In an odd, “hectic” twist of events in late December, Shaun Livingston found himself cut by the Wizards after a home game on a Saturday, catching a flight to Los Angeles on Sunday and back on a cross-country, red-eye flight to Washington on a Tuesday night to suit up against the Wizards. Plucked off the waiver wire by Cleveland, Livingston was in uniform on Dec. 26 but didn’t get to play in the Cavaliers’ 87-84 win over Washington.
But when the two teams play on Tuesday at Quicken Loans Arena, Livingston will not only play but start, with Kyrie Irving’s left shoulder injury thrusting him into the starting lineup for the next three to four weeks – and possibly the rest of the season. To say that Livingston’s season has come full circle doesn’t do justice to the circles he has already been asked to run throughout his career.
“Victim of circumstances,” Livingston said with a grin. “It’s one of those ironic seasons, I guess. Just another chapter in my crazy book. I’m good with that.”
Livingston’s book will feature two distinct chapters from his stints in Washington. He resurrected his once-promising career – one that many thought was over he suffered one of the most gruesome knee injuries ever – when former coach Flip Saunders gave him the ball and let him flourish at the end of the 2009-10 season. After proving that he could stay healthy and play, Livingston turned his time with the Wizards into a contract with Charlotte.
But, despite much fanfare surrounding his reunion in November, Livingston foundered in his second go-round and got cut before he even made it to his apartment after a loss to Detroit. After averaging just 3.7 points on 36.4 percent and 2.2 assists in 18.8 minutes in 17 games, including four starts, with the Wizards, Livingston said he understood why the team parted with him.
“That was probably some of the worst production I’ve had in years. I wasn’t really surprised the way it was going. Opportunities present themselves for a reason and maybe that wasn’t the best opportunity for me at the time…I think it was a blessing in disguise.”
As a playmaker built to create scoring opportunities for others, Livingston was misplaced on a team that had few offensive weapons. Livingston also joined the Wizards when they were in the midst of an 0-12 start and were struggling to keep players healthy. Nene was coming back from plantar fasciitis. John Wall was out. And A.J. Price and Trevor Ariza also went down, creating constant lineup turnover and confusion. The unstable environment led to problems on the court, which was evident in the record.
“The chemistry wasn’t there,” Livingston said. “I don’t think the engine parts really meshed together the way they are meshing now. Obviously John Wall is a big part of that, but it wasn’t a lot of chemistry on the team. It didn’t work out.”
Livingston said recently that Washington was “one of the worst spots” he’s been in and added that it had “a lack of structure from an organizational standpoint.” When asked to expound, Livingston tried to be diplomatic.
“The structure, system wasn’t necessarily…it’s tough to elaborate without really going overboard,” Livingston said. “It’s just sometimes I think I work a little better with more structure and the personnel, sometimes you play better with certain guys that put you in position to succeed and I wasn’t necessarily able do that for the team. I don’t think my skill set was being utilized to help guys. For whatever reason. I can’t put the blame on the coaches. Sometimes the players and chemistry didn’t fit as well.”
The Wizards replaced Livingston and forward Earl Barron, who was cut the same night, with two point guards by signing Shelvin Mack and Garrett Temple, but only Temple remains.
“It was a situation where we wanted to go in a different direction,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “I love Shaun. I’m always rooting for a guy like Shaun. Shaun went through one of the more horrific injuries that we’ve seen in the NBA and to fight his way back to where he’s back in the league, you always root for guys like that.”
Livingston wasn’t necessarily disappointed about being unemployed for the second time in a year – the Wizards signed him a few weeks after Houston waived him in a cost-cutting move – because he had garnered interest from several teams, including Cleveland, upon his release.
“I knew [Cavaliers Coach Byron] Scott was a fan of my game a little bit and once I got the call, I was pretty much prepared,” Livingston said.
And, any doubts about his health or ability to make positive contributions to a team have been resolved in Cleveland, where has been a valued reserve and serviceable replacement when Irving has been forced to sit because of injury or illness. In 31 games, including three starts, with the Cavaliers, Livingston is averaging 5.9 points on 49.7 percent shooting and handing out 3.4 assists in 20.4 minutes; a marked improvement from his output in Washington.
“When you’re in the right system, right fit and you got the right structure, it’s easy to see certain players blossom,” Livingston said. “That was a key for me. I have a little bit more of a free flowing offense as well as a coaching staff that believes in me. Not that the Wizards didn’t, I think they definitely believed in me but sometimes it takes both management and the coaching staff to be on the same page.”
The last player to wear No. 2 before Wall was drafted No. 1 overall in 2010, Livingston was cut almost three weeks before Wall made his eventual debut. He is the only player to suit up for at least 15 games with the Wizards over the past three seasons and never play alongside Wall.
“It would’ve been fun to play with him, I mean, he has a lot of energy out there on the court and that’s kind of contagious and I think that’s really what’s helped them, get off to a better start,” Livingston said. “He’s obviously one of the most athletic guards we have in this league. A guy like that is kind of game changer, in the sense of his athletic ability and what he can do to make other guys better.
“He was on the mend, just getting back,” Livingston said, when asked what he was able to see as Wall’s teammate. “I think he had just started jogging a little bit. He had a few setbacks, not really there mentally. So I think that was maybe the last portion” of his rehabilitation.
Livingston said his time in Cleveland has been “a godsend” and now he could possibly finish the regular season as the starter, beginning against the team that had no use for him.
“I think coming full circle, going against the team that cut him earlier this season, it should be interested to see how it plays out,” Scott said. “It’s kind of weird. But it’s also a blessing, No. 1, that he’s back playing and he’s healthy and he’s playing well. He stuck with it through all the hard times that he’s had to face with the surgery and the injury that he had to be able to be back at this point in his career is unbelievable. It just shows the type of courage and grit and determination that he has as a basketball player.”