Per The Boston Herald
The New Orleans Hornets returned on Dec. 22 from an 0-4 West Coast road trip without any recovery time. They had to host Indiana — another eventual loss — that night.
The charter flight from Sacramento landed at 6 a.m., but word got back to Doc Rivers that his son went straight to the team’s workout facility. Austin Rivers’ first long NBA road trip had been rough, with a four-game scoring average of 7.5 points on 38.7 percent (12-for-31) shooting. The rookie guard wanted to chase the demons out of his game immediately. It didn’t work. He shot 3-for-12 for seven points against the Pacers.
“He was running around in the gym for three hours,” Rivers said last week, his voice weary from just thinking about Austin’s gyrations. “Then he says he’s dead tired, and I’m like, ‘Well, what did you expect?”’
This is fatherly concern speaking. Monty Williams, the close family friend who has known Austin since he was 3 years old, when Williams and Doc were San Antonio teammates, has a similar coaching worry. What strikes the Hornets coach is the surprising difference between father and son.
“His dad has played more golf than I thought humanly possible,” said Williams. “Austin does nothing else but basketball. I’m trying to get him to pick something up.”
So Williams has taken Austin fishing. Maybe the rookie can learn that it’s OK to downshift occasionally.
“I wanted to show him that there are things you can do to get a release from basketball,” said Williams. “It’s important that you have other avenues. Yeah, it surprises me that Austin is so different from Doc. Austin is all basketball, all the time, and that’s great, but the NBA is so demanding. When I played, I read a lot. I picked that up when I was at Notre Dame. When I needed a release I opened a book.”
Rivers is hopeful.
“Austin is learning,” he said. “He is starting to get things, like taking a day off instead of working more when you’re struggling. Sometimes you have to leave it alone and then come back. I think he’s learning a lot about himself and I think he actually enjoys the struggle, which is interesting. It’s part of the process.”
But the process can be hard. Pain and concern shaded Rivers’ voice when he said, “Not as far as the coaching basketball part, but as far as the life part I’m doing what I have to as a parent. I’m just trying to tell (Austin) enjoy, breathe, enjoy, and he wants it now, yesterday.”
Austin Rivers’ introduction to the NBA has been like a Grand Canyon tour, with dips and climbs, a good performance followed by several bad ones as the rocky bottom fades in and out of view.
Doc tries to be a hands-off dad — Williams takes care of the coaching — but the process is admittedly rough for the Celtics coach. Over the phone, he spends a lot of time trying to guide Austin along those canyon walls.
Rivers has often talked about the relief of never having to coach any of his four children, but he’s about to encounter something new when the Hornets make their annual visit to Boston on Wednesday. He’ll coach against one of his own for the first time that night.
Austin bears a weight as the 10th player taken in last June’s draft. His early NBA numbers have suffered. The return of New Orleans star Eric Gordon has cut into his playing time. Austin shot 3-for-23 over his first six games this month, and went scoreless in the last three. After averaging 28.6 minutes in his first 28 games, Austin averaged 14.7 minutes over the first seven games of Gordon’s return.
Williams has several high-profile tasks, including his mentoring of the No. 1 pick from last June, Anthony Davis. But considering Williams’ longtime association with Austin Rivers, that relationship may actually be a little more complex.
“I don’t know of anyone in the NBA who coaches their best friend’s son,” said Williams. “It’s a huge responsibility.
“It’s unique. For me to say that Austin is just another player to me would be a lie,” he said. “I’ve watched him since he was 3, and now I’m coaching him. Some days I have to put an arm around him to let him know it’s OK.”
That’s important, considering Austin’s sweltering desire to succeed. He has gone from one of the most celebrated high school players in the nation, to a freshman with a remarkable degree of offensive freedom under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, to this.
“You have to be patient,” said Williams. “You have to talk to yourself about what the big picture is, and then talk to Austin about his big picture. He can’t be the player people want to see right away, and he has to understand that.
“Austin is so driven that this might be the first time in his entire life that he doesn’t have control over what’s happening.”
Outlet? He’ll pass
Doc Rivers liked the idea of that fishing trip. Some hobby, any hobby, will be a sign that his son is looking outside the gym.
“Austin is too much basketball, I’ve said that, and the reason he’s so up and down is because of that,” he said. “It’s a good learning point for him. Austin is the (Tom Thibodeau) of players. He is 100 percent basketball. I talked to him last night, and he’s talking about this game, other games, and I asked, ‘Did you do anything else?’ And he said, ‘I don’t want to do anything else. I just want to be in basketball.’
“I like football, I like everything. But Austin will watch basketball all day,” Doc said. “He’ll go home after practice and watch film of him, film of Paul (Pierce), break down film. This is a good learning experience for him, because to stay consistent you have to let go sometimes, to breathe.”
Rivers is learning to let go, too. His son now plays for an opposing team. Austin will be part of Wednesday night’s scouting report. He’ll have to deal with the pressure of Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo and Courtney Lee — the latter Austin’s friend and neighbor from Winter Park, Fla.
“People would be amazed by how Doc has handled this,” said Williams. “As much as we talk on the phone, we spend less than 5 percent of the time talking about Austin. Doc actually spends a lot of time coaching me, giving me advice about what to do.”
Nothing says more about Rivers’ faith in Williams than his determination not to veer into Austin territory during those conversations.
“It is tough, I would guess, because me and Monty have a very good relationship, and Monty has to coach him,” said Rivers. “There are probably times when Austin feels, ‘Man he’s tougher on me than anyone else.’ That’s usually what any player who plays for his dad would say. And you’re a rookie. That’s the double whammy. You’re not the first rookie, you’re the second rookie (to Davis), so you probably get all of the stuff.
“But I think they’re both making it work and it’s really good.”
As difficult as the basketball part has been for Austin, his greater challenge remains on the outside, where the fish are swimming, and leisure time is actually a positive experience. Maybe he’ll like bowling, or become a film buff. Maybe then his performance will start to climb.
“He’s struggling right now,” said Rivers. “He’s played well in stretches and he’s struggled. He’s shooting the worst that he’s ever shot in his life. He was shooting 80 percent from the free throw line and now he’s down to 58 (percent), and so it’s all on his mind, because in the NBA it’s full-time basketball. And if you’re a full-time basketball life thinker, it can really affect you. It’s having a full-time impact on him.”