Austin Rivers just wants to be happy in his job. He seems to have found the most success and contentment of his career in Houston. At least that’s an inference one can draw from the contract he signed to stay with the Rockets this season. Rivers has gone from making around $9 million per year last season to making around $2.2 million this season.
That’s a great deal of money to give up for job satisfaction, given that the summer of 2019 was much like the summer of 2016, in that lots of money was being thrown at a massive free agent class. Rivers almost certainly could have made as much or more on the market, and for longer. Instead he decided to return to the Rockets, the team he joined when his contract was bought out last winter.
Now that Rivers has signed this deal, perhaps The War On Austin might at last end? It has for me, and maybe it should for the NBA Commentariat as a whole. Rivers has gotten a lot of blame for the contract his father, Clippers coach Doc Rivers, gave him while he held both the GM and coaches position in LA.
It was an overpay, but not for a bad player, Austin stopped being that about the time he left a woeful Pelicans team. Doc Rivers also overpaid various other non-relatives who weren’t as good as his son, because they’d played well for him years earlier. Steve Ballmer, or “Balls” seems to have weathered that particular financial storm, too.
Then Austin signed deals on the open market (after various NBA pundits spent two solid years carping, completely without jealousy, about his Clippers deal) for roughly $5 million, and then another close to $9. (Full disclosure, I, too, may have carped.)
Rockets fans owe Doc Rivers a debt of gratitude. His perhaps nepotistic $23 million deal probably made the Rockets $2.2 million deal with Austin Rivers possible, as Austin is perhaps under less pressure to maximize his earnings immediately. The Rockets have a $7-$11 million per year player for veteran’s minimum.
Rivers is not a veterans minimum value player. He is one of the better backup (and in a pinch, starting) combo guards in the league. He’s a tenacious and unpleasant defender. He doesn’t back down from opponents, and seems to carry a chip on his shoulder, perhaps from the early dismissal of his game and value.
River’s is also a streaky offensive player who can win games when his shot is falling, and pressures defenses even when it is not, with his driving ability. He’s a good player to have around if anything happens to the main Rockets guards: James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Eric Gordon. Austin has his flaws, to be sure, but if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be in the Rockets price range.
I expect a good year from Rivers, and believe that there has been some dismissal of the Rockets bench because it’s...inexpensive. That’s just strange. Rivers is a proven NBA player in the prime of his career. His value didn’t drop to veteran’s minimum, he chose to take it to make a run at a title with a team he actually enjoys.
It’s easy to see why the Rockets might be a favorite - he began in the NBA on a bad Pelicans team that evidently blamed a 20 year old rookie for not being excellent immediately. He then got traded to his dad and all the doubt, baggage (and cash) that came with it. Then he played for a Wizards team where evidently no one likes anyone, and then signed with the woeful Suns.
Maybe the Rockets discount will prove to be worth it?
Austin River’s Nickname (according to B-R).
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