Latest in the laundry list of … uh, honors … bestowed upon Austin Rivers over his seven seasons as a professional basketball player—alongside nepotism beneficiary, trade killer, shot jacker, and confrontational new guy—is being so unimportant that even the Phoenix Suns, 7-24, do not want him. On Monday, Washington dealt Rivers and Kelly Oubre Jr. to Phoenix for Trevor Ariza only for Rivers to be waived shortly thereafter. “As a veteran,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski explained, “sides concluded Rivers fits better on an older team that’s pursuing playoffs.”
The Suns are certainly not “pursuing playoffs.” But they could use a playmaker to help shooting guard Devin Booker; after waiving Isaiah Canaan, putting Elie Okobo in the G League, signing Jawun Evans to a two-way contract, and now starting rookie De’Anthony Melton, a player like Rivers is exactly what Phoenix needs most. Meanwhile, Oubre, the more talented of the two trade pieces, is staying put. Perhaps Rivers demanded it because he’s on an expiring contract and wants publicity. (Although, in that respect, a little stat-padding in Phoenix would’ve served him well.) Perhaps general manager James Jones would rather pass on having Rivers’s presence stunt Melton’s growth for a year, and Rivers is hardly seen as an adored locker room guy. Yet, considering that there is a legitimate list of teams that could use Rivers and could very well try to sign him—Philly, New Orleans, Milwaukee, even Golden State for backup beyond Quinn Cook—it’s bizarre that Phoenix simply cut ties. Regardless, Rivers is back in his familiar, peculiar landing spot: outwardly unwanted, undeniably useful.
Rivers was traded from Washington just six months after he arrived in a long-awaited trade away from the Clippers and his father, coach Doc Rivers. Doc was also serving as president of basketball operations when the franchise originally acquired his son in 2015 from Boston (the younger Rivers never played a game for the Celtics, but was instead flipped after they received him from the Pelicans). Then, in August 2017, Doc relinquished his front-office duties; his son was traded not a year later.
The Clippers stint damaged the younger Rivers’s reputation. From the start, there were cries of partiality—Doc traded for his underwhelming former lottery-pick son, Doc gave his son minutes that should’ve been given elsewhere, Doc allegedly yelled at other players, but never Austin, in practice, and Doc sacrificed potential good deals in order to keep his son. Apparently, Chris Paul’s relationship with Doc began deteriorating when he traded for Austin, and the final reason Paul decided he would leave the Clips was due to a trade Doc killed that would’ve brought Carmelo Anthony to L.A. but moved Austin in the process. (Paul ultimately got to play alongside Carmelo, and it did not go well. ... He should send Doc a very, very kind Christmas gift basket.)
Had Rivers been anywhere else, playing a smaller role, he’d only be a disappointing former pick. (Think Michael Carter-Williams without the rookie-season accolades.) In Washington, Rivers was a lousy shot (31.1 percent from 3-point range and 39.2 percent overall) but a prized defender off the bench. He was taking fewer shots than he had the past three seasons, which, depending on your opinion of either team, could speak to the Wizards’ poor ball movement or to the opportunities handed to him as a Clipper. There was value to having Rivers on the roster, but ask a team insider, and that might be outweighed by his personality: According to the Washington Post’s Candace Buckner, there was a verbal altercation between Rivers and Bradley Beal in a late November practice over a missed foul call. The former insisted he had been fouled; the latter couldn’t believe it was an actual complaint worth sharing.
Now, available to all teams except the Wizards because of league trade rules (much to the relief of Wizards fans, who were quite ready to bid farewell), Rivers awaits another team and another fresh start, looking to shake past accusations while probably, like in Washington, prompting new ones.
An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that Rivers couldn’t be acquired by the Clippers.