On an episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast airing today, Austin Rivers discussed, among other things, his time in the NBA and his pursuit of another contract. While there, he discussed his brief tenure with the New York Knicks.
In November 2020, the Houston Rockets traded Rivers and three other players to the New York Knicks for Issuf Sanon and a player exception. During the 2020-21 season, Austin Rivers (6’4”, 200 lb) averaged 21 minutes, 7.3 points, and two assists in 21 games for the Knicks. The team’s record when he played was a mediocre 10-11, however, and another player’s shadow loomed large.
“It messed with me for a little bit, because I was having some really good success there early on and it just felt like the whole time I was there they were kind of waiting for me to either not play well or something to happen so they could bring in Derrick [Rose],” he told Simmons.
Indeed, Rivers provided some exciting moments early on. See the January 2021 game when he shot 5-for-7 from downtown and dropped 21 points on the Jazz at Madison Square Garden—and then did it again later that month in Utah (5-for-7 beyond the arc, 25 points).
“I understand that was Thibs’ guy […] I totally understand that. [Rose] won an MVP under him,” said Rivers on the podcast. “But, I was brought there and from my understanding, he wanted Derrick from the beginning and Leon Rose kind of went in my direction.”
Rivers was drafted by the New Orleans Hornets with the tenth pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. The 31-year-old guard has played for seven teams over his 11-year career and suited up for the Minnesota Timberwolves last season.
He told Simmons, “When I came [to New York], it just didn’t feel like I was ever really . . . I don’t know. It just felt like the cards were stacked against me on that one. And as soon as an opportunity came where we lost a couple, or if I didn’t play a couple of good games, it was just an immediate conversation, like ‘Hey, we’re bringing in Derrick.’”
He’s not lying about the Thibs and Rose affection connection. In February 2021, the Knicks jumped at the chance to trade Dennis Smith and a 2021 2nd-round draft pick to the Pistons in exchange for the league’s youngest MVP.
Austin’s father Doc was a point guard on the Knicks for three seasons in the nineties. The junior Rivers would not last so long. Once Derrick was rostered, Austin was on his way out. Four months after arriving in Manhattan, Rivers was shipped to the Oklahoma City Thunder via a three-team trade. As part of the deal—which included the Philadelphia 76ers—the Knicks wound up with Terrance Ferguson, Vincent Poirier, Emir Preldžić, a 2021 2nd-round draft pick that became Jericho Sims, and a 2024 2nd-round draft pick. (h/t Basketball-Reference.com)
The Thunder promptly waived Rivers. “Before you know it, I was in Denver.”
It is worth noting that, Rivers broke double-digits for points in only six games, and excluding those contests, he averaged only three and a half points. He also dealt with ankle and achilles issues while in New York that caused him to miss games. Meanwhile, Derrick Rose finished the season strong after being traded to the Knicks: he averaged 15 points and four assists over those last 35 games, proved be a wise mentor to his teammates, and helped lead New York to the playoffs.
I have yet to meet a Knick fan who would pick Rivers over Rose.