Back in the late ’00s and early ’10s, when the Boston Celtics were consistently at the top of the NBA heap and names like Garnett, Pierce, Allen and Rondo struck fear in the hearts of visiting players (sorry, Scalabrine), a talented high schooler who would eventually play Division 1 ball and then in the NBA, a coach’s son, would occasionally find himself at TD Garden, dreaming of wearing the green-and-white.
That high school kid was Austin Rivers, and the coach was Doc Rivers, a member of NBA royalty from his days as a player and as a coach when he led those fearsome Celtics to an NBA championship and two Eastern Conference finals.
Austin is, of course, all grown up. And now, in this his ninth year as a pro, might finally get a chance to don those storied colors.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski suggested last week that Rivers’ current team, the New York Knicks, are likely to put Rivers on the trade market. It’s believed that the Celtics, desperate for a backup combo guard who can help stabilize their erratic backcourt, could be buyers.
The Price and Player Are Right
Rivers recently became expendable when the Knicks traded Dennis Smith, Jr. and a 2021 second-round pick to the Detroit Pistons for the resurgent guard Derrick Rose. The addition of Rose — the number one pick in the 2008 draft whose very promising career has been frustratingly derailed by several major injuries after winning the MVP in 2010-11 — gives the Knicks a surplus of guards.
Acquiring Rivers would give the Celtics a solid veteran backup guard with size (6-foot-4), and who, when hot, can score inside and out with the best of them. He’s not afraid of crunch time, either.
In 19 games this season Rivers is averaging only 8.1 points in 23 minutes a game, but he’s almost single-handedly responsible for multiple Knicks’ wins, including scoring 14 straight points down the stretch against the venerable Utah Jazz in early January.
Another benefit to the Celtics is that they could conceivably get Rivers for a relatively low cost.
In possession of an extra $19.7 million from Gordon Hayward’s traded player exception (it’s actually $28.5 million, but the luxury tax apron brings it down to $19.7 million, according to Spotrac) the Celtics could easily absorb — with plenty of room to spare — Rivers’ $3.5 million salary this year and the remaining two years on his descending-value contract.
A first-round pick is likely all they’d have to give up in return.
‘He Wanted To Fight’
During those halcyon days when Rivers would visit his dad at the Garden, the cocky teenager would often challenge the biggest stars to one-on-one games.
One time in particular, Rivers squared off against 15-time All-Star Kevin Garnett. And Rivers, according to Garnett, wasn’t expecting to lose.
“I had my shoelaces untied and I’m coming out the weight room and he rolled the ball at me,” Garnett said. “And I looked at it, and it hit my toes, and I’m like, ‘What?’
“Check,” responded Rivers.
Although he lost to Garnett 5-1, River’s intensity and confidence impressed the 2020 Hall of Fame inductee. “That’s when I knew, Austin Rivers is going to be in our league in about two years,” Garnett said. “He hated losing. He wanted to fight.”