Veteran point guard Livingston to take heat off Williams, mentor Taylor
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Shaun Livingston had it all; size, speed and an innate basketball acumen coming out of high school that NBA scouts drooled over.
The Illinois native's skill set was so valued by talent evaluators when he was starring at Peoria Central H.S. in 2004 that the Los Angeles Clippers decided to take the 6-foot-7 point guard with the fourth overall pick in that June's draft.
After spending the first three years of his career trying to live up to that seemingly limitless potential, including posting career-best averages of 9.3 points and 5.1 assists per game during the first 54 games of the 2006-07 campaign, Livingston saw his days as a fast-emerging NBA point guard come to a crashing halt on the night of Feb. 26, 2007 in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats.
An awkward landing following a missed layup that evening literally shattered the then-21-year-old guard's left leg, disclocating his knee cap and severely tearing his ACL, PCL, MCL, patella and tibia-femoral joint.
It was an injury that made all the sports highlight packages that night, though several networks warned viewers that they may wish to turn away rather than watch the gruesome spectacle.
The injury also forced Livinston to miss the entire 2007-08 season, and upon his return he managed to log only 22 games over the next three years combined, making brief stops in Miami and Oklahoma City on his long journey back toward regular playing time.
Fortunately for Livingston, he discovered there was another way to play in the NBA, with his brain and basketball instincts rather than his natural gifts.
"I had to [reinvent my game]," Livingston admitted earlier this month after signing on as the Brooklyn Nets' backup point guard for the upcoming 2013-14 season.
"I relied a lot on my speed, quickness and athleticism at an early age, because I was still learning the game," the now 27-year-old, ninth-year pro revealed. "But it did make the game easier. Since the injury, I’ve really had to slow down my game, really think the game through and find a niche. That’s how you can create longevity for yourself in a career."
After struggling for those first three seasons to find his "niche", Livingston finds himself in a perfect situation with the rebuilt, reloaded championship-starved Nets.
With new head coach Jason Kidd and general manager Billy King desperate to find some point-guard help behind starter Deron Williams this summer after the free-agent defection of reserve point man C.J. Watson to Indiana, Livingston received a welcome call from Brooklyn's braintrust.
"It really wasn’t a hard sell," admitted Livingston, who averaged 6.3 points and 3.3 assists while playing 66 games for Washington and Cleveland last season as one of the game's more reliable reserve playmakers. "It was just more so how they wanted to play and where they saw me fitting into the team, fitting into the system, my role on the team. It’s a great opportunity for me to continue to learn and to expand my journey."
That journey will likely put Livingston back in position to reach the NBA playoffs next spring for the first time since the 2005-06 campaign, when he helped the Clippers reach the Western Conference semifinals before a tough seven-game series loss to Phoenix.
"That’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing basketball," Livingston harkened back. "Because of the competitiveness, it’s just a different game. It’s almost like night and day from the season, because everything’s magnified, everything’s under the microscope, all the little things, having the whole city behind your back. It’s great."
With second-year point man Tyshawn Taylor eager to battle Livingston for minutes, and Williams likely to get the lion's share of playing time after ranking 16th in the league last year in minutes played with just under 36 1/2 per night, Livingston knows the Nets aren't asking him for more than he can give.
But that doesn't mean he won't push to make a significant difference every time he's afforded the opportunity to step on the floor.
"I think just really trying to relieve a lot of stress and minutes off of Deron, game-in, game-out, through the wear-and-tear of the season," Livingston said of his role here in Brooklyn. "Just come in and bringing more of a steady hand running the offense, being able to use my versatility and my size, also to defend multiple positions."
Though he knows his days as a blinding blur of a ballhandler are long gone, Livingston feels he's ready to be the perfect back-up man behind Williams, and perhaps even a mentor to the still-developing Taylor during the 82-game grind of the upcoming campaign and into the playoffs.
"I'll never get back to where I was, the athletic ability will never really be there," Livingston said. "But the situation in Brooklyn, it’s a great opportunity for me and it’s an attractive situation,
"Most importantly, I'll have the ability to be competitive, right away. As well as the opportunity to play for and learn from one of the greatest point guards to play in Jason Kidd in his first opportunity to coach. And also to play with Deron Williams, one of the better point guards in the league."