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The Knicks previously have had only two father-son combinations play for the organization. On the final night of 2020, they are slated to add a third.
After missing the entire preseason and the first four games of the regular season with a groin injury, combo guard Austin Rivers is expected to make his Knicks debut on Thursday night against the Toronto Raptors in Tampa. Rivers’ father Doc, the current head coach of the Philadelphia Sixers, played for the Knicks from 1992-94.
The 28-year-old Rivers says he injured his groin a few days before he was acquired in a sign-and-trade with Houston on Nov. 22, agreeing to a three-year deal worth $10 million with the Knicks. Only the first year of the deal, however, is guaranteed.
“It’s been an adjustment. I’ve never missed a full training camp. I didn’t get to play a game, a preseason game, I haven’t even gone 5-on-5 yet. Just going right into it,” Rivers said before Thursday’s game. “It’s basketball at the end of the day. You just go out there and play hard and it’s not rocket science. You’re just trying to help the team win.”
The nine-year NBA veteran added that he was unsure if he’d be on a minutes restriction in his Knicks debut, or where he’d fit into a guard rotation behind starters Elfrid Payton and R.J. Barrett.
Frank Ntilikina (sprained right knee) and Dennis Smith Jr. (left quad) have been ruled out of Thursday’s game, with Alec Burks (sprained left ankle) and rookie Immanuel Quickley (hip pointer) listed as questionable. Quickley had missed the previous three games with a hip pointer suffered in the Knicks’ season-opening loss at Indiana.
First-year coach Tom Thibodeau has the Knicks “playing hard,” Rivers noted, with wins in their previous two games against Milwaukee and Cleveland. Thibodeau was a member of Doc Rivers’ staff with Boston from 2007-10.
“I’ll be honest, even as an individual, me coming in not having played with them, the one thing I know I have to do — shots, I might make everything, I might miss everything. I’m going to get that feel and rhythm back as I play these games — but the one thing that has to be consistent is when I’m out there, I’ve got to play hard,” Austin Rivers said. “Because that’s what our team is symbolized as right now. We’re one of these teams, there’s not an off-night when you play the Knicks. That’s the mindset we’re trying to establish here.
“I know makes and misses can waver, but your effort can’t. That’s kind of what Thibs has instilled on this team. I’m just going to come in and play hard.”
The 6-foot-4 Rivers averaged 8.8 points and 1.7 assists while hitting 42.1 percent of his shots (35.6 percent from three-point range) over 23.4 minutes in 68 games (four starts) with Houston last season.
There only have been two other father-son tandems to appear in regular-season games with the Knicks: Ernie and Kiki Vandeweghe, and Henry and Mike Bibby.
Doc Rivers, who coached Austin for four seasons with the Clippers, said earlier this month that he pushed his son to sign with the Knicks because of the “great experience” he had with the organization.
“I think it’s the whole ambience of everything Thibs has come with,” Austin Rivers said. “I think it’s been a difference because that’s what he demands. There’s no other option. You don’t play hard, you don’t play. That’s just what it is with him. I think everybody gets that picture on our team. And I think everybody knows – if you don’t play hard, you’re not going to play.
“There’s just some teams that have that identity and that’s what we’re trying to build here. Thibs is doing a great job and we’re just following that. Everybody’s moving the ball and playing hard and that’s what it’s going to be.”