addByline("Zach Rosen", "WashingtonWizards.com", "ZacharySRosen");
On June 26, the Wizards acquired guard Austin Rivers in exchange for center Marcin Gortat. Rivers played two-plus years in New Orleans and three and a half years in Los Angeles with the Clippers. After making the playoffs in three of those seasons in L.A. and making his home out West, Rivers and his fiancée, Britt, would be moving to the east coast.
The future Mr. and Mrs. Rivers spent most of the summer getting ready for two big changes in their lives: moving from coast-to-coast, but also, and more importantly, the birth of their son later in the summer.
Almost exactly two months after being traded, Austin and Britt welcomed Kayden James Rivers to the world. It was the beginning of a new chapter in their lives, but Austin had to fly to D.C. only a few weeks later to get ready for training camp. Britt and Kayden, only three weeks old, would follow later that week.
Transitioning to life with a child is a challenge itself, but playing with a new team in a new place on the other side of the country is cumulatively one daunting task. Between practice, adjusting to D.C., and his new son, Rivers does not have much free time. His new teammates want to hoop, go to the movies, and hang out, but Rivers has to take care of Kayden. An avid 2K player, he has not even been able to do that at home.
“For me, the biggest thing would be that everything that was most important before is now second,” Rivers said. “Whatever it is, you name something, it’s second. My kid is the most important thing I have going on in my life.”
After family, basketball is clearly second for Rivers. His father, Doc, is the head coach of the Clippers and played in the NBA. Austin grew up around the game, was one of the nation’s top players in the Class of 2011, went to Duke thereafter, and was a lottery pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Before the Wizards started training camp last week, Rivers found comfort during the team’s first meeting. Head coach Scott Brooks explained the team’s goals heading into training camp and the 2018-19 season: 3-pointers, layups, dunks, and defense. Rivers, who prides himself on getting to the rim, shooting triples, and on-ball defense, loved what he was hearing.
“I look at everybody and I’m like, ‘This is going to be easy for me – that’s all I want to do,’” Rivers recalled. “I want to attack the basket, make plays, get assists, shoot three’s, and play defense.”
The 6’4” guard averaged career-highs in 15.1 points, 4.0 assists, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game during the 2017-18 season with the Clippers. Rivers improved his 3-point shot during his three-plus seasons in Los Angeles, making a career-high 37.8% from beyond the arc last season. He took 5.9 3-pointers per game last season, which will bode well with Brooks’ philosophy.
After missing the first few days of training camp with neck spasms, Rivers has made an impact on the court in practice and in the team’s first preseason game. A combo guard who can score at will, Rivers gives the Wizards lineup versatility and potential.
“His competitive spirit definitely adds to our team,” Brooks said. “He makes plays, he’s a competitor. He chases every loose ball.”
Rivers will come off the bench and play with the second unit, but will also see a lot of time next to John Wall and Bradley Beal in a three-guard lineup. The Wizards will look to put those three in a small-ball lineup with Otto Porter Jr. and Markieff Morris, a five-man unit that can stretch the floor and defend multiple positions.
“My thing this year is coming off the bench, being the sixth man, right out the gates,” Rivers explained. “No (need to) ease into the game. Elite scorer and playmaker, that’s my goal. And on defense, set the tempo. Obviously the goal is to finish games – I want to finish games with John [Wall] and Brad [Beal]. Small-ball, big-ball, whatever we do, I want to be out there. I know I can make big plays and big shots and I love the moment. That’s what they’ve talked about me doing here.”
Wall and Beal have told Rivers that they want him to be aggressive and bring the ball up at times. The two All-Stars will be able to play off the ball more and Rivers can help create offense. All three can attack the basket and score or kick it out for open shots. All in all, Rivers just wants to make their lives easier.
“The previous years they’ve had a heavy load on their shoulders,” Rivers said. “This year, I’m going to make it a lot easier for John and Brad. Scoring, making plays, they’re not going to have to do it all. [They are] going to have a third guy who can score and make plays.”
Rivers will share the ball with Tomas Satoransky on the second unit. Both are proven facilitators, but Rivers’ presence will help take some of the pressure off Satoransky as well. Rivers will be asked to drive to the hoop and find open shooters. Kelly Oubre Jr., Jeff Green, and others will be the beneficiaries of having another playmaker on the second unit.
“I think Austin is a great piece for our team,” Satoransky said of Rivers. “He’s very good in one-and-one in isolation situations. Something we really haven’t had. He’s a very good scorer.”
“I’ve always been a scorer, but on this team, I’m going to have to score, but also create,” Rivers said. “Tomas is a really unselfish player too so he can help me get my stuff off too.
“Tomas is so easy to play with because he wants to make the extra pass. He wants to go on the floor and make the right plays.”
The 2018-19 Wizards are a veteran team. Ian Mahinmi won a championship in Dallas, while Dwight Howard and Jeff Green have been to the Finals. Still, most of the members of the team are trying to get past the first and second round. Rivers, who played on some great Clippers teams that could not get over the hump, understands the frustration. Still, he knows that the veterans understand the journey and know what it’s going to take to get to the next step.
“I think we have that veteran confidence,” Rivers said. “I think we understand that we just need to play and we’ll figure it out. We know where we want to be mid-season and end-season. We want to be in the top four of the East. We have to believe that we can beat everybody, that’s the bottom line in the NBA. We have too much talent not to be thinking these things.”
Whether Rivers is playing with the second unit in the second quarter or on the floor in crunch time, he is determined to make an impact. Playing for his father was an incredible experience, but it came with added pressure. He’s ready for a new challenge in a system he can flourish in. And now, he has his own son to play for too.