The New Orleans Hornets should not deal rookie guard Austin Rivers before the trade deadline but should entertain the idea of trading him in the future. Midway into a disappointing first season, Rivers doesn't have much value, but he could blossom into an intriguing trade chip down the road.
The Hornets haven't gotten much of a contribution thus far from the No. 10 overall pick. As of Feb. 7, Rivers is averaging six points per game, while shooting 34 percent from the field and 30 percent from the three-point line.
The former Duke Blue Devil filled in for the injured Eric Gordon as the team's starting shooting guard early in the season. After some struggles, the team opted to give veteran Roger Mason, Jr. a crack at the starting 2-guard spot. Now that Gordon's back, Mason has passed Rivers as the Hornets' main guard off the bench.
As it stands, the Hornets are trying Rivers' hand at point guard, where he's splitting time with Brian Roberts as the backup to Greivis Vasquez. However, a sudden reluctance to shoot reinforced by troubling percentages have made Rivers a non-factor on offense.
Early in season when Brian Roberts and Austin Rivers were paired together, Roberts handled nearly all PG duties. Now Rivers is primary PG— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) February 7, 2013
After averaging around 28 minutes a game in the first two months of the season, Rivers averaged little more than half of that in January and is currently playing around 19 minutes a game in February. The team has been reluctant to have Rivers get a fresh start in the D-League.
Still, there are a number of reasons to hang on to Rivers before the Feb. 21 deadline. For starters, his lack of production has to hurt his stock. As promising as acquiring a 20-year-old scorer may be, it has to say something about Rivers that he can't put up even modest offensive numbers on a team lacking proven scorers.
With Rivers' value low, the Hornets are unlikely to get much back in return for their struggling rookie. The team has a need at small forward and could use an infusion of talent into their second unit. With a good amount of cap space and a potential lottery pick this summer, the team could fill those needs in the offseason.
At 16-33, the team doesn't have much to play for except pride at this point. The Hornets are 10 games back of Houston for the eighth seed and have lost four of their last five. What point is there to sell off one of their young pieces for five cents on the dollar?
Unless a team is foolishly offering up someone like Atlanta's Josh Smith or Utah's Al Jefferson in exchange for Rivers, there's no trade out there that will dramatically change New Orleans' fortunes. Plus, you run the added risk that a change of scenery brings out the best in Rivers and he becomes a star, while the Hornets watch in stunned surprise.
Rivers' issues appear to be more psychological than physical. It could be a result of head coach and family friend Monty Williams coddling him. It could be that Rivers is putting added pressure on himself to perform. It could also be a lack of opportunity.
Should the Hornets trade Austin Rivers this season?
If a new team is able to buy low on Rivers and fix him, it could set the Hornets back even further. As bad as Rivers has been, the risk of selling too early and having it blow up in their face far outweighs the reward of cutting ties with a potential bust.
The best bet for New Orleans is to try to develop Rivers into being, at the very least, somebody for whom other teams may be willing to give up something substantial. If that means sending Rivers down to the D-League, so be it. If that means some tough love from Coach Williams, then that's what needs to happen.
The Hornets are still a few pieces away from being a playoff team. Those pieces could be coming this summer. Regardless, this isn't the time to start selling off assets. If another team blows New Orleans away with an offer for Rivers, then it would make sense for the Hornets to take it.
That seems unlikely at this point. Rivers is struggling and no team is going to give up a proven commodity for a player with an uncertain future. There's still a chance Rivers can turn things around.
If he does, he'll be considerably more valuable to the team then he is right now.