Three years ago, Shaun Livingston embodied the hope of every cautiously optimistic Clippers fan. He was the 6-foot-7 point guard who was to deliver the franchise from its forlorn history. That was before a devastating injury. The Salt Lake Tribune's Ross Siler has more on Livingston's long road back, a route that goes through Orlando this week:
Shaun Livingston never has watched a replay of the breakaway that nearly ended his career, though the grotesque video from February 2007 of Livingston dislocating his knee and tearing three ligaments has been viewed more than 184,000 times on YouTube.
Livingston has no plans of watching it, either, at least not until his playing days are done. There are enough reminders already, from the brace on his left knee to his new position on the floor to his new home in Oklahoma City.
"I felt I was so young at the time,” said Livingston, the Clippers' former No. 4 overall pick out of high school. "You know, being 21, it's like some people, they're not even in the league at 21. They're not even 21-year-old rookies, so I felt like I still had a window open.”
He missed all of 2007-08, but officially made it back to the NBA last season, playing in four games with Miami and eight with the Thunder. Ahead of his 24th birthday in September, Livingston already has enjoyed two more NBA careers than most.
That eight-game run with the Thunder included one milestone: Livingston logged 33 minutes in Oklahoma City's 41-point destruction of the Clippers to end the season, coming at Staples Center on the same floor in which Livingston blew out his knee.
"I think it made him realize that he's back, he's feeling good,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "He went through a tough injury and he battled back and fought through it and he's been terrific.”
Having signed March 31, Livingston spent not even a full month with the Thunder, but he is in Orlando trying to build on the experience. The one limitation is that Livingston will not play back-to-back games either here or in Las Vegas, owing to his knee.
"My circumstances are different,” Livingston said. "Even though I've been in the league five, six years, I haven't played five, six years. I'm trying to get my legs back from my injury and continue progressing.”
He started for the Thunder in Wednesday's 94-82 victory over Boston, finishing with 10 points, six rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes. Livingston estimated he is 90 to 95 percent recovered, with his endurance and explosiveness the last things to return.
All the same, Livingston is in an admittedly different role from his days as the Clippers' point guard. The Thunder are playing the 6-foot-7 Livingston primarily as an off guard opposite Russell Westbrook, and at times as a small forward.
He played in one lineup alongside Westbrook and Kyle Weaver, and another with Westbrook and Alabama-Birmingham guard Robert Vaden. The Thunder had Westbrook, Weaver and No. 3 overall pick James Harden together in the fourth quarter.
"All of us have point guard and playmaking abilities,” Livingston said. "So it allows us to all play together in unison. I think that's what the coaches and the executive staff, they're kind of experimenting out here and letting us play with each other and build chemistry.”
Livingston did gain some experience as an off guard playing opposite Sam Cassell with the Clippers. He matched up for much of Wednesday's game against J.R. Giddens.
"I feel like my basketball IQ is high enough to where I can adapt,” Livingston said. "I'm not necessarily a better scoring guard than I am a playmaker, but I feel like I can have the ability to create mismatches by having two point guards on the floor.”
He had his moments against the summer Celtics, blocking Coby Karl's layup bid on the break, cutting for a basket as part of a three-point play and racing end to end in the final five seconds of the first half for a layup that was goaltended.
Of course, Livingston also tried to post up Bill Walker despite giving up nearly 40 pounds, but missed a fadeaway. Such are the lessons of summer league.
With Westbrook and Harden and so many others playing in Orlando, Livingston said of the summer league, "This is kind of like the start of our season.” He added that he saw himself as one of the Thunder's building blocks, though his contract is only minimally guaranteed.
He's ditched the bulky brace that stretched from his thigh to his calf for a compression model, though his buzzword for the knee still is "security." And as much as he appreciates the NBA after being away, Livingston doesn't hold a championship parade every day just for making it back.
"I think that was a victory in itself, but it's not over,” Livingston said. "In my eyes, I'm a competitor, I think I can still play at a high level, so it's definitely not over. That's just half the battle.”