Shaun Livingston leaves Warriors a winner after saving career, finding home

Shaun Livingston leaves Warriors a winner after saving career, finding home

Shaun Livingston came to the Warriors in the summer of 2014 hoping to find a place he could call home and salvage what remained of a promising career derailed by a devastating injury.

He achieved both in Oakland.

That he was richly deserving was evident from the moment he arrived until Wednesday, when the Warriors announced they were waiving the 14-year veteran point guard.

The move was anticipated. Livingston, who turns 34 in September, was briefed well in advance, according to league sources. Though he was entering the final year of a three-year deal worth $23.7 million signed in 2017, only $2 million of his $8.3 million salary in 2019-20 was guaranteed. Utilizing the stretch provision, the Warriors will spread the $2 million in equal installments over the next three seasons.

Though it is being reported that Livingston is considering extending his playing career, it’s also conceivable he will retire and remain with the Warriors in a different capacity.

He would like that, and so would the Warriors.

Livingston is “Dot” to his now-former Warriors teammates, a reference to a Jay-Z lyric. The 6-foot-7 Illinois native spent five seasons as the restrained voice of reason in a locker room that spanned the spectrum of personalities, from the vocal abstinence of Klay Thompson to the moderating and disarming humor of Stephen Curry, and from the calculated wisdom of Andre Iguodala to the sheer boisterousness of Draymond Green.

Livingston spoke up when it was time to speak up, remained quiet when that was the more prudent option and was discerning enough to read the room and detect the difference.

The serenity was a direct result of his NBA experience. Drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers fourth overall out of Peoria Central High School in 2004, Livingston entered the league with one hand reaching for the torch carried by Penny Hardaway, who inherited it from Magic Johnson, all lengthy and creative point guards able to generate offense in every conceivable way.

Then in his third season, at age 21, came the career-threatening injury that haunts him still and will provide painful reminders for the rest of his life.

Livingston drove to the basket and landed awkwardly, in the process tearing -- take a deep breath -- the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), medical collateral ligament (MCL) and lateral meniscus. Furthermore, he dislocated his patella.

Livingston spent the next 16 months recovering from multiple surgeries, rehabilitating and, as rotten luck would have it, being released by the Clippers.

Thus began what he referred to as his journey. Returning to the NBA 20 months after his injury, he signed with Miami Heat. Three months later, Miami packaged Livingston and cash to the Memphis Grizzlies for a top-55 protected second-round draft pick.

Livingston made his way through five more teams over the next five years before finding himself back on the free-agent market and signing a three-year contract with the Warriors worth $16.6 million on July 11, 2014. With youngsters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson set at the guards of the future, the front office overwhelmingly approved Livingston as the third guard. He was the only significant offseason addition signed before Steve Kerr’s first season as coach.

Five trips to the NBA Finals and three championships later, the Warriors have no regrets. They had rescued someone who would make big plays in big games on the court -- such as his 20-point outburst in Game 1 of the 2016 Finals -- and also provide perspective in the locker room.

Livingston also has no regrets. When he became a free agent two years ago, he didn’t bother testing the market. Minutes into the negotiating window, he agreed to his current deal.

[RELATED: Kawhi's short contract could be good news for Warriors, NBA]

Asked via text message why didn’t play out the process at the time, Livingston’s reply imparted the lessons of his personal journey:

“You can’t put a price on happiness.”

Why this ESPN analyst thinks Warriors could be 'terrifying' next year


Why this ESPN analyst thinks Warriors could be 'terrifying' next year

The Warriors will enter the 2019-20 NBA season in unfamiliar territory.

For one, they won't enter the season as title favorites for the first time since lifting the Larry O'Brien Trophy in 2015 after significant roster turnover headlined by Kevin Durant's departure in free agency. For another, they will begin the campaign without star guard Klay Thompson in the opening-night lineup for the first time since 2010 as he recovers from a torn ACL. 

But that isn't enough to write off Golden State as an NBA title contender, according to ESPN's Kirk Goldsberry. 

"I'm not a betting man, but if I were, I'd be all over this bet," Goldsberry wrote in a Friday column, referring to the Warriors opening the season as +1,400 championship favorites according to Caesar's Palace. "Why? Call me crazy, but if Klay Thompson returns to action by March or April, and the Warriors are in the playoffs, they're terrifying."

Placing them in his third tier of championship contenders, Goldsberry noted that the Warriors' experience could give them an edge over other title contenders. He also proposed that sign-and-trade acquisition D'Angelo Russell could "take another leap" under head coach Steve Kerr. Russell, who was an All-Star last season, doesn't have the same defensive upside as Thompson, but gives Golden State another credible scoring threat while one half of the Splash Brothers sits on the sidelines. 

[RELATED: Why Mychal Thompson has MVP expectations for Steph]

That defensive drop-off is what concerns Goldsberry the most, especially with Thompson set to miss so much of the season while Durant and Andre Iguodala are no longer playing in the Bay. The Warriors finished outside of the top 10 in defensive rating in each of the last two seasons despite the presence of all three players on the roster. As NBC Sports Bay Area's Grant Liffmann observed earlier this week, those absences leave the Warriors with a lot of question marks on the defensive end of the court. 

The best-case scenarios for the Warriors next season involve a lot of "ifs." If Russell can effectively fill in for Thompson and if Thompson can return healthy and i the Warriors figure out their defense, then Golden State could be a force in the postseason. The Warriors will have 82 games to figure it all out, but they are still a team few teams would want to face if and when they do. 

Why Mychal Thompson thinks Steph Curry will make 500 3-pointers this year

Why Mychal Thompson thinks Steph Curry will make 500 3-pointers this year

The Warriors' roster turnover this summer has been well-documented, but Mychal Thompson things it will bring out the best in Steph Curry next season.

Curry will have to adjust to life without Kevin Durant next season, after the star signed with the Brooklyn Nets in free agency. The two-time MVP also will miss Klay Thompson -- Mychal's son -- for much of the campaign as the Splash Brother recovers from a torn ACL. Because of that, the elder Thompson thinks Curry has the potential for a record-breaking season in 2019-20.

"Now, they're not going to be as good as they were last year -- and by the way, I predict Steph is going to have 500 3s this year without having to share the ball that much back in the backcourt with Klay," Mychal said Friday on SiriusXM NBA Radio. "So he's going to come back to his MVP form we saw two years ago."

Curry set the NBA's single-season record with 402 made 3-pointers en route to the first unanimous MVP in league history in 2015-16. He did so leading a historic Warriors team that went 73-9, and Klay finished second on Golden State that season with 276 made 3-pointers. 

Klay made 241 -- and attempted 599 -- triples last year, while Curry made 354 and attempted 810. Assuming Thompson returns after the All-Star break, there could be enough touches for Curry to shatter his own record. However, summer acquisition D'Angelo Russell made just seven fewer 3-pointers than Thompson last season. He probably will take fewer shots as the No. 2 option behind Curry to start the season, but Russell's presence probably lowers Curry's record-setting ceiling. 

[RELATED: Steph comments on learning about KD's decision on plane]

Curry unquestionably will have to carry a bigger load for as long as Klay's out next season. But when his son returns, Mychal thinks the Warriors will find themselves on the same level as other Western Conference contenders. 

"[Draymond Green] is motivated to have a great year because his contract year is coming up," the elder Thompson continued.  "So I think [Curry and Green] -- and with the addition of D'Angelo Russell and the other role players that they've signed -- I think they'll be right in the mix. Somewhere between a five [or] six seed until Klay comes back 100 percent, and then they'll be ready to make their move."