Last month, a lot of fans were wondering if the Nets could bounce back from a slow start and a losing record. Their big name players ( former All-Stars and MVPs) looked too old and slow to play defense or grab boards or even get a shot off. The entire season and all of its hope was nothing more than a delusional Russian owner throwing money at the wind, a Frankenstein experiment gone wrong.
Don’t look now, though, because the Brooklyn Nets are in the middle of a season-changing win streak. They’ve won 10 of their last 11 and are now the seventh seed of the Eastern Conference race. Ironically, the Nets recent revitalization has not hinged on any of their high paid, former All-Stars finding their game; instead it’s all been about one man that was forgotten years ago – Shaun Livingston.
Originally picked 4th overall by the Clippers in 2004, Livingston was an adolescent phenom that will go down in history as the highest drafted high school guard of all-time. In a draft profile, Rob Bodenburg said:
“Livingston is really a magician with the basketball, possessing stunning court vision and superior ball-handling skills…he’s a pure point guard with a knack for making his teammates better. In time, he could develop into a taller version of Jason Kidd.”
Livingston’s ability to facilitate winning was seen very early in his career. Within two years, by the age of 20, he played a pivotal role in turning the 2006 Clippers into a contender for one of the only times in franchise history. During that season, Livingston played a similar role to the one he is currently playing with the Nets; he was a younger player on a team full of All-Stars and veterans that included: Elton Brand, Sam Cassell, Cuttino Mobley, and Chris Kaman. That year, the Clippers dismantled the Carmelo Anthony-led Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs before eventually losing to the Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash led Phoenix Suns.
Despite the loss to the Suns, hopes were high for the Clippers and especially Livingston, who showed flashes of brilliance during the playoff run. At the time, Coach Mike Dunleavy said:
“Our staff, we thought that he might be the best player on our team…He’s a great defensive player. He’s got a great IQ, his shooting was improving every day, and he was getting a little more of a post game. His whole game was coming around.”
But in 2007, tragedy struck. During a February game with the Charlotte Bobcats, Livingston grabbed a loose ball and made his way down the court with his long, gazelle like stride. As he went to take off, his knee buckled and gave way to one of the most gruesome knee injuries ever seen in the NBA. The crowd at the Staples Center that night turned away and went silent. Livingston’s knee looked like a warped, carnival pretzel; he had torn his anterior cruciate ligament, the posterior cruciate ligament, and the retinaculum. He had also torn his medial collateral ligament and dislocated his tibia-femoral joint and patella.
In one snap second, the Clippers and Livingston seemed to be finished. For a few moments, the doctors even informed Livingston that things could get worse. At the hospital, they warned Livingston that they might need to amputate his leg; there was no circulation, and gangrene could start to form. It all depended on the ultrasound. Fortunately, those tests came back negative and Livingston would keep his leg. Returning to basketball, however, was no guarantee.
For the next five years, Livingston worked at rehab, auditioning for a number of teams. He was signed and traded and released from some of the lowliest teams in the NBA like the Wizards, Bobcats, and Bucks. For Livingston, it was a long fall from being a star in the playoffs and eventually he had to settle on playing for the D-League’s Tulsa 66ers. Throughout it all, Livingston kept hope alive, he knew he could revitalize his career. While playing for the 66ers, Livingston said:
“I want to get back to the level where I’m playing a lead role on a team. If I have to play a backup role to get myself back to where I was, then that’s fine. But I want to be back to playing a lead role, an opportunity to play for a championship, win a championship, be an All-Star. All those goals that I had before.”
Finally, after years of proving himself again in the D-League, a legitimate opportunity popped up with the Brooklyn Nets. They were a team that had spent all of their money attracting star talent and needed to take a cheap gamble with a potentially big payoff. Enter stage right: Shaun Livingston and a 1-year league minimum contract. At the time, it didn’t make headline news, but maybe it should have.
Since Deron Williams went out with an injury and Livingston was inserted into the Nets’ starting lineup, Brooklyn has been on a roll, winning 10 of his 11 starts. It’s been so good that the $99 million dollar man, Deron Williams, has even volunteered to come off of the bench just to help the team.
Watching the Nets, Livingston’s impact on the team has been undeniable. His unselfish, team-first attitude has helped to facilitate the Nets stagnant offense. His quickness and 6’11” wingspan is a nightmare for opposing offenses (Brooklyn’s defense has improved from allowing 102 points per game to a remarkable 93). More importantly, Livingston’s fight has helped to keep the fight alive in Brooklyn. His presence alone has Kevin Garnett screaming once again, “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.”