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Knicks guard Austin Rivers maintains team-first attitude despite reduced role

Austin Rivers #8 of the New York Knicks

Austin Rivers #8 of the New York Knicks reacts after hitting a three-point basket against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half at State Farm Arena on Jan. 4, 2021 in Atlanta. Credit: Getty Images/Kevin C. Cox

When Austin Rivers arrived in New York he brought with him an enthusiasm for what the franchise was putting in place that was rare, insisting that he’d passed on playoff-ready contenders to sign with the Knicks.

"People want to go to places that are already on the rise and going to franchises that are already doing really well," Rivers said in a Zoom call at the start of training camp. "And people have lost interest in going somewhere and making something great again. I don’t understand someone not wanting to play for a city like New York. I just don’t get that. I don’t understand that. For me, the opportunity was obvious. In a city that is regarded as the Mecca of basketball with the fans they have. Why not try to be part of something special?"

Now, less than three months later, Rivers is contemplating the reality that his time in New York may come to a quick ending. Rivers explained that he’d heard even before the season that Derrick Rose could be coming to join with his long-time coach Tom Thibodeau. Rivers spoke Wednesday for the first time since the Knicks traded for Rose just over two weeks ago, a move that has removed him from the rotation and could mean he will be moving on.

"When they had told me he was coming I said, ‘OK,’ and obviously there’s been stuff about me being moved to other places," Rivers said. "With all this kind of up in the air right now my thing is as long as I’m a Knick just to be professional.

"Again, I don’t know what can happen today or tomorrow or next week or the week after that. Every day that I’m here I’m always going to be all-in. I actually like all the guys on this team. We have great guys on this team. And because you never know. Maybe they might need me to play or whatever. Crazy things have happened. I’ve seen it all."

The 28-year-old Rivers signed a three-year, $10 million deal to join the Knicks, but just the first season is fully guaranteed, making his deal attractive for either a team who wants a low-cost rotation piece or one who simply wants to clear more cap space. There were highlights for him, the 23- and 25-point games against Utah. But in the seven games since Rose debuted with the Knicks Rivers has appeared in mop-up duty just twice, totaling 4:58 of action and not attempting a shot.

"Just stay ready. He’s situational," Thibodeau said. "The guys who aren’t in the rotation, just continue to do the things that you’ve been doing. Practices are important to us and things change quickly in this league. You have to stay ready."

"As long as I’m here I’m here. I can’t control if I’m traded today, tomorrow or the next day," Rivers said. "What I can control is how I am as a player and what I can bring to this team every day. That’s being ready at all times no matter if my name is called or not and to help the young, young guys be ready to play.

"That’s all I can really answer. Some of the details I’m sure you like to have, I don’t have for you. That’s where I’m at. I’m staying professional and staying ready at all times, cheering on my guys. I’ve made a lot of friends here that no matter what happens I’m going to take with me for the rest of my life. Whether I’m here three, five, 10 years, or if I’m traded tomorrow, it doesn’t make no difference. It’s a great place."

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