LAS VEGAS – He played a game Friday for the first time since March 6, long enough that Austin Rivers left the Hornets and came back to the Pelicans without moving, long enough that he was able to turn the layoff into a learning process, long enough that he said, “it’s been forever.”
Three months. Forever.
His entire basketball world changed while Rivers was recovering from the broken right hand that prematurely ended his rookie season. His team name has changed and before he could get back for the summer-league opener at Cox Pavilion, the new look in New Orleans had extended to the actual face lift with the draft-night deal that brought All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday from the 76ers and the sign-and-trade that delivered swingman Tyreke Evans from the Kings.
Rivers was already something of a man without a position, a combo guard who faced a long transition if the Pelicans followed through on the stated 2012-13 option of making him a point guard. Eric Gordon is the starting two-guard with Holiday set at the point and Evans able to play behind Gordon in addition to working at small forward and maybe even some as the primary ballhandler.
“You saw tonight, I can do both,” Rivers said of being able to play either guard, a well-timed assessment after the 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting, seven rebounds and six assists against two turnovers in the 77-72 victory over the Knicks. “I really can do both. I’m a scorer but I can play the point and get people open. With Jrue there, Jrue’s going to be the dominant point, so I think it’ll be a lot of two. Hopefully I can start at the two or something like that and then play backup point to him.”
Sounds good, but does the Pelicans’ offseason moves have him feeling left behind?
“No, not at all,” Rivers said. “And if I do, then things will happen. I’m not going to worry about it. All I can do is work. I can’t tell him (Holiday) that he needs to get off the team or ‘I need to be traded here.’ All I can do is work hard, keep looking forward…. I love New Orleans and I love to play there. I expect one way or another I’ll be playing because I know I’m going to work hard and out-work anybody. That’s definitely my focus right now.”
He even found encouragement in the injury because the time on the sideline gave Rivers a chance to analyze his game in a different way, away from the court. Hurting the right hand forced him to work solely with his right, improving that side. Sitting forced him to become grounded.
“The game is slowing down just a little and he’s slowing down a little bit,” said Bryan Gates, the assistant coach during the season who is running the summer-league team. “Not getting so anxious, a mistake not bothering him. A bad call, he gets over it a little quicker. A bad turnover, he gets over it. A teammate, if something happens, if he gets really frustrated, he realizes it and then kind of gets himself back together. We’ve got to remember how were we at 21 years old? We’ve all matured as the years go on. I think people are a little bit too hard on him. Let him grow up a little bit.”
Friday was a good start at applying lessons learned. Rivers played under control and impressed Gates on defense. More than that, it was nice just to be back, on the court again for the old team with a new look.