Austin Rivers should be the kind of player any NBA franchise would be covet:
Possessor of an impeccable basketball pedigree — the son of Los Angeles Clippers coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers, who himself had a distinguished 13-year career in the league. And don’t forget a season under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.
An engaging locker room presence with the media thanks to his having grown up around the league which led to a sense of history combined with an outgoing, cooperative personality.
At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, possessed of size and speed allowing him to defend his point guard counterparts while forcing his way to the rim.
But his shooting percentage (39.0), inability to finish and inconsistent playmaking skills belied occasional flashes of excellence and certainly weren’t up to his lottery pick status. And Saturday, 2½ seasons after being taken 10th in the 2012 draft, with the first-round choice that came their way in the Chris Paul trade, the Pelicans essentially gave up on Rivers, confirming the handwriting on the wall from the fall, when the team did not pick up his fourth-year option for 2015-16.
The Pelicans reportedly sent Rivers to Boston as part of a three-way deal with Memphis that allowed the Grizzlies to acquire forward Jeff Green with the Pels winding up with swingman Quincy Pondexter, who began his career in New Orleans five seasons ago and his old team has wanted back ever since trading him in 2011. They also dealt rookie guard Russ Smith to Memphis to get a second-round pick.
There seemed to be little place for Rivers in the guard rotation now that Eric Gordon has returned from his shoulder injury and Tyreke Evans is back to being the second unit shooting guard instead of the starting small forward, which seemed ill-suited to his playing style.
Rivers played only six minutes in Monday’s loss to Washington, drew his first DNP-CD at Charlotte on Wednesday and was in for 12 minutes but did not score in Friday’s victory against Memphis.
And while Rivers never said anything publicly about his diminished status, his older brother, Jeremiah, tweeting dissatisfaction about Jimmer Fredette moving ahead of Austin in the rotation didn’t happen in a vacuum.
So, this was a move that was best for all involved.
As for Pondexter, he brings another possibility to the team’s quest to find the right fit at small forward.
Dante Cunningham started for the first time Friday and while not scoring did have seven rebounds and three blocked shots, which is exactly what he’s needed to do.
Pondexter’s not much of a scorer either — averaging 4.5 points this season. But Evans and Ryan Anderson take care of most of that when the backups are on the floor.
So who got the best end of the deal?
Undoubtedly Memphis, which in Green acquired the Celtics’ leading scorer (17.6 points-per-game) while unloading the expiring contact of Tayshaun Prince, although the Grizzlies did have to give up a future first-round pick as well.
The Grizzlies, currently No. 4 in the Western Conference standings, have solidified if not improved their likely playoff position.
Meanwhile, the Pelicans, in ninth place but with a good chance to stay in contact with No. 8 over the next few weeks at least thanks to a forgiving schedule between now and the All-Star break, probably came out ahead in that Pondexter looks to be more of a contributor, albeit a limited one, than Rivers would have been.
We’ll see the first proof of that on Monday, when the Pels play at Boston.
However it comes out though, Rivers also will forever stand as a busted lottery pick, at least in his time in New Orleans.
Pels General Manager Dell Demps has shown he’d much rather trade picks than use them.
Nothing wrong with that if it works out.
But when you do get a quality first-round choice, you need to hit on it, especially by the player’s third season.
It can be the difference between being in the playoffs or on the outside looking in.
Which, at the present time, the Pels are.