff appearances and salvaged his career. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged a career-high 15.1 points last season and exercised a $12.6-million player option in June. Five days later while training in Miami with future Wizards teammate John Wall, he received a call from Clippers assistant Sam Cassell warning that a trade was in the works.
“I’m sitting there like, ‘What? What?’ ” he said. “And then like that I get a call. Once Doc and Lawrence [Frank, Clippers president of basketball operations] call it’s real.”
Also real was the increasing desire to uncouple his career from that of his father.
As the team’s president of basketball operations at the time, Doc Rivers drew criticism not only for acquiring his son in a trade in 2015 but also for extending him a three-year contract worth $35 million one year later.
Former Clipper Glen Davis, while complaining about being coached by Doc Rivers in a 2017 Instagram video, also criticized Austin Rivers as a “bum who’s been given the world. Shut up, and just stay under your father.” A SportsCenter anchor, Michael Eaves, reported in 2017 that Chris Paul felt Austin was entitled, that Doc Rivers treated him differently and also killed a trade for Carmelo Anthony because it would have shipped out Austin. Both Rivers called the Anthony trade report false.
Not everyone who shared a locker room with Doc and Austin Rivers called the dynamic a problem.
“There’s a lot of good things and also things that are like, ‘OK, this is a challenge,’ ” said Luc Mbah a Moute, who played for the Clippers from 2015-17 and returned this summer after one season with Houston. “I think they handled it well. I think they were successful at it. I think Austin is a good player and he went out and competed every night. I think Doc at least had the right intentions to make the right decisions when I was on the team.
“[Austin] was a big part of what we were doing and I think the reason why we were not successful or why we were successful, it’s not because of that relationship.”
Said Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari, who joined the organization last season: “Austin had a great year for us last year. You’d think that it could be a weird situation or a strange situation, but it was fine.”
Austin Rivers said he communicated to Cassell and his father last season his uncertainty whether to re-sign as a free agent in 2019. If he played well elsewhere, he believed, there would be “no more daddy-son talk.”
“I love the Clippers organization, how could I not?” Austin Rivers said. “I came there as a kid and developed into a man. I came there as an unprofessional and developed into a professional and came in there as an OK player leaving as a starting-level player. So everything I did there I appreciate.
“But I felt like my head was hitting a ceiling because I was ultimately playing for my dad and no matter what I did it always came back to that. … I could score 60, 50, 40, whatever and people would be like, ‘Oh, his dad’s the coach.’
“… From a public standpoint it was rough like, I don’t know if I want to do this anymore. I would like to go somewhere else and just be free. When I got traded after that a part of me was sad because I’m leaving my family and my friends and the people I grew [close to] there, but part of me was like, this is what I’ve been waiting for.”
Doc Rivers said he was proud of his son’s handling of the attention, which began when he was a top-rated high school player in Florida. Austin was often compared to his father and older brother, Jeremiah, who played at Georgetown and Indiana.
“I thought what he did the best here was he played the biggest in the biggest moments, which is what you needed him to [do],” Doc Rivers said. “There was a lot of focus on him all the time and that was too bad but that’s just life in general. Overall, I really enjoyed coaching him.”
Come Sunday, he’ll coach against him.
When: 6:30 p.m., Sunday.
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 1150, 1330.
Update: Clippers forward Luc Mbah a Moute (sore left knee) is questionable. He did not play Friday during a 133-113 defeat of Houston.
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