A defiant Austin Rivers responds to criticism from ex-Clippers teammates

Matt Barnes played half a season with Austin Rivers on the Clippers. (AP)

First, it was Glen “Big Baby” Davis. Then, Chris Paul. And now, Matt Barnes. Guys who played with Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers just don’t seem to like the coach’s son, and that’s unfortunate.

There was the time in June when Big Baby told Rivers, “Don’t say s*** to me. Your father gave you your money. You ain’t work for it, motherf***er. What type of s***? I was there. I seen you at practice. You didn’t give a f***, thinking you all that wearing them tight-ass pants. Your father gave you all that money, so you can go wear those tight-ass pants, but keep your f***ing mouth closed, man. Shut up, man. You’re a f***ing bum who’s been given the world. Shut up and just stay under your father.”

That was harsh, but we cast it off as more emotional baggage from Davis, who also had a score to settle with Doc Rivers, the coach of the Clippers and Boston Celtics who twice sent Big Baby packing.

There was the time in July when “SportsCenter” anchor Michael Eaves reported that “Paul’s relationship with Doc Rivers started to deteriorate rapidly after the Clippers acquired Austin Rivers.” The report indicated that the bitterness Paul harbored eventually led to his exit from the franchise:


Here's some information on the Chris Paul trade. First the MICRO:Paul's relationship with Doc Rivers started to…

Posted by Michael Eaves on Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Several members of the team felt Austin acted entitled because his dad was both the coach and the President of Basketball Operations. In the view of the tenured players, Austin Rivers never tried to fit in, and when players tried to address the situation with him, he still did not respond the way the core of the team wanted him to. It led to resentment within the locker room, which often played out during games. One of Paul’s biggest contentions with Doc was that Paul, and other players, felt Doc treated Austin more favorably than other players. He would yell at guys for certain things during games and practices, but not get on Austin in the same manner for similar transgressions.

But what really solidified Paul’s dissatisfaction with Doc was a proposed trade involving Carmelo Anthony last season. New York offered Carmelo and Sasha Vujacic to the Clippers in exchange for Jamal Crawford, Paul Pierce and Austin Rivers, a deal to which Rivers ultimately said no. That event led Paul to feel that keeping his son on the roster was more important to Doc than improving the team. So, ultimately, Paul lost both trust and faith in Doc. As one league executive put it, “Chris despises Doc.”

But we cast that off, too, once USA Today reported that “Paul had texted Rivers to refute the report, and Austin picked up the phone.” The two ex-teammates reportedly had a 40-minute conversation.


“I called Chris and was like, ‘Chris, what’s going on?’’” Austin Rivers told USA Today. “Chris is like, ‘This is the biggest bull(expletive) I’ve ever seen in my life.’ Chris was just like, ‘This is a joke.’ So I asked him, I’m like, ‘You don’t need to come out and say nothing publicly, I don’t need you to do that. It’s just going to make it even more, now they’re going to drag it out two more days. I’ll take it. I don’t care. I’ve been dealing with this (dynamic) since I was six (years old). I really don’t even care.’”

Then, Paul joined a group of his Houston Rockets teammates who reportedly tried to enter the Clippers’ locker room on Monday night to confront Austin and Blake Griffin, and our Spidey sense went off: Hey, maybe that Chris Paul and Austin Rivers thing wasn’t “the biggest bull(expletive).

Now, Barnes is piling on:


“He’s just very arrogant,” Barnes told Mad Dog Sports Radio of Austin. “I know him personally, and at the beginning it took a little bit to get used to and as a teammate you kind of just accept him for who he is and have his back as a teammate, but hearing guys talk around the league and seeing guys that had a problem with him while I was playing with him, I could see why.

“He carries himself like he’s a 10-time All-Star, and he’s not that. That kind of arrogance rubs people the wrong way, and if you’re talking trash on top of that, there are some guys in the NBA who aren’t going to have that.

“Doc’s played a vital role in the demise of the Clippers. We had Vinny Del Negro the season before he was there and won 50-something games. We lost in the second round and should’ve won, and then Vinny was fired. Doc came in to save all, do all, and at the beginning he did well, but I think his players started seeing through him — say one thing, do another thing, do things like give his son a bunch of money. As players, that’s the kind of stuff you talk about.

“Then, like I said, from JJ [Redick] to Chris to myself and guys who are on the team still, Doc’s kind of been — you’ve seen the best of the Clippers with the way that they’re built as they stand now.”

Geez, guys. Don’t hold back your true feelings.

It always seemed like the Rivers family dynamic was bound to create some awkwardness around the Clippers, but this is more than awkward. This is deeper-seeded. It’s also quite the allegation now from multiple ex-Clippers, on the record and off, that the father-son combination has played a real factor in the team’s fractured relationships, especially if it did influence Paul’s desire to leave this past July.

The actual decision to sign Austin to a three-year, $35 million deal in the summer of 2016 doesn’t seem all that outrageous in retrospect, because he’s enjoyed his two best seasons since signing that contract, including career highs of 15.8 points (on 40.5 percent shooting from 3-point range) and 3.6 assists per game, along with some above-average defense before straining his Achilles last month.

Rivers acknowledged all of his ex-teammates’ criticisms and then some to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne:

“People are like, ‘Well, his dad gave him his chance.’ Is that true or not? I don’t know. It might be,” Rivers said. “[But] could it be that my pops knew how good I could be because he’s my pops?

“He told me on the phone [when the Clippers traded for him in 2015], ‘If it doesn’t work out, we’ll just cut ways at the end of the year, keep it clean, and you can go on and try to figure it out.”

[…]

“I know what the narrative is on me,” Rivers said. “It’s because I come from money and I have a swagger and confidence about me.

“[But] if I didn’t have this confidence or swagger in myself, I wouldn’t be built to handle the negativity that I’ve gotten. I would’ve already broken down years ago because I’ve gotten this since high school. I’ve turned it into a fuel and it’s helped me. I go into each away arena and it’s rough, because of the s*** I hear. This chip on my shoulder, this swagger and confidence, it helps me. If I didn’t have it, I would not be in the NBA.”

There is a delicate balance between having just enough confidence to overcome the inevitable criticism of a coach’s son and just enough humility not to feed that criticism further. The backlash from his former teammates does not suggest that he is keeping his balance to their satisfaction.


And if the perception among players is that Doc is favoring his son both monetarily and in the locker room, that can’t be good for him, either. Most of the Clips who were there when he signed that deal are gone now, though, and Austin is pretty confident they’re better off without his ex-teammates:

“I think we’re better this year, honestly,” Austin said this past October. “I know people don’t think that, but I think we’re a better team. I absolutely think we’re a better team than last year. Obviously, it’s only one game. We have 81 more to go.

“I think we have more talent this year. Look how many pieces we got for one guy. We got a defensive dog (Patrick Beverley). We drafted well. We’ve got new rookies. We’ve got Sam Dekker. We’ve got Willie Reed. Who else? We’ve got Lou Williams.

“We’ve got a way better team. We’re deeper. We defend better. We play faster. I don’t even see how it’s close. It’s tough. Chris is such an unbelievable player. People tend to write you off and I understand that, but I think we have a better team this year.”

Somehow, I doubt Chris Paul, Matt Barnes and Glen Davis would agree, and neither would the standings. The Clippers are now 23-21, tied for the Western Conference’s sixth seed — better than expected, considering a slew of injuries to key contributors — but they also won 50 games each of the past five seasons and were considered fringe championship contenders with Paul in the mix.

Austin Rivers certainly doesn’t lack for confidence. That he exhibits it so freely on a team coached by his father might be the problem, whether the current crop of Clippers wants to admit it or not.

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!