Logan Murdock

Shaun Livingston's perseverance constant throughout Warriors' dynastic run

Shaun Livingston's perseverance constant throughout Warriors' dynastic run

Shaun Livingston wasn't supposed to make it to this point. 

The 15-year veteran -- who announced his retirement in an Instagram post on Friday -- was supposed to be done 12 years ago when he sat on the Staples Center floor, seconds after simultaneously tearing three of the four major ligaments in his right knee. He was supposed to quit after a trip to the D-League threatened to undermine a bid to return. He wasn't supposed to show up with the Brooklyn Nets in 2013 and change his career path. And he wasn't supposed to see three titles in five seasons for arguably the best team in league history. 

But Livingston's perseverance most certainly saved the Warriors dynasty - but most importantly, it might have saved his life. 

Growing up in Peoria, Ill., Livingston's career trajectory was much different than its end two decades later. At Peoria Central High school, 166 miles outside of Chicago, he led his team to two straight state titles averaging 18.5 points, six rebounds and six assists in his senior year. The plan was to attend Duke as Chris Duhon's replacement, but a string of team workouts in Chicago changed his mind and he opted to enter the 2004 NBA draft, where he was selected fourth overall by the Los Angeles Clippers. 

Playing for LA's "other" team, Livingston - a 6-foot-7 guard armed with a 6-foot-11 wingspan - Livingston invoked comparisons to Magic Johnson. His future looked bright as he helped the Clippers reach the playoffs for the first time in a decade, averaging 7.5 points, 4.8 assists and 4.7 rebounds in the postseason. In Game 5 of the Western Conference first round, he dished out 14 assists, helping the Clippers to their first series win since 1976, solidifying his spot as LA's point guard of the future. 

Then it happened. 

During a home game against the Charlotte Bobcats in 2007, Livingston landed awkwardly following a layup attempt, causing his knee to contort on itself, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament, posterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and lateral meniscus, while dislocating his patella. While at an Inglewood hospital, doctors contemplated amputating his leg altogether.   

“My leg was deformed. My knee joint was dislocated and out of place. It was painful. Ten seconds felt like an hour,” Livingston told ESPN's The Undefeated in 2016. “It was only like 10-15 seconds. But until they put my knee back into place, it was excruciating for sure.”

"It's probably the most serious injury you can have to the knee," Clippers physician Dr. Tony Daly added in the week following the injury. 

A year later, LA didn't tender a qualifying offer, making Livingston a free agent. A brief with the Miami Heat stint gave way to another brief stint in Miami, giving way to stints with the Wizards, Bobcats, Bucks, Thunder and Oklahoma's G-League affiliate, providing a collage of failed reclamation projects. Then, with the Brooklyn Nets, he averaged 8.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 76 games -- then a career-high. 

His performance in Brooklyn set the stage for his final act in Golden State. With the Warriors -- featuring two of the best shooters in NBA history -- Livingston was the perfect throwback complement to a seemingly futuristic team. While Golden State rewrote the three-point record book, Livingston finished a season with more than 12 attempts from behind the arc. Despite the contrast, Livingston was indispensable in the team's biggest moments.

In 2016, with Stephen Curry out with a knee injury, Livingston averaged 13.8 points, 5.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds over a six-game stretch to keep Golden State's back to back title hopes alive. Weeks later, in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, he scored 20 points in a win. 

But Livingston's influence with the Warriors was defined by his constant calm in an environment that was anything but. On the right side of the Warriors' locker room at Oracle Arena, Livingston and fellow veteran Andre Iguodala's lockers were side by side, with Draymond Green and Kevin Durant sandwiched on either end of them. While Green and Durant, franchise pillars navigating the rigors of a superstar relationship, the pillars of wisdom made sure the two didn't undermine the team's fabric. All the while, Livingston's knee -- like the Warriors as we knew them -- was on its last run. 

Now, both are gone, but Livingston's journey of perseverance -- one that undermined countless negative medical diagnosis -- will live on forever. 

Warriors vs. the West: How Dubs match up against Clippers in 2019-20

Warriors vs. the West: How Dubs match up against Clippers in 2019-20

For the first time in five seasons, the Warriors find themselves in new territory entering the 2019-20 season. With Kevin Durant gone to the Brooklyn Nets, Klay Thompson rehabbing his surgically repaired left ACL and eight new players on the roster, the Warriors are not the preseason NBA title favorites. 

As the Warriors reconcile a new reality, the rest of the Western Conference has retooled with superstar talent. Over the next seven days, NBC Sports Bay Area will examine teams that are expected to challenge Golden State's Western Conference throne.

Friday's edition: The LA Clippers.

Summer transactions 

Six days into free agency, the Clippers signed All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard. Minutes later, they sent the Oklahoma Thunder four unprotected first-round picks along with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in exchange for forward Paul George, marking the most historic summer in franchise history. 

To complement George and Leonard's talents, the Clippers filled out the roster by re-signing defensive ace Patrick Beverley and big man Ivica Zubac. LA rounded out the roster with Wilson Chandler, Patrick Patterson and veteran Garrett Temple.  

Strengths 

With Beverley, Leonard and George, the Clippers have arguably the best defensive core in the league. Last season, LA ranked 19th in the league in defensive rating, giving up more than 114 points per game, making the addition of George and Leonard all the more imperative. 

Supplementing LA's star power is the league's best bench unit. Last season, the Clippers' bench averaged 53.4 points per game. Two-time reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams -- who averaged 20.0 points in 26 minutes per game -- helped lead LA's starless team to 48 wins and a six-game first-round series against the Warriors. 

Simply put, the Clippers might be the most complete team in the league. 

Weaknesses

Despite their star power, the Clippers' top two players are entering the 2019-20 season with a sketchy recent injury history. Last season, Leonard missed 22 games due to load management and looked to be hobbled throughout the postseason. Meanwhile, George -- who had offseason shoulder surgery -- is expected to be out for the start of the season. 

The Clippers are clear front-runners to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. However, injuries could cripple that goal. 

How the Warriors stack up

The Clippers -- like the Lakers --  might be the biggest hurdle Golden State faces in its quest for a sixth straight Finals appearance. 

[RELATED: Draymond knows 'no one' will want to see Dubs in playoffs]

Since losing to LA in the 2014 playoffs, the Warriors have had success against their Southern California rival, eliminating them in last year's postseason. 

However, even with the departures of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers were building a team to contend with the Warriors. Now, with Leonard and George, they have a team that can beat the reigning Western Conference champs.

Warriors vs. the West: How Dubs match up against Lakers in 2019-20

Warriors vs. the West: How Dubs match up against Lakers in 2019-20

For the first time in five seasons, the Warriors find themselves in new territory entering the 2019-20 season. With Kevin Durant gone to the Brooklyn Nets, Klay Thompson rehabbing his surgically repaired left ACL and eight new players on the roster, the Warriors are not the preseason NBA title favorites. 

As the Warriors reconcile a new reality, the rest of the Western Conference has retooled with superstar talent. Over the next seven days, NBC Sports Bay Area will examine teams that are expected to challenge Golden State's Western Conference throne.

Thursday's edition: The Los Angeles Lakers.

Summer transactions

Two weeks before free agency, the Lakers traded for superstar Pelicans big man Anthony Davis, shipping out Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and three first-round draft picks to New Orleans, giving the Lakers their next great big man. 

During free agency, Los Angeles added eight new players, including Danny Green, Avery Bradley and former Warriors DeMarcus Cousins and Quinn Cook. 

However, a month after signing Cousins -- who dealt with two serious injuries last season -- the big man tore his ACL during a pickup game. Then, 11 days later, Los Angeles signed center Dwight Howard, who unceremoniously played for the team during the 2012-13 season. 

Strengths

With a historic offseason, the Lakers seem to have their most balanced team in years on paper. The tandem of James and Davis should help with the bulk of the offensive output. The signings of Bradley and Green give Los Angeles top-level defenders, a welcome sign for a team that finished in the middle of the league in defensive rating last season. 

Last season, the Lakers were 29th in the league in 3-point percentage, putting more pressure on James' exploits. Now, with Green, Cook, Troy Daniels, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jared Dudley, the team has perimeter threats who can open up lanes for Davis and James. 

Weaknesses

Despite star power in the frontcourt, the Lakers don't have a top-flight point guard to guide the team. Last season, with Rajon Rondo -- the team's most experienced floor general -- the team was statistically worse than when he sat on the bench. 

Aside from Rondo, no other guard on the roster has averaged double digits in scoring or more than 25 minutes per game in a season. Cook, who played with the Warriors last season, struggled to get minutes on the floor in his final season with Golden State despite the Warriors having one of the worst benches in the league. 

The Lakers also took a chance on Howard, who was limited to just nine games last season with the Wizards, dealing with a backside issue that required spinal surgery. Howard's injury history, coupled with his sour relationship with the city of Los Angeles after his 2013 exit, has him looking to make good on his fourth redemption stop in as many teams. 

How the Warriors stack up

Aside from injuries and roster change, the Lakers are arguably the biggest hurdle Golden State faces in its quest for a sixth straight Finals appearance. 

[RELATED: Draymond knows 'no one' will want to see Dubs in playoffs]

The Warriors will be without Klay Thompson for the onset of the season and will try to integrate eight new faces on the roster. 

Since 2015, Golden State has been LeBron James' toughest rival -- one he hasn't beaten in a seven-game series since 2016. Now, with a superstar cast, James will have his best shot yet to overcome his Northern California rival.