10:20 a.m. update: Josh Childress took the three-year deal to play for Greek team Olympiakos. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says the contract is worth "far more than the $20 million initially reported," although no exact figures are offered. The Hawks will retain Childress' NBA rights as a restricted free agent, meaning he cannot be traded without first signing in the old country, and the Stanford product reportedly can escape from the contract in Greece after each season.
This is the remaining free-agent decision that really intrigues me, although Josh Childress jumping to Greece is good also because it's such a drastic, unique twist and because it involves the Hawks, the team with his NBA rights, and the Hawks are never far from some front-office pratfall.
Shaun Livingston is the outcome worth tracking through a prism of great promise lost, severe injury, and the risk of banking on pure potential vs. the possible major payoff at the other end of the investment.
The background: Livingston was the point guard of the future for the Clippers and one of the bright prospects of the entire league. Other clubs loved him as well. The No. 4 pick in the 2004 draft out of high school, a talented ballhandler at 6-7 with defensive skills and an improving shot (41.4 percent as a rookie to 42.7 to 46.3 in his third season while 21 years old). Then came Feb. 26, 2007, against the Bobcats at Staples Center and the gruesome knee injury that changed everything.
It was horrible to watch on TV. It was the basketball version of Joe Theismann mangling his leg on camera.
Livingston hasn't played since. That's how severe the injury was and still is, even for someone considered a hard worker willing to put in the time in rehab. The Clippers, understandably, did not give him a qualifying offer at $5.8 million for 2008-09, a decision that would have been unimaginable a year and a half earlier. Instead, in the actual world neither side wanted, the Clips have been trying to fill the hole at point guard ever since and Livingston became an unrestricted free agent.
Once regarded as a star of the future, he is 22 and already out of real fans. The Clippers still like Livingston and have interest in re-signing him and seeing the investment through, but probably only at the minimum of $854,957. Maybe another club tops that by giving a second season as a team option, but no way anyone commits serious for a guy with that injury and that much comeback still ahead. L.A. hasn't even been able to see him play two days in a row and can't even say for sure whether he'll be ready to play by December or January.
But still: 23 when training camps open, 6-7, point guard, defense, 46.3 percent.
The Clippers remain his best landing spot unless someone steps up with an unexpectedly faith-based offer, which almost certainly won't happen. The Warriors spent a conditional first-round pick to get Marcus Williams. The Magic signed 33-year-old Anthony Johnson, the Kings backup late last season, to a deal the Orlando Sentinel said was worth $3.8 million over two seasons. Livingston would have cost far less than the rate for a reserve point guard. If there was a Shaun Livingston market out there, it would have materialized.
The Clippers will have the most invested so far and therefore the most reason to want to see him make it back. The Clippers will have a position need -- Baron Davis is the starter, but Brevin Knight is the backup. And if Livingston stays with the Clippers on a one-year deal and climbs back into the NBA to get a payday as a free agent in summer 2009, L.A. will have the ability to pay him much more than if he spends 2008-09 with a new team and hits the market again in 11 months after one season with a new team.
The salary-cap aspects are technical, but, then again, the entire issue is complicated. Extensive injury vs. what could be with a successful rehab, the financial risk of signing someone who at the moment may not be ready for more than two-on-two. This may last awhile.