Doc Rivers pushed son Austin away from 76ers to Knicks
As it turned out, Sixers coach Doc Rivers became the Knicks’ top recruiter in free agency.
The Sixers pegged combo guard Austin Rivers as a prime target for November’s free agency. However, the head coach advised his new employers against it.
The elder Rivers, an ex-Knicks guard of the 1990s, spent the free-agency period with his 28-year-old son in their Orlando residence. He helped persuade Austin that New York was a spectacular destination.
“He was high on Philly’s list before I took the job,’’ Doc Rivers told The Post. “It was one of the guards they wanted. When I took the job, I said, ‘You don’t want that. You got too many other things we have to deal with.’
“For Austin it’s better. He’s his own player. Unfortunately for him, me being the dad, he’s just an easy guy to target. I have felt since the separation, it’s been really good for him.’’
Rivers coached Austin for 3 ½ seasons with the Clippers. That seemed enough time. When the Knicks showed interest last month, Doc lobbied for his son to accept their offer and play for the franchise he did from 1992-94.
“I kept telling him, ‘New York is a great place,’ ’’ Doc Rivers said. “I had a great experience there. That’s what I shared with him. It’s a tough city — in a positive way. He said, ‘What do you mean by that?’ I said, ‘It’s similar to Boston and Philly. Their fans are real. They want you to play hard, give you everything you can and play like a team.’
“I told him, ‘The Knicks fans are still Red Holzman’s Knicks fans. They remember how that basketball was played. They want team basketball, hard-nosed, tough basketball.’ ”
During a Zoom interview last week, Austin Rivers was asked about whether the Sixers were on his radar.
“In terms of playing for my father, that was an amazing experience that me and him got to do,’’ he said. “But that was that.”
Ironically, Rivers was wined and dined by former Knicks president Phil Jackson as a 2015 Clippers free agent. At that time, Doc Rivers made sure he kept his son in LA, offering an extra year than the Knicks.
Now Doc Rivers wants him in New York, feels he can make his presence matter with Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks.
Thibodeau won an NBA title in 2008 on Rivers’ staff in Boston. Thibodeau got to know Austin only a little because the son lived in Orlando. Rivers and Thibodeau discussed Austin during free agency.
“Tom just likes competitive players — always has,’’ Doc Rivers said. “We’re very similar — give us 12 competitors, we’ll figure it out. Whenever we talked about Austin — and we will a lot less now — Thibs loves competitors.’’
After playing as a Rockets reserve the last two seasons, Rivers will have a shot to start at point guard. However, the Knicks feel he has a better chance finishing games.
“It’s a young roster,’’ Doc Rivers said. “Now he’s a veteran. Which is amazing to get my head around. But just be an example-setter, come in, fit in, play aggressive and everything else will work out. That’s how I see him with this group — to really set a hell of an example. He’s had ups and downs and he’s still here. That alone can be a great teacher for these young guys.”
Rivers will see his son soon enough. The Knicks’ Garden opener is against the Sixers on Dec. 26.
Another factor in Doc Rivers’ excitement is he’ll be a 90-minute train ride from Austin and his 2-year-old grandson, Kayden.
If the Garden reopens for fans, Doc Rivers said he’ll happily watch from the stands. Incredibly, he’s only seen his son play in the NBA as a parent/fan three times — Austin’s second season in New Orleans when the Clippers got to town early and twice during the classic 2018 Rockets-Warriors playoff series.
“Even if I can’t go to games, I’ll be in New York on an off day spending time with my grandson,’’ Rivers said. “It’s a cool thing. I was excited because I played there. And I told him, ‘If you get it right there, there’s no better place to get it right.’ ”