The Clippers faced a potential crisis this summer.
They had already agreed to re-sign Austin Rivers to a three-year contract worth more than $35 million, and Jamal Crawford was threatening to leave. Losing the then-36-year-old Crawford would’ve been costly, but it wouldn’t have been devastating. The bigger issue would have been the image: keeping the coach’s son over the reigning Sixth Man of the Year.
Clippers president/coach Doc Rivers calmed the brewing storm by giving Crawford a three-year, $42 million deal.
But apparently the underlying tension hasn’t completely dissipated.
The in-house resentment toward Austin Rivers being favored as Doc’s son, according to team sources, still very much exists, but it isn’t out of control.
Know what the Clippers truly resent? Losing. They’ve gone 8-9 since the All-Star break, and they’re clearly feeling the slump.
That brings lingering issues, like Austin’s place on the team, to the surface.
And other Clippers are reasonable to show suspicion about the dynamic, a complication Doc should have considered when he traded for Austin.
Austin has explained his never-that-warm relationship with Doc, who was busy coaching while Austin was growing up. These two claim this is far more a coach-player than father-son relationship, and I believe they believe that. I also believe it’s mostly true, though their familial ties probably intrude more than they realize.
That said, Austin has worked himself into a legitimate backup guard after a horrendous start to his NBA career. It’s worth a reminder just how bad he was in New Orleans because that shows how even his modest role now is a sign of tremendous growth. Austin has improved his shot, and his 6-foot-4 frame is an asset in some defensive matchups (probably not as many as Doc believes, judging by Austin’s assignments).
Does Austin deserve 28 minutes per game? Probably not, though he also handles garbage-time minutes so older teammates don’t have to. Does Austin deserve his $11 million+ annual salary? Probably not, though the capped-out Clippers had no recourse beyond minimum contracts to replace him, so he had leverage (ditto Crawford). Does he deserve to so often speak for the team? Probably not, though bigger stars Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan might not mind the occasional break.
Austin’s biggest problem is that, despite his improvement, his gaffes are still so blatant. That makes it more difficult to take him seriously, even when the totality of evidence says we should.
And for all the examples of Doc’s Clippers favoring Doc’s son, Austin was still the player who got left in the game with a concussion. That’s just dangerous, not nepotism.
There isn’t out-of-control resentment for Austin, because there’s isn’t out-of-control favoritism for him.
But there is some favoritism, and the more the Clippers struggle, the more they’ll look for a place to point the finger and occasionally land on Austin.