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Clippers Off-Season 2016: Spears: Austin Rivers to Opt Out

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The unsurprising first step in the Clippers' off-season.

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According to Marc Spears of ESPN, Austin Rivers will decline his player option for next season to test free agency this summer.  It's a remarkably unsurprising decision for a good, young player who took a low salary last summer to stay with the Clippers and build his value.  After making $3.1 million last year, Rivers was slated to make $3.3 million in 2016-17.  On the open market, he'll easily clear double that amount, and could even go over triple it and get offers in the double-digits.

At just 23 years old, Austin Rivers was a 10th overall pick who struggled with his original team, finding himself out of the rotation in New Orleans and a throw-in as part of a trade with Boston.  Three days later, the Clippers, desperate for bench help in 2015, shipped out little-used wing Reggie Bullock to bring him in.  The Austin that emerged for that partial season is largely the Austin we know today--an energetic and effective defender who is aggressive but inefficient offensively.  His three-point shot is just average, and his creative ability definitely points away from him being a true point guard.  But, he attacks the basket and plays in transition, which is a refreshing chance of pace on a Clippers bench unit that takes far too many mid-range jumpers.  The real value comes in his defense, where he was one of the Clippers' best options and even sometimes stole minutes as a small-ball 3.

Austin's definitely a long ways off from being a star player in the NBA, but at the very least, he's found a niche as a very effective bench player who can defend elite players at either guard position while still being playable offensively.  He's also a tough and smart player--you can point to his game 6 performance in Portland this year, and there are a lot of other examples during his tenure as a Clipper.

The Clippers are still interesting in bringing Austin back, and one has to assume Austin is interested in returning to the franchise where he's had his most professional success.  LAC has full bird rights, meaning they can offer him anywhere up to the max, but they'll have to balance his salary with other their two other bird rights free agents: Jeff Green and Jamal Crawford.  Rivers' opt-out was always going to happen: we'll get similar updates for Wesley Johnson and Cole Aldrich.  Things won't really get interesting until July 1st, when we start hearing who the Clippers are targeting to return--and what new guys they're interested in.