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So, What IS Going on with Shaun Livingston?

What's going on with Livingston?  The short answer is, I don't have any idea.  No inside sources.  No scoop.  I have no idea how he is.  Hell, I don't even know where he is.  According to Art Thompson III, apparently promoted to Lakers 'blogger' at the OCR, he's been at Tim Grover's gym in Chicago for months, working out and now playing 5 on 5.  But that would seem to contradict Citizen clipschamps report that he was playing at Pauley a couple weeks ago. (Marty Burns of SI is another one who says that Livingston has been in Chicago 'for the past month'.)

Here's what we think we know. 

  • According to the LA Times, the Clippers offered Shaun a one year minimum contract, which he turned down. 
  • He hasn't signed with anyone yet.
  • The Nuggets and the Suns are two teams who have purportedly shown interest in the past, but there has been precious little about him in about a month.
  • Which doesn't necessarily mean much.  If you were Shaun Livingston or his agent, you'd definitely be betting and hoping on a better offer later in the summer.  After all, it was only last month that he started playing one-on-one, and only recently that he's been playing five-on-five.  The more proof he can offer that he's recovered (or at least on the road, with a decent map, maybe even a GPS), the better contract offer he's likely to command.  The downside of course is that teams will make other moves in the meantime, but Shaun has the advantage of playing point guard, and there just aren't enough of those to go around.  Given where Shaun appears to be in his rehab, every week counts, barring a major setback.

Now, let's try to get into Shaun's head a little.  Why didn't he sign with the Clippers?  After all, this is the team that drafted him, and he's been through 18 months of rehab with the training staff.  Where is the loyalty?

The loyalty question is probably overstated.  Livingston was under contract to the Clippers when his knee imploded.  To say that the Clippers 'stood by him' through his rehab is really to misrepresent the situation.  The Clippers did nothing extraordinary - any team would have done as much or more.  What are they going to do?  Waive him?  They'd still have had to pay his guaranteed contract, so they'd be saving Jasen Powell and Richard Williams' time and one roster spot.  Big deal.  No team in the NBA would waive an injured lottery pick while there was any hope for a recovery.

Then there's the flip side.  Was Livingston insulted that the Clippers didn't make a qualifying offer and renounced his rights?  Give me a break.  It's a business, and Livingston and his agent know full well that the Clippers couldn't tie up $6M on damaged goods for next season.  So assume that, beyond simple inertia and familiarity, Livingston felt neither compelled to remain with the Clippers, nor anxious to get away.

He most likely is looking for three things:  money, security, and opportunity.  If the Clippers offered one year, that really only covers one of the three, and that at the minimum.  It remains to be seen if he'll get a better offer, but he can hope, and I for one would not be surprised if he does.  But the money and security issues are pretty straightforward - the more money, and the more years (a player option would be the best for him if he expects to make a full recovery) the better.

Opportunity is another question.  The Clippers just signed a free agent, all-star point guard to a five year contract.  (They also signed two veteran backups, but I think you have to assume that Livingston is not intimated by competing for a job with the likes of Jason Williams and/or Jason Hart and their one year contracts.)  Furthermore, if you're Livingston and you are realizing that your NBA future may be on the wing, the fact that the Clippers spent consecutive lottery picks on a two (Eric Gordon) and a three (Al Thornton) does not bode well for future opportunity.  Bottom line - a job with the Clippers figures to be as a versatile back up in the best case scenario.  That may turn out to be his ceiling, given the seriousness of the injury, but you can't blame him for looking for a better situation. 

I think you have to look at the unique NBA talent that is Shaun Livingston.  Obviously, he's hurt and may never be the same, but the fully healthy package offered a combination of size, quickness, length, handle and vision not often seen.  On the minus side, he can't shoot much, and he's yet to show a penchant for taking over games. 

Still, there is a profile of an NBA team that might be very interested in Livingston.  One characteristic might be a team with a decent solution at point guard this season, looking at a problem in the near future.  Maybe their starter is aging, or maybe he's coming up on free agency.  Such a team might be willing to take a flyer on an injured former top 5 pick (who's still only 22, I might add) as a possible future starter.  Livingston must be realistic enough to realize that he has basically no hope of starting anywhere this season - the next best thing would be a team that needs to identify a near future starter. 

Phoenix might fit this description.  Steve Nash is 34, and the Suns have a team option for next season.  His shelf life in Phoenix is 2 years at the most, and there is absolutely no one waiting in the wings.

Or Dallas.  Jason Kidd is 107 (or thereabouts), and his knees are even older.  The fact that Kidd can't shoot also means that Carlisle's Mavs could develop a particularly style of play, and in a perfect world plug a recovered Livingston in for the aging Kidd and not miss a beat.

The Lakers are another team that kind of fits the profile.  Current starter Derek Fisher is 34 like Nash.  The difference is that the Lakers do have Jordan Farmar, so at best Livingston would be going into a situation where he was starting out behind a 21 year old on the depth chart.  That hardly sounds like a great opportunity.  Furthermore, as many people pointed out in the comments attached to the recent Livingston FanPost, Shaun's lack of outside shooting is not a good match for the triangle or for anyone sharing the court with Kobe Bryant.

The other type of team that might be interested in Livingston (and in fact, the one that makes the most sense to my mind) is any team making do with a combo guard at the point.  There are more of these than you might think.  There is a dearth of true point guards in the NBA.  Furthermore, there are a number of sublimely talented basketball players, who just happen to be under 6'3".  These guys, sometimes called scoring points, sometimes called tweeners, have great scoring ability, but tend to be too small to defend NBA wings.  If they end up playing the point, it's not their natural position on offense, and if they end up playing the wing, they struggle on defense.  Ideally, they could play on the wing on offense and the point on defense. 

Voila, in Shaun Livingston you have the yin to that yang.  He's a true point guard, fully capable of running the offense, but also a big and very effective wing defender. 

Monta Ellis.  Gilbert Arenas.  Allen Iverson.  These are all shooting guards, scorers, who have played (or will play) much of their careers essentially out of position at the point.  Golden State in particularly should take a long look at Livingston.  It's a long shot to be sure, but imagine the backcourt of Ellis and Livingston in a few years if Shaun is able to recover.  (Washington makes less sense, and Denver almost none.  The Nuggets desperately need a point guard, but by trading Marcus Camby for nothing they seemed to indicate that Iverson will not be back next season.  Livingston is too far away from contributing, and Iverson is too close to the door, for this to make much sense for the Nuggets.)  Then there's free agent Ben Gordon.  Any team interested in taking a chance on Gordon should consider bringing in Livingston and starting them together in the future.

Today is August 21.  It's a little over five weeks until the opening of NBA training camps on September 30th.  I would expect Livingston to sign somewhere before then - teams will want to take him through a full camp, I would think.  I still hold out some hope that he could be a Clipper, but it depends almost entirely on what other teams are willing to offer him.  If he gets what he thinks is a better offer, good for him.  If not, the Clippers can make room on the roster by waiving second round pick Mike Taylor, whose contract is not guaranteed until the season starts.  The Clippers are the one and only team who can have Shaun's Bird rights for next season, so all else being equal (i.e. if he only gets one year minimum offers, and his opportunities are not significantly better) one would think he'd choose to sign with the Clippers in that scenario. 

But if he signs with the Lakers and eventually becomes an All Star, then just put a bullet in my temple.