Kings (0-1) at Heat (0-1)
** 2007-08 stats **
Scoring: Kings eighth (102.5), Heat 30th (91.4)
Shooting percentage: Kings 10th (46.4), Heat 25th (44.3)
Scoring defense: Kings 24th (104.8), Heat 14th (100)
Shooting defense: Kings 22nd (46.6), Heat 25th (46.8)
Assists: Kings 29th (19.1), Heat 24th (20.5)
Turnovers: Kings 30th (16.1), Heat 20th (14.7)
Plus: Heat coverage in the Miami Herald, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Palm Beach Post.
Shaun Livingston was one of the best debate topics of free agency: No. 4 pick in 2004 at age 19, a rising talent beginning to give the Clippers a return on the investment at 21, a big point guard (6-7) who defended and went from shooting 41.4 percent as a teenage rookie to 42.7 to 46.3 in 2006-07. Major potential.
But he was also the guy with the awkward landing after a driving layup against the Bobcats on Feb. 26, 2007, that twisted his left knee into a gruesome, wincing sight not to be forgotten by anyone watching at Staples Center or on TV. The trauma was so severe that the Clippers' physician at the time, one of the most experienced sports doctors in the country, said he had never seen anything like it.
Livingston missed the rest of the season and all of the next. The Clips declined to give a qualifying offer for 2008-09 at $5.8 million, making him an unrestricted free agent. They still wanted him, still felt like he had potential, still felt like there was an investment and that if Livingston was going to make it anywhere it should be with the team that drafted him and waited through the recovery -- just not at that price.
When free agency started July 1, the Clippers still weren't sure he'd be able to play back-to-backs this season, or maybe even play at all. Not only did other teams call, though, other teams pursued to such an extent that the major medical risk coming back from turning the knee joint into sawdust had conversations with several clubs about a two-year deal.
That's the bottom-line testament of how some people felt about Livingston: no games since just after the All-Star break two seasons ago ... and two years, maybe with some incentives.
He got that from the Heat, tonight's opponent, and reportedly talked to others about a similar commitment, but the Kings were never mentioned. Very understandable. Signing Livingston would be a financial risk; signing Livingston for two seasons, since that apparently was the ante, would be a huge financial risk, and Geoff Petrie doesn't need risk right now.
Lots of risk. But, lots of potential reward.
No matter what, it made sense on many different levels.
*Livingston wanted a two-year commitment, and the Kings obviously were willing to do that for a backup point guard. Bobby Brown got it without proving a thing in the NBA. He technically got one season and an option for 2009-10, but the option is his, so Sac is on the books for two until Brown says otherwise.
The money difference is that the minimum for a player of Brown's experience (zero years of service) is $442,114 and for someone with Livingston's seniority (four years) it's $854,957. That could have been enough to nose the Kings into the luxury tax, depending on whatever other balancing moves they made, and you'd better be awfully sure about a guy or plotting a long playoff run to go into the luxury tax for a backup who hasn't played in about a season and a half because of a historically bad knee injury.
*Because Livingston is still working his way back, he needed to be someplace that didn't demand an immediate contribution. That's Sacramento. The Kings are all about big picture and, with Beno Udrih in place as the starter, could have ridden along with someone with a much higher ceiling than Brown. If it took until midseason before Livingston's knee allowed real minutes in back-to-backs, fine.
*Livingston is 23. That'll work in the youth movement. If he hits, big payoff.
*He was a backup point guard on the market the same summer the Kings went backup-point-guard shopping. Bobby Brown: undrafted in 2007, played last season in Europe, summer-league sensation in '08. Shaun Livingston: his own obvious drawback, but an unquestioned talent.
*Imagine a backcourt with 6-7 Livingston and 6-7 Kevin Martin. A coach could be in mismatch heaven throwing that size at defenses.
The debate itself is old because Livingston signed with the Heat four weeks ago today. But the Kings are in Miami tonight, they have uncertain depth at the point, they're looking to build for the future and have the time to wait through an injury recovery that could mean a nice return on the back end, so it's still good charting material.
So far: Livingston played just twice in the preseason, though it was, of note, a back-to-back of 18 and 17 minutes. He went four minutes in the Heat opener Wednesday against the Knicks, with rookie Mario Chalmers starting and getting 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.