- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2018

Fair or not, Austin Rivers has been living in a shadow his whole life.

The son of Los Angeles Clippers coach and former NBA guard Doc Rivers, Austin Rivers has felt the scrutiny of being the son of a famous father almost his whole life. As a kid of 7 or 8 playing basketball, Rivers said, he knew people were already comparing him to his dad.

Just a spoiled rich kid, he sometimes heard. He’ll never live up to his dad, the naysayers said.

The whispers followed in 2015 when he joined the Clippers, where his father was the team’s general manager.

“I just had to play with a chip on my shoulder, to be able to play through that,” the younger Rivers said. “I had to have that or else I probably wouldn’t be here today.”

The son now has the opportunity to re-establish himself on his own terms.

After three-and-a-half seasons in Los Angeles, Rivers was dealt to the Wizards last week in exchange for center Marcin Gortat. The trade was a straight swap of players entering the last year of their contracts. Rivers is scheduled to make $12.6 million this year.

Rivers said Monday he was grateful for the chance to play under his father, but admits he is looking forward to a fresh start.

“Just to go back to playing basketball will be fun,” Rivers said. “But I don’t really let the negative stuff take away from all the positive things that happened there.”

The deal caught a lot of folks by surprise, including Rivers. The 25-year-old recalled sitting on his balcony when he received a call from Clippers assistant Sam Cassell. After hearing the news, he felt a flood of emotions. He grabbed his phone and reviewed the Wizards’ roster.

A few hours later, he talked with his father.

Doc, normally loud and outgoing, was uncharacteristically quiet. Both men had always known anything was possible — after all, Austin Rivers’ name had come up previously in trade talks.

But Doc, who was stripped of his front-office duties last August, no longer had control of his son’s destination and he struggled for words.

Doc hung up and told his son what he wanted to say in a text.

Being traded has its downsides, but the Wizards are far from a bad situation for Rivers. Washington needed another ball-handler, and Rivers can guard multiple positions. Last season, Rivers averaged a career-high 15.1 points per game and shot 37.8 percent from deep.

Rivers can back up John Wall and Bradley Beal, and even possibly play alongside them. There’s a good chance he’ll see significant minutes.

“He’s extremely competitive,” Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld said. “He’s been in playoff situations before. He’s been on the big stage. … We want to play a little bit faster and he has the athleticism. He likes to get up and down the floor. We’re very, very pleased to have him.”

Despite being Doc’s son, Rivers wasn’t a sure-fire thing to make it in the NBA. He had a successful year at Duke and was drafted 10th overall in 2012, but he struggled his first two years in the league with New Orleans.

Rivers shot 37.2 percent his rookie year and averaged only 6.2 points per game. Defenders routinely gave Rivers space to shoot — which the guard took personally.

In Los Angeles, he began to prove he could be a reliable rotation player. Rivers developed a jump shot and started 59 games last season. He earned a three-year, $35 million extension in 2016.

“I had to figure out ways to first, be effective without (a jumper), which is where I became a defender,” Rivers said. “Everything happens for a reason, right? I’m happy I had those early career struggles because it made find a side of me that I didn’t do. Because I promise you I didn’t any defense at Duke. It helped me in that regard.”

Rivers is expected to ease some of the Wizards’ problems, but others loom. For one, they now have to address who will be the starting center on opening night.

Grunfeld said he would be comfortable with career backup Ian Mahinmi in that role, if the team stands pat. Washington also claimed center Thomas Bryant off waivers Monday, while losing stretch-four Mike Scott in free agency to the Clippers.

But those matters don’t concern Rivers, who switched his jersey number to No. 1 since No.25, his old number (and the one his father wore), is Bullets legend Gus Johnson’s old number and is retired by the franchise.

Rivers, meanwhile, is expecting a son of his own, Kaden James Rivers. He said he hopes one day, he’ll see him in the NBA, too.

And if he does, Rivers knows to not make any unfair comparisons.

“My whole thing was just — judge me off my actions,” Rivers said. “Don’t judge me on anything else. Because at the end of the day, I’m out there alone, just like every other player. So no matter if my grandma is coaching me, I don’t care who’s coaching me, when I’m on the floor, I’m on the floor.”

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