Make New York Knicks Great Again: Austin Rivers embraces the challenge

New York Knicks, Austin Rivers
Aug 12, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers (25) dribbles the ball against Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo (4) in the second quarter of a NBA basketball game at AdventHealth Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks haven’t attracted a superstar since Amar’e Stoudemire signed a five-year, $100-million deal in the 2010 free agency.

The Knicks haven’t been to the playoffs since Carmelo Anthony led them to the second round in 2013.

If there’s such seventh heaven, the last seven years have been the opposite for the Knicks fan base. They have been through hell year after year. They’ve been praying for a superstar to come and save the city from going deeper into obscurity.

This offseason looked like another disaster.

Knicks’ new team president Leon Rose and his front office have struck out in their top free-agent targets. As a consolation, they’ve brought in veteran players who can shepherd their young core.

Rivers of hope

Austin Rivers, one of the Knicks’ free agency pickups, isn’t a superstar that brings salvation. But Rivers offer a sliver of hope in a stopgap year.

“We’re caught in an era where everyone likes riding a wave. People want to go to places that are already on the rise or go to franchises that are already doing really well. 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 didn’t get that. I don’t understand that. For me, the opportunity was obvious. To play 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,” Rivers said in a virtual press conference Wednesday.

Listening to a free agent who genuinely and passionately wants to become a Knick has been refreshing.

Changing the perception

Rivers said he rejected at least three playoff teams to come to New York.

For so long, players around the league have spurned the Knicks. But Rivers embraces the challenge of changing that perception and building a culture that would make New York attractive.

That appeal, coupled with his faith in coach Tom Thibodeau and Rose’s front office, has intrigued Rivers.

“Everything right now is headed in the right direction from the hiring of the coach, from the hiring of the management, and assistant coaches, and the picks that they have drafted, and the players we’ve established this year, we’re building. So to be part of something special. It’s easy to go somewhere where everything is already set up, and they’ve been to the playoffs for five years in a row. I’ve been on those teams. And those are great experiences. But I want to take those experiences and those lessons and help this team, and this organization in as many ways as possible,” Rivers said.

“I think that the era of people not wanting to come here, our job is to change that. We got to make it attractive. We will,” he vowed.

Leadership role

Rivers, 28, will be bringing in a combined five years of playoff experience with the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers.

The team isn’t stacked with All-Stars compared to Rivers’ past teams, but he believes that if they buy into Thibodeau’s philosophy, good things will come.

“We don’t have superstars on this team but we have talented young players and you never know what can become on this team,” Rivers said.

Rivers, the third-oldest on the roster, is expected to compete for a starting spot at the backcourt. But he said he’s also willing to accept a role off the bench.

“My role is going to be to help the team win. If they start me, great. If they don’t, I’m still going to be in there competing every night. Regardless, for me, it’s never been about starting the game. It’s been about finishing the game,” Rivers said.

Blueprint for success

Rivers pointed to the Clippers’ resurgence under his father, Doc, where they traded away their superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and rebuilt from the ground up. He said the blueprint is to have a solid group of role players that will attract superstars.

That blue-collar Clippers team went to the playoffs and stretched the Golden State Warriors that became their golden ticket to the Kahwi Leonard sweepstakes.

Thibodeau, who worked under Doc Rivers in Boston during their 2008 championship run, knows what it takes to build a team like that. While the odds are stacked against them this coming season, having a passionate player and a culture-builder like Austin Rivers should be a good start.

“This would be a place where people want to play. If you’re a real hooper, if you really like playing on the biggest stage, this is it,” Rivers said.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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