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There’s Always a Way to Blame Austin Rivers

Did Doc’s son play a role in Chris Paul’s departure? We’ll never know, but that won’t stop many from pinning responsibility on him.

(AP Images/Ringer illustration)
(AP Images/Ringer illustration)

When Chris Paul was traded to the Rockets on Wednesday morning, we thought of James Harden. Then Blake Griffin. Even DeAndre Jordan. Then about what this means for Patrick Beverley’s future, and Lou Williams’s, and whoever else would end up in the deal. Will Paul never throw a lob to Montrezl Harrell like God intended? Which guard will Beverley defend next season when the teams meet?

What if the last person on either roster that we (everyone, anyone, even Doc Rivers) thought about was also the player responsible for CP3’s departure?

That’s right, we’ve found another way to blame Austin Rivers. (His relative on-court success will never stop us). SportsCenter anchor Michael Eaves reported in a Facebook post after the blockbuster trade that "Paul’s relationship with Doc Rivers started to deteriorate rapidly after the Clippers acquired Austin Rivers."

Eaves went on to detail how Austin, who joined the Clippers in January 2015, never tried to acclimate to the team, how Doc never yelled at his son in practice, and how Austin was treated more favorably before dropping this Wojnarowskiesque bomb:

"What really solidified Paul’s dissatisfaction with Doc was a proposed trade involving Carmelo Anthony last season," Eaves wrote. "New York offered Carmelo and Sasha Vujacic to the Clippers in exchange for Jamal Crawford, Paul Pierce and Austin Rivers, a deal to which Rivers ultimately said no. That event led Paul to feel that keeping his son on the roster was more important to Doc than improving the team. … As one league executive put it, ‘Chris despises Doc.’"

It doesn’t take hindsight to see how Carmelo Anthony would be worth giving up a 36-year-old Jamal Crawford, a now-retired Paul Pierce, and a solid backup point guard. When the proposed trade was originally reported in February, the Clips’ front office was "interested," but told the Knicks that Paul, Jordan, Griffin, and Redick were off-limits. Apparently, so was Doc’s son.

Favoring your child makes sense on an emotional level, but not by front-office standards — though we’ve seen nepotism there, too, with power being handed off to less-than-qualified sons many times before in the NBA. But Doc and Austin appear to have an odd relationship, with Austin being very candid about his relationship with his dad.

During last season’s playoffs, Austin said in a postgame press conference that "[Doc] doesn’t really share his life outside of basketball with me. He and I don’t know each other like that. We know each other as strictly basketball."

But even "strictly basketball" has its limits. Austin told Bleacher Report that he "maybe worked out with [Doc] twice in my life. I’m talking about my whole life" before the Clippers. Twice! Paul getting fed up with special treatment toward Austin seems like an obvious explanation for his departure, but, given the odd Doc-Austin relationship, it also seems like an unlikely one.

That said, if it took not trading Austin in a worthy deal for Carmelo — which, by the way, might have less to do with family and more to do with Doc just not being very good at the president job — for Paul to "despise" the coach with whom he used to be so close, the rest of the team was off the wagon much sooner.

Exhibit A, May 2017

When former Clipper Big Baby Davis complained in February that the team had treated him unfairly, Austin responded to the allegations by implying that Glen was "out of shape" and didn’t "remember plays." Glen then took to Instagram to expose Austin — and Doc along the way.

"I seen you at practice," said Big Baby (in Hawaii, where you should be thinking about nicer things than Austin Rivers and his dad and the Clippers). "You didn’t give a fuck, thinking you all that wearing them tight-ass pants and you know, your father gave you all that money, so you can go wear those tight-ass pants, but keep your fucking mouth closed, man. Shut up, man. You’re a fucking bum who’s been given the world."

Exhibit B, July 2016

Austin signed a three-year, $35.5 million deal, an amount that looked like a suspicious overpay for the backup. This is after the TV-money bump, but is still more than George Hill, Taj Gibson, and, yes, even starting teammate J.J. Redick made last season.

Exhibit C, January 2016

Comedian Chris Trew, who has Pelicans seats in the Smoothie King Center behind the visitors bench, recapped a moment for Uproxx after a game when Austin missed a defensive assignment and was benched. According to Trew, Austin tells "jokes that his teammates do not enjoy listening to. … The rest of the Clippers don’t appear to take Austin seriously."

Exhibit D, Wednesday

Doc Rivers’s other son, Spencer, who cares little for punctuation, cares much for Paul. This might not mean much, but if my brother got Chris Paul traded away you could expect a similar tweet.

Chris Paul’s departure is a double dip of a lesson for the Clippers. One is that Doc’s tenure as coach and president is the latest example of that job combination not working, something proved again and again by the Isiah Thomases and Mike Dunleavys of this league. Los Angeles knows it, and has brought Jerry West in to remedy the situation. The other is also about keeping entities separate — preventing a father-and-son relationship from influencing a coach-and-player relationship.

Even if this move, or the rejected Melo move before it, was by the books and had nothing to do with nepotism, just the perception of that bias can strain an organization. Even when it goes well, like Austin’s welcomed improvements on the court, it can end in disaster. The father-son partnership might provide twice the bonding time, which is great, but it also provides twice the opportunity for blame.