Coming from one of Austin Rivers' most ardent supporters, it doesn't bring me great pleasure admitting this, but it's time the Hornets designate him for assignment with the Iowa Energy in the NBA D-League. Although Austin has yet to set the NBA on fire, his play of late has easily been worst of his young career. For the month of January, he is averaging 1.3 points, 1.0 rebounds and 1.4 assists. Sure, he's only averaged around 13 minutes during this time frame, but he is shooting 13% from the floor, 20% from beyond the arc and 16.7% from the line! It's obvious to all observers that any confidence he may have had at an earlier point in the season is buried, dead and done.
There are some that view a trip to the NBA D-League as something derogatory. A deep stigma exists that it is such a low level league; that it's barely any better than a good local recreational league. However, these are just old perceptions that have failed to accept it's recent success stories. At the end of last season, 27 percent of NBA rosters (over 120 players) had experience participating in it's league. Players such as Marcin Gortat, Matt Barnes, Jeremy Lin, Danny Green, Brandon Bass and Ramon Sessions spent valuable developmental time playing in their games.
1. Austin Rivers Needs to Have Fun Again.
When Austin steps onto the court, the doubt is immediately apparent. Most possessions are marked with a couple of meaningless dribbles and a prompt dump off to the first open man he finds. In an attempt to shake him out of this prolonged funk, Monty Williams has once again attempted to give Austin time running the offense. Oops! In our last game against New York, it resulted in two consecutive turnovers. Right now, Austin probably doesn't even believe he could manage breaking down a single NBA opponent. And Monty Williams has run out of places he can try and hide him.
Yesterday, Nikkoewan linked a story in the Boston Herald. Basically, it entailed how crazed Austin has been in overcoming his season long woes. Countless of hours in the gym, even more watching video. Who knows how inundated he's probably been with advice from everyone around him. When he closes his eyes, he probably envisions the hoop the size of a dime, his hands covered in baby oil and his feet set in concrete blocks.
When stress enters your personal life, what is the remedy that is constantly preached? Taking one's mind as far away as possible from the source of all anxiety. For Austin, that means shaking up his daily routine as much as possible. A trip to the D-League would remove him from the pressures of the NBA, it's media and fans. It would give him the best possible chance on remembering why he chose to make basketball a career. He simply needs to have fun again before he can make any improvements to his skills.
For many a player, dedication is oftentimes at the heart of the problem. None is this more true than in the D-League where many feel these players fail, not for the lack of talent, but lack of effort. Here, it's entirely the opposite as Austin overwhelms himself each day on the job, the more he works the worse he makes it. Consequently, we shouldn't have any reservations about sending a still-promising 20 year old to the developmental league.
2. Monty Williams' Priorities have Changed.
With the return of Eric Gordon, the Hornets are healthy for largely the first time of Monty's tenure as head coach. Not surprising, our team's play has vastly improved and we have a legitimate chance to win a game any given night. The priority of player development is currently secondary as Monty wants to concentrate his energies towards putting the best performing personnel on the floor. As much as the Hornets still need to develop their youth, it is as important, if not more, to establish a winning culture among our young core.
Sending Austin to the D-League would give Monty the freedom to avoid the pressures of playing and developing his best friend's son. What hinders Austin the most isn't likely to be solved on an NBA court anyways. Austin was averaging close to 30 minutes per contest in the Hornets first 30 games. During this time, we witnessed him pick his spots. He would have productive quarters, halves or even a few games. Now that comfort no longer exists. When Monty puts Austin into games, he has to produce immediate results; otherwise, Monty has other options he can and must turn to.
3. The Hornets Won't Have a More Opportune Time
With the team fully healthy and winning and Austin's struggles at an all-time worst, the organization won't have an easier time explaining a decision to send a top ten draft pick to the D-League. As mentioned earlier, the league's stigma is vanishing:
It also happens to be the future for the NBA and -- despite crude appearances -- that future has never been more promising. NBA teams are embracing the 12-year-old D-League more than ever as a resource to develop talent.
In addition, the Hornets' organization needs to understand that fans are more than ready to embrace this move. From the comments here At The Hive to other sports' forums to twitter, Austin's publicity has never taken a worse beating. It's consistently mentioned that he's going to end up having the worst rookie season of any NBA player. In his comparison's, he's always on the wrong side of five or more greater than symbols (>>>>> Rivers).
Do the Right Thing
For a kid who likes to put too much on his plate, the Hornets need to act like a wise parent. There is no reason for all parties involved to have to endure Austin's struggles any further. Austin's chances on regaining his swag would improve and a large burden would be removed from Monty's daily life. Non-believing fans wouldn't have to be subjected to any more live horror showings while Austin supporters would be relieved he's plucked from his current nightmare. New Orleans Hornets, a viable option behind door #2 does exist.