Thursday, June 28, 2012
Sources: Celtics want Austin Rivers
By Chad Ford and Marc Stein
The Boston Celtics are making an 11th-hour push to put themselves in position to draft Duke star Austin Rivers, son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers, according to sources with knowledge of Boston's plans.
But sources briefed on the matter describe the Celtics as pessimistic that they can acquire a draft pick high enough to land Rivers in Thursday night's draft.
Celtics general manager Danny Ainge long has maintained privately that Rivers is one of the 10 biggest talents in this draft class and has no problems drafting the younger Rivers to play under his father, sources say.
The Celtics' dilemma is whether they can muster the trade assets needed to acquire a pick high enough in the lottery to get in Rivers' range. Sources say Boston would be willing to part with both their Nos. 21 and 22 picks, but it's believed that teams in the top 10 want more than that. And the Celtics, sources say, are struggling to offer more because they refuse to include promising guard Avery Bradley in draft-night trade talks and lack other assets to sweeten the pot.
The Celtics haven't totally given up on moving up in the draft, however. Sources say they are trying to package Nos. 21 and 22 to move into the mid-first round instead.
Boston's interest in Austin Rivers is understandable, given the presence of Doc Rivers, but the Celtics aren't the only team high on him. Sources say Austin Rivers is a draft candidate for the Portland Trail Blazers at No. 6, Toronto Raptors at No. 8 and is unlikely to slide past the New Orleans Hornets at No. 10.
Despite his status as one of the most polarizing players in the draft, for NBA teams and fans alike, Rivers' draft stock steadily has risen. It's not unlike BYU's Jimmer Fredette last year, when the most polarizing player in the 2011 draft ultimately rose to the point that Sacramento drafted him 10th overall. During the past two months, Rivers has climbed on ESPN.com's draft board from the middle of the first round to a likely top-10 selection.
Rivers, for one, sounds like he hopes he gets to be teammates with soon-to-be No. 1 pick Anthony Davis in New Orleans.
"That would be amazing,'' Rivers told ESPN's Andy Katz on Wednesday. "I had a great workout there. I love (coach) Monty Williams and (general manager) Dell Demps, everyone there. It's a great city. I'm actually really good friends with Anthony. We've already created a little chemistry. It would be really neat to play there with a team on the rise. Eric Gordon is going to be an All-Star in a couple of years. I'd be really excited if that happens."
Rivers told Katz he's better suited to play in the NBA than in college, a point he said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski echoed.
"I can create with the ball and with my ballhandling I can get past my defender and create shots for myself," Rivers said. "I'm a good point guard with length."
Whether he's a point guard or not is debatable. However, it's clear teams are drawn to his scoring ability and confidence.
That hasn't always been the case.
Two months ago, after Duke's ouster in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Lehigh, most NBA scouts were down on Rivers' draft stock to the point that they almost unanimously felt he needed to return to school for his sophomore year.
Scouts questioned his "feel" for the game. They said he'd never be an NBA point guard and needed to learn how to play without the ball in his hands. They criticized his high-volume, low-efficiency approach to the game. But, most of all, they were put off by his confident swagger -- a swagger, they and the media helped create.
The expectations for Rivers coming into Duke were enormous. He was ranked No. 2 by ESPN in his high school class. He was Doc Rivers' kid, played with swag, hit big shots at Winter Park High School and had a killer crossover. Some NBA scouts said he could be a top-5 pick.
But Rivers struggled early for Duke. His shot wasn't falling. He was forgetting to pass to teammates. During a super tight championship game of the Maui Invitational in November against Kansas, Krzyzewski sat him for the last six minutes because Rivers was struggling defensively.
Rivers improved as the season continued. He hit a historic buzzer-beater against North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Nevertheless, he struggled to shrug the NBA critics of his game as the season ended. When he announced he was leaving Duke for the NBA draft after his freshman season, many scoffed.
What a difference a few months make. Rivers has been rehabilitating his image. He wowed them with terrific interviews at the NBA drfat combine in Chicago. Many GMs said he gave the most polished and professional interview of anyone in the room.
He impressed with his aggressive play in workouts for the Wizards, Blazers and Hornets. In a matter of weeks, some NBA GMs were wondering privately if Rivers wasn't the best guard in the draft not named Bradley Beal.
Somehow Rivers has turned perceived weaknesses into strengths.
"He is an alpha-dog. I think he will succeed in the NBA because of that," Krzyzewski told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "He believes he's going to be great. I'd rather have a guy like that than a guy who doesn't believe in himself."
One thing is for sure -- Austin Rivers believes. And it sounds like the Celtics do, too.