NEW ORLEANS — The check arrived, and, as has been his habit in the first 20 years of his life, Austin Rivers waited for his dad to handle it.
“And then he looked at me and said, ‘It’s your turn now,’ ” the Hornets’ rookie guard recalled at Wednesday’s shootaround, the night after he and his father, Boston Celtics Coach Doc Rivers, dined out at Emeril’s. “And he was right.
“He’s been taking care of me for my whole life, and now I’ve got the chance to catch up. That was the first time I’ve ever paid. It felt good.”
The elder Rivers also checked out his son’s home during the Celtics’ lone visit of the season to New Orleans. But Doc didn’t get to see Austin in action.
The younger Rivers has been out since breaking a bone in his hand on March 6 against the Lakers. Although it hasn’t been officially announced, Austin is not expected back before the season ends on April 17.
“I’ve never broken anything before,” Austin said. “But it is what it is. I know I won’t have to go through being a rookie again, but I’ve got too much energy. I don’t know what to do with it.”
That’s certainly understandable.
After a rough start that had critics ripping both Rivers for leaving Duke after one season and the Hornets for making him the 10th pick in the draft, he was finally finding his groove.
Perhaps not coincidently, the turnaround started with the Hornets’ visit to Boston on Jan. 16 when he had eight points in a 90-78 victory.
And in the game when Rivers was injured — the infamous 20-point fourth-quarter collapse against the L.A. Lakers, Rivers had scored 10 points in 16 minutes.
“He was finally starting to figure it out,” said Doc Rivers, who watched most Hornets game up to that point and talked to Austin after each one. “It tough for guards because the game speeds them up.
“It’s so unfortunate that he’s injured because he was playing terrific. But it happens.”
Growing up in an NBA home, Austin Rivers dreamed of playing in the league and made the jump as quickly as he could, becoming only the second one-and-doner at Duke.
But, Doc Rivers said, being a professional basketball player doesn’t change that fact that Austin was 19 when he was drafted.
“There’s a lot of life experiences he hasn’t had yet,” he said. “Then he was probably under a different microscope, and that can be unfair.
“Early this year, everybody was talking about how bad he was doing, but he wasn’t struggling any more than any of the top picks.”
Fortunately, Rivers added, Hornets coach Monty Williams was a former teammate whom, Doc likes to say, he’s known longer than he’s known Austin. And letting Austin’s coach be his coach is a code Doc has followed from pee-wee ball.
But there are lessons Doc can still teach Austin.
Such as ordering Emeril’s best wine to run up the sizable bill, knowing who was going to be stuck with it.
“It was about time,” Doc said. “But it was a good night.”
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