Shaun Livingston has started nine games in a row, and his Brooklyn Nets have won eight of those contests. The team’s defense has improved, something it probably couldn’t help but do, and Livingston has helped steady the offense as the Nets rang up impressive wins over the Heat, Thunder, Golden State, and two different victories over the Hawks. Tuesday night’s 11-point win over the lowly Orlando Magic was probably to be expected, but the way in which the Nets went about keeping the Magic at arm’s length on both sides was performed with an alacrity that you just aren’t used to seeing from a team that started the year losing 21 of its first 31 games.
Perhaps the most surprising excerpt from the preceding paragraph is the idea that the Shaun Livingston’s Brooklyn Nets are, in a way, “his Brooklyn Nets.”
Kevin Garnett will always have the loudest voice in the locker room, Joe Johnson will remain the team’s highest-paid player and go-to scorer, while point man Deron Williams remains the ostensible face of the franchise, but for various reasons this much-needed turnaround came with Livingston at the helm. Shaun is no panacea, the team went 3-6 with him as a starter at various points through Williams’ injury-riddled season previous to this nine game span, but he is part of the reason the team has emerged as a consistent force offensively, and improved and fluid and finally capable team on the other end.
Williams returned on Monday, coming off the bench as the Nets downed the Magic, and that role continued on Wednesday – Williams and Livingston offered identical stat lines as D-Will stayed on the court for 28 minutes to Livingston’s 24. Deron says he prefers to come off the bench for the time being, so as not to disrupt the team’s rhythm on either end, and that makes sense. Williams can act as a ball dominating guard off the pine while Livingston feeds hungrier hands in the starting lineup, and Deron’s recovering ankles are barely to be trusted after two full seasons of woes to his wheels.
Deron Williams will eventually return to the starting lineup, though. The Nets can’t conjure up a brave enough face to sit the man they signed to a five-year, nearly $99 million contract in 2012, no matter how long this winning turn sustains. That’s not unique to them, most teams wouldn’t have the chutzpah to keep someone like Williams on the bench – especially when his numbers in this injury-curtailed season have still outranked Livingston’s.
For most teams, this would be an issue. For a team as obsessed with star quality as these Brooklyn Nets? It’s an anathema.
This means that it is very possible that Shaun Livingston’s career highlight could be a season-changing midseason run with an overall disappointing team, helping it claw back from the ranks of the very bad, to the realm of the mediocre. And that’s OK. That just fine, considering what Shaun Livingston has been through.
In just over a month, Livingston will try to ignore the seven-year anniversary of his terrifying knee injury, one that cost him two torn ligaments, a sprained ligament, a torn meniscus, a dislocated knee, and fracture of both the patella and the joint that leads to your tibia. That’s a long way of saying that he destroyed just about every part of his left knee, in what was basically the on-court version of the accident that hit Chicago Bulls guard Jay Williams nearly four years earlier.
What followed next was just as trying. Williams never played for the Clippers again, and after sitting out all of 2007-08 and most of 2008-09 he returned to make cameos in mere stints with both the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder. OKC kept him on for part of the following year, but they’ve been the only team to give Livingston a sense of permanence. The Brooklyn Nets are the seventh NBA team Shaun Livingston has played for in the years since his comeback in the autumn of 2008, with no team but the Thunder deciding to bring him back in consecutive years.
Now 28 and in his prime, Livingston isn’t explosive enough, nor does he play enough minutes to put up big statistics. He isn’t a per-minute wonder, and at times he looks like a defensive liability working side to side.
That’s not the point, though. The return is enough. The eight out of nine streak, after years of playing with terrible teams in Charlotte, Washington and Cleveland is enough. The deference shown by Deron Williams, a former All-Star and hoped-for franchise player, turning down a chance to start a nationally televised game against the hated Knicks … that’s enough. This could and should be the peak, and Livingston has been remarkable in his diligence to return to the league he could have potentially been an All-Star in, working on his terms.
Then again, knowing Livingston, this may not be enough. He may not want his triumphs to come in mid-January, during the snowiest belt of the NBA’s dog days. This run could keep going, all the while with Livingston at the helm.
Deron Williams may have his work cut out for him, after all.
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