Austin Rivers is in the midst of a rocky 2020-21 NBA season. The combo guard took on a reserve role with the New York Knicks upon signing a three-year, $10 million deal. It began well with Rivers making an impact on both ends of the floor. Then New York acquired Derrick Rose from the Detroit Pistons, essentially removing Rivers from the rotation.
On NBA trade deadline day, the Knicks sent Rivers to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a three-team trade, where he was later waived and is now an outright free agent. At the end of the day, Rivers has plenty to offer. He’s a tight defender who finds the open man, can put the ball on the floor and has a capable jump shot.
Austin Rivers is still just 28. He has a respectable two-way skill set and brings a bevy of postseason experience to the table (he has appeared in 45 career playoff games split between the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets).
Here are three ideal landing spots for Rivers.
3) Toronto Raptors
Believe it or not, as dreadful as the 2020-21 season has been for the Toronto Raptors (they’re 19-30), they’re just a game and a half out of the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference, where they’d participate in a play-in series. Austin Rivers can help them get past that round.
He’d presumably be the team’s first guard off the bench once he gets acquainted with their system. Rivers’ versatile skill set would work next to both Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet. Next to Lowry, Rivers could be utilized as an outside shooter (Rivers is shooting 36.4 percent from beyond the arc this season). On the other hand, he could handle the rock more next to VanVleet, as the latter is an exceptional shooter.
Plus, Rivers’ defense would bode well on a Raptors team that’s traditionally renowned for its fundamentals — albeit this season may be an exception. A rotation that includes Rivers, Lowry, VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher and the recently acquired Gary Trent Jr. could do damage in the playoffs if they string together some wins down the stretch.
The knock against a short and/or long-term Rivers-Raptors marriage is that the guard may prefer to play for a team in title contention. Meanwhile, Toronto may prefer to just play out the season with those who are already in the building.
2) Phoenix Suns
The Suns look like a well-oiled machine, but Austin Rivers would add a much-needed enhancer to their backcourt rotation.
Chris Paul and Devin Booker are a stout backcourt duo. When they come off the floor, the Suns are able to rely on their surplus of forwards to pick up the slack. Imagine if they had a backcourt reinforcement or two: they’d have an elite second unit. Cameron Payne and Langston Galloway have been plausible figures off head coach Monty Williams’ bench but not to the point where Phoenix couldn’t use an upgrade.
Rivers would likely play off the ball next to Payne, a role he has found success with in the past. Keep in mind that Rivers is capable of a scoring burst every here and there. Earlier this season he dropped 25 points on 10-of-10 shooting in the first half of a contest against the Utah Jazz and accounted for 41 points against the Sacramento Kings last season. He can fill it up in a hurry.
A second unit that includes Austin Rivers, Payne, Dario Saric and Cameron Johnson would be electric. It would be a mix of scoring, shooting and defense. All that said, Williams and Phoenix masthead could argue that the extraordinary growth they’ve endured this season is something that shouldn’t be tinkered with (the Suns are second in the Western Conference at 34-14). They have the weapons to contend as is.
1) Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee is reportedly eyeing Rivers, and rightfully so: he’d be a great fit in head coach Mike Budenholzer’s rotation.
The Bucks have a bevy of impactful wings/forwards that impact the game in different wavelengths (Donte DiVincenzo, P.J. Tucker, Bryn Forbes, Pat Connaughton and Thanasis Antetokounmpo). With that said, they could use depth when it comes to having a guard who can organize the second unit; D.J. Augustin was sent to the Rockets as part of the trade package that corralled them Tucker. Austin Rivers fills the void.
In theory, Jeff Teague’s arrival adds a floor general for the second unit, but that’s not a given: Rivers gives them another option, as well as someone to add to their wing depth. Based on the way the last two seasons ended for the Bucks with them struggling to score in crunch time, they can’t have enough scoring. One could even argue that Rivers is more of a proven commodity than the aforementioned wings the Bucks have in their rotation.
In the wake of Holiday’s $160 million extension, the Bucks now have roughly $135 million in average annual salary tied up in four players (Holiday, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez). The more impactful depth they can add on the cheap, the better.