The free-agent class of 2019 is shaping up to be one of the best in recent years. Where does Austin Rivers fit into the picture?
Though the Big Ks (Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving) are getting most of the headlines, let’s not forget that there are many more players who are capable of helping franchises as productive role players.
Austin Rivers is entering unrestricted free agency this July after a brief stint with the Houston Rockets this past season. The Rockets acquired Rivers after he was bought out by the Phoenix Suns last season. He proved to be a valuable reserve in the playoffs. He could return to play for coach Mike D’Antoni, who he says is a coach everybody would love to play for.
— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) June 7, 2019
Rivers averaged 8.7 points and 2.3 assists a game in the regular season for the Rockets. Before that, he had a career-high 15.1-points-per-game average for the Los Angeles Clippers. In the playoffs, he shot 45.7 percent from 3-point range, which is an astounding number considering how tight NBA defenses are from April to June.
But what if he doesn’t consider Houston as a viable option any longer? If Rivers attaches himself to another title contender, he could be an extremely valuable pickup. He has the experience, skills, size and toughness to make an enormous impact off the bench.
Let’s look at three teams that could be potential landing spots for Austin Rivers:
3. Milwaukee Bucks
After the Bucks were denied an NBA Finals berth when the Toronto Raptors stopped them in the last four games of the Eastern Conference Finals, it was clear that Milwaukee had to tweak its roster for next season.
The Bucks should consider Rivers, who can provide a breather for both Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon as well as George Hill. He would fit with Milwaukee by shooting threes with regularity. While he had to pick up the scraps left from James Harden’s shooting spree in Houston, Rivers can bomb away whenever reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo drives and kicks the ball to the perimeter.
Expect Rivers to thrive in Milwaukee if the Bucks can sign him this summer. You should also assume that he will put up better numbers than in Houston.
2. Philadelphia 76ers
A few teams were on the cusp of a championship but failed to deliver in the recently concluded postseason. One of them is the Sixers. Having Rivers would certainly help them to finally get over the hump. If he can come off the bench and contribute 18-20 minutes of strong play for a team that’s loaded at almost every position, Philly may get to the Finals for the first time since Allen Iverson led the Sixers there in 2001.
From there, anything can happen.
The Sixers have a lot to of work to do in the offseason with unrestricted free agents Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick to consider. There’s a chance that general manager Elton Brand may not be able to keep all of them together. If one of them leaves, Rivers could take up part of that vacated salary slot.
Shaun Livingston is considering retirement and the Warriors will need an injection of energy off the bench, something Livingston hasn’t been able to provide much of last season. Playing in a new arena next season, it’s important for the Warriors to field a competitive team. Without the services of injured free agent stars Durant (out for a year) and Klay Thompson (out for 6 to 8 months), they lack healthy and competent players.
To compensate for the loss of two of their best players, Rivers would certainly be most welcome. He would ensure that the Warriors would have a semblance of stability in the backcourt. The 6-foot-4 guard should thrive in coach Steve Kerr’s system; he will have the license to shoot the ball without looking over his shoulder.
Thompson’s absence will be felt on both ends of the court. Though Rivers is far from the shooter or defender that Thompson is, he’s still one of the better prospects this summer. Besides, Stephen Curry’s backcourt mate may be ready to play a few months before the playoffs, giving Golden State time to make up for lost ground. In the meantime, Rivers will keep them from falling too far behind in the competitive Western Conference.