Rivers and the Rockets have had issues in the past, and in particular, Rivers hadn’t always gotten along with Houston guard Chris Paul. But with Paul hurt and the Rockets trying to dig their way out of a slow start and rectify some personnel mistakes they made in the offseason, Rivers’ skill set as a shooter and secondary ball handler just seemed to make sense.
So Rivers arrived on December 24 as a Christmas gift of sorts, and he immediately made an impact coming off of the bench.
In his first 12 games in a Houston uniform, Rivers went for double-digit scoring 11 times, averaging 13.2 points per game, and he helped lead the Rockets to a 9-3 record during that time frame and out of their early-season malaise. He also shot 39 percent from beyond the arc, and he played in 30-plus minutes in 11 of those first 12 contests and actually played 40-plus minutes 5 times in those early days after arrival.
All of those numbers would wind up shrinking as the Rockets got healthier and the normal ups and downs of a role player set in during a long season, but Rivers was still effective, and on top of that, he was happy to be in Houston. He told The Undefeated earlier this year:
“It’s the happiest I’ve been in my career. This is the same way I felt in L.A. That freedom, responsibility, everything’s there. I can’t complain one bit... We’re all here to do our part. James does his biggest part, and we support him and what he does. It’s a great situation. I’m very, very, very happy right now.”
He parlayed that attitude into a successful playoffs for the Rockets as well. While he averaged just 7.4 points per game in 21.3 minutes, he shot 45.7 percent from beyond the arc, the highest postseason mark on the team.
On top of his marksmanship, he also played surprisingly stout defense, both against Donovan Mitchell in the first-round win over the Utah Jazz and against Stephen Curry in the second-round defeat to the Golden State Warriors.
As for Rivers’ future, he’ll be a free agent this summer and will likely have some interest. In fact, Rivers reportedly turned down the Dubs in order to come to the Rockets, and with Golden State just as interested as the Rockets in some lower-salaried players to fill in behind their superstars, they could make a run at Rivers again.
I do think that Houston team management wants Rivers back, and from a fan perspective, I wouldn’t mind having him back as well. He played hard on both ends of the court, and with Chris Paul’s health always tenuous, you never know when you’re going to need a guy to step in and play some significant minutes.
As we’ve mentioned before, the Rockets won’t have a lot to work with financially, so whether or not we see Rivers back in H-town will likely depend on the size of any competing offers.
It was fun to root for him this year rather than against him. Definitely the type of player you hate if you’re playing against him, but when he’s on your team, you learn to appreciate.