Warriors

Shaun Livingston fought back to his dream, but it was time to say goodbye

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AP

Shaun Livingston fought back to his dream, but it was time to say goodbye

Shaun Livingston spent a full year stealing glances at his hazy future, and the last three months he simply stared into it. Not until this week, though, did he have clear visibility.

His heart was whispering, urging him to play another year. In the NBA. Only the NBA.

His mind was doubting, questioning whether he had it in him.

His body? Well, it was barking and shouting, more than 12 years of agony and aches and constant maintenance blistering his ear and begging him to let it go, to devote himself for labors much less demanding than that of another eight or nine months and finally accept the life he knows is waiting.

So, on Friday, one day after his 34th birthday, with family and friends and folks in the media seeking resolution, Livingston took to Instagram to announce he was retiring.

His final season was a slog, as signs of physical decline surfaced. His lateral quickness was diminishing, hurting his defense. His offense came and went, fine one night and absent on another. His pregame routine required extended therapy, and still, he needed additional rest. He was one of the early examples of a load management program.

“It’s getting harder,” Livingston conceded after a shootaround in March in Houston. “The aches linger a little longer, but I’m still enjoying it. Can’t say that my body always does.”

It was after some postseason reflection and listening to his mind and body, and following both, that he was able to put a bow on a career once so dramatically altered there was rational fear it would end at the profoundly unfair age of 21.

Livingston, who spent 14 seasons in the NBA, walks away after the five best years of his career. He was a valuable reserve on a Warriors team that won three championships and made five consecutive trips to The Finals. After an eight-team journey during which he never spent more than three years with one employer, he landed on the free-agent market for the umpteenth time and found the Warriors in July 2014.

He signed a three-year contract and by its conclusion was calling Oakland “home.” After resurrecting and stabilizing his career, he became a free agent in 2017. Not for a moment did he consider shopping for a bigger role or a bigger contract with another team.

Minutes into free agency, Livingston agreed to re-sign with the Warriors. And when I texted him to ask why he didn’t consider going back on the market, his response spoke volumes.

“Can’t put a price on happiness.”

He was thrilled to finally find a successful franchise that understood his physical challenges and used him properly. Playing behind All-Stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Livingston’s minutes were monitored. It became evident he produced best – and was most durable – when restricted to about 18 minutes per game. He could, in a pinch, go beyond that, but he’d feel it the next day.

His steady leadership was of value. Livingston and fellow Illinois native Andre Iguodala were the twins of wisdom in a locker room that ran the gamut of personalities. Iguodala, with his unflinching wit, could play “bad cop.” Livingston, with his breezy manner and unique perspective, was the “good cop.”

Now both are gone. Iguodala traded to the Memphis Grizzlies, Livingston opting to hang up his jersey.

Ten years earlier, Livingston began his career with hopes of becoming a transformational star. A 6-foot-7 point guard entering the NBA out of Peoria, Ill. at age 18, drafted fourth overall by the Los Angeles Clippers, his game had elements of Penny Hardaway, Magic Johnson and, in today’s game, midrange scoring ace DeMar DeRozan.

[RELATED: Five most memorable moment from Livingston's Warriors career]

The most dazzling elements of Livingston’s game perished on the Staples Center floor in February 2007 with a devastating injury to his left knee. He sustained tears to his ACL, MCL, PCL and lateral meniscus, along with a dislocated knee cap and a broken tibia and fibula. So demolished was his left leg, there briefly was fear amputation might be necessary.

Livingston fought back and forced his way back into his dream. It was never better than in the last five years, which surely made his decision a little easier.

It was time to go. It just took a few months to say goodbye.

Warriors' Willie Cauley-Stein explains origin of his mouthguard grills

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USATSI

Warriors' Willie Cauley-Stein explains origin of his mouthguard grills

When Warriors center Willie Cauley-Stein smiles on the court, he puts the gold in Golden State. His teeth shine with customized mouthguards that look like grills. 

“I ain’t think it would look that good, but they looked real," Cauley-Stein described. "They fit real."

The grills are standard plastic mouthguards, embellished with extra bling created by a jeweler friend who makes specialized pieces for athletes. They’re molded in a tray, just like braces.

Cauley-Stein has been wearing a real grill since college. He keeps up the look at work with a collection of mouthguard grills in rose gold, white gold and crystal, all marked with two X’s. 

The two X’s are for a friend who passed away this summer. “His name is Rexx, two X’s, so I’m carrying that on,” Cauley-Stein explained. 

[RELATED: Slew of Warriors injuries hinders young core's development]

He also has two X’s tattooed over his left eye. Cauley-Stein’s skin is a canvas of tattoos that tell the story of his life. The gleam on his teeth gives him one more way to stand out. 

“A lotta people are like, ‘This dude doesn’t care about hoops, he’s got a freakin’ grill in his mouth!’ But it’s a mouthpiece!” he exclaimed. 

Warriors’ still-mounting injuries a big blow to young players’ development

Warriors’ still-mounting injuries a big blow to young players’ development

SAN FRANCISCO -- In the waning moments of the Warriors' latest loss Friday night, their bench resembled the front row of a fashion show more than a functioning NBA roster.

Toward the end of the bench, All-Star guard Stephen Curry sat in a black suit jacket, covering a massive cast protecting his broken left hand. To Curry's left, center Kevon Looney sat in a gray suit, his immediate future in peril as he continues to seek answers about an injured hamstring.

That type of visual has become commonplace over the last month.

Over that stretch, 11 Warriors players have been sidelined with injuries, crippling a roster that seemed armed with an outside shot of making the playoffs on opening night just three weeks ago.

The latest blow came Saturday morning, when an MRI confirmed that D'Angelo Russell had suffered a sprained thumb, sidelining him for at least two weeks. Over his previous six games, the guard had averaged 29.7 points on 48 percent shooting from the field, including a 52-point, nine-rebound performance against Minnesota, so his absence will be felt.

That's because the Warriors are in roster transition, marked by their youthful core.

When Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall were drafted in June, the expectation was that the rookies would be brought along slowly, learning behind Golden State's battered All-Star cast. The myriad injuries changed that, though, forcing both into more minutes than initially anticipated.

While Paschall has flourished in that spot (15.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 30.8 minutes per game), Poole has struggled. Since Curry's injury in the fourth game of the season, Poole has shot 29 percent from the field, and he has hit just five of his last 28 shots over his last two contests.

The trickle-down effect started on the eve of training camp, when Warriors general manager Bob Myers announced that center Willie Cauley-Stein would miss most of October with a foot strain. Two days later, rookie Alen Smailagic rolled his ankle and Looney strained his hamstring in the same controlled scrimmage.

Last month, Curry broke his hand, sidelining the guard until at least February. Two nights later, forward Draymond Green tore a ligament in his left index finger. On Monday, two-way guard Damion Lee fractured his hand.

Amid all those injuries, Warriors coach Steve Kerr trotted out his ninth starting lineup of the season Friday, with two-way guard Ky Bowman at the point. For a moment, it worked.

Midway through the third quarter, Bowman intercepted a pass, ran cross court and dunked over Grant Williams, cutting the Celtics' lead to three. Two minutes later, Alec Burk stripped Boston guard Brandon Wanamaker, setting up a fast-break layup that gave Golden State a brief 82-80 lead before the Celtics rallied and held on in the fourth quarter.

The Warriors' current reality is much different than their immediate past. After winning 78 percent of their games over five years, they now find themselves with a roster that lost Kevin Durant to free agency, while Curry and Klay Thompson's rehabs are expected to last until at least February. Their 2-11 record is the NBA's worst.

[RELATED: How die-hard Warriors fans can stay optimistic]

Minutes after the final buzzer Friday, there were reminders of potential hopes lost. Curry's hand swelled out of his cast as he walked near a team official. In the locker room, Paschall sported an ice pack on his right hand, and Poole reconciled an ankle injury that he said wouldn't affect him.

As the Warriors packed for another road trip, potentially with just eight healthy bodies for the foreseeable future, another reminder that the team's development is coming at a hefty price was evident.