LAS VEGAS – Austin Rivers is slipping into a new uniform this season, as he and the rest of his New Orleans teammates debut their Pelicans’ duds.
That’s not the only change in Rivers’ appearance. He’s added seven pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-4 frame, in order to better absorb and dish out pounding on the way to the basket. And if you look enough look, you might notice something else.
“I have a chip on my shoulder,” Rivers said this week at NBA Summer League.
Rivers looks back on his rookie year almost with disdain. The 10th pick in the 2013 Draft struggled to find traction early in the season. He couldn’t buy a shot and struggled to take care of the ball, as the losses mounted for the then-Hornets.
And just when it seemed Rivers had started to figure some things out, he broke his right hand in early March and missed the rest of the season.
“Last year was up and down for me. I didn’t have a great year,” Rivers said. “That was tough. That was the first time in my life where everything wasn’t roses and successful. I had to look in the mirror and be like, ‘What am I gonna do?’ I haven’t played well.
“I had to figure something out. I picked it up, started playing really well and then I break my hand. I was like, ‘God, what is going on?’ I finally started playing well and then my hand breaks. I realized this is a test. I’m going to rehab my hand and I’m going to come back even better.”
The marching orders for Rivers this summer were simple.
“Understanding the game, understanding situations, plays, reads, coaching, and he’s put a lot of time into it,” Pelicans general manager Dell Demps said. “You feel bad for him because he got off to a rough start and then in the month of February he played pretty good, he actually started on a roll and he breaks his hand.
“It’s good that he still has his confidence. Thing I will say is his ‘care factor’ is really big. This is important to him. He came in here really focused and ready to play.”
Rivers spent his rehab time working on his hand and his body. He says his right hand is actually stronger than it was before the injury and the added strength has already paid dividends.
“Guys aren’t able to post me up. I’m able to go to the rack and finish, I’m bumping guys off, able to get the floater,” Rivers said. “On defense, I can use my chest more. I just think my strength and my health [are better].
“My dad always says the best skill is availability. If you’re not available, it doesn’t matter how good you are if you can’t play. I’m finally healthy. I feel great.”
His dad, of course, is new Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers. The elder Rivers’ advice to his son this offseason was to keep working hard, have fun and get better. That last bit is especially crucial considering the state of the Pelicans, and especially the backcourt.
New Orleans coach Monty Williams has a significantly upgraded guard rotation as his disposal. Rivers is already envisioning the possibilities.
“I want to show people that I’m healthy and I’m back and I’m ready to play,” he said. “This year is going to be a big year for me. You can only imagine if I was out there with Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evens and Jrue Holiday, the spacing that I will be able to create.
“I’m just excited. I have to continue to work, continue to listen to Coach Williams and it will be a big year this year.”
While some young players might be apprehensive of the added competition, Rivers welcomes the challenge.
“I don’t think it’s ever a negative thing when your team gets better,” he said. “The team got better. I’ll find time. I know I’ll play a lot. I just have to continue to work.”