Shaun Livingston isn't on the level of the stars that have been recruited by Brooklyn in past offseasons, but the Nets simply aren't in a position to lose such a valuable asset and insurance policy in order to chase another name. Re-signing Livingston to the mid-level exception won't make major waves, but it should be the top priority this offseason nonetheless.
Livingston, now 28 years old, certainly has come a long way in just this season alone, as he clearly wasn't viewed as a big-time player by teams around the league just a short while ago.
It's telling that Livingston signed a one-year deal this past offseason for $1.2 million, as you would certainly assume he would have taken more money or a longer deal if it was available to him elsewhere. Livingston has bounced around the league since his devastating knee injury, and it looked like his signing wasn't much more than an afterthought.
Despite his small salary and journeyman reputation, however, Livingston has consistently been one of Brooklyn's best players over the course of this season. Whether it was filling in for star point guard Deron Williams while he was injured or playing alongside him in the same backcourt, Livingston has shown the intelligence and skills to change roles based exactly on what Brooklyn needed, as Devin Kharpertian of The Brooklyn Game explains here:
Shaun Livingston's finally fitting in.
Eight years ago, Shaun Livingston was a budding superstar, a No. 4 overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft criticized for not utilizing his full potential to dominate games.
But in 2014, Livingston has thrived in Brooklyn as a "glue guy," standing out in the background, creating opportunities for teammates by taking subtle responsibilities and finding open spaces.
While Livingston's per game averages of 8.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists won't bowl anyone over, his impact defensively with his length and his ability to see the floor and take advantage of smaller defenders close to the rim have really opened things up for the Nets.
Since Livingston became a full-time starter on January 2, the Nets have gone 31-12 and have been one of the best teams in basketball.
Although he was criticized heavily to start the season, give first-year head coach Jason Kidd credit for recognizing what adding another point guard to the lineup in long stretches could do. After all, in Kidd's last season with the New York Knicks, he spent lots of time in successful dual-point guard lineups. Like Kidd, Livingston has his limitations as a scorer, but his vision and basketball IQ are hard to deny.
Livingston's impact on the Nets this year won't go unnoticed around the league, and fellow Eastern Conference contenders likely won't hesitate to try and pull the unrestricted free agent away this summer.
That could put the Nets in a very difficult position, as Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News broke down in a recent feature on Livingston:
The Nets, who are way over the cap and deep into the luxury tax, can only offer Livingston up to the entire mid-level exception, which is for three years and $10 million. The 28-year-old Livingston is expected to attract more in the open market, although there’s still plenty of important basketball remaining before July.
“(My enjoyment with Brooklyn and how I fit) definitely plays a factor. You have to weigh your situations, your options. The reason I’m in a situation where I can demand a contract is because I’m playing for this team, this coach, this system,” he said. “I realize that and I’m not over my head. But at the same time, it’s a business. You have to look at it like (the next contract) could always be your last.
Because the Nets really don't have the means to acquire top talent given the age and price of their roster, a lack of trade assets and limited draft picks going forward, losing Livingston would sting.
That's particularly true since Williams, who has suffered through chronic ankle problems, is on a max salary through 2016-17. Livingston is basically Brooklyn's only insurance policy if he goes down yet again, which wouldn't be a surprise given his medical history.
On the flip side, though, the Nets would also be using their best shot at an impact free agent on Livingston, if he would even accept the mid-level exception. With the rest of the roster only getting a year older, that might limit some of the upside for next year's team.
That being said, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, particularly since there are no questions about how Livingston will fit in with the rest of the core.
Nets GM Billy King knows this, and he knows how critical Livingston is to this year's team:
Billy King said re-signing Shaun Livingston is priority No. 1. #Nets— Rod Boone (@rodboone) March 21, 2014
It would be a surprise if Livingston didn't at least play the field a bit, though. This is a relatively new situation for him, as Brooklyn is his eighth team and there's been limited desire for his services over the last few years. Here's what Livingston told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News about his pending free agency:
(Free agency) will be different. I had one year (in 2010 when he signed a two-year deal, $7 million deal with the Bobcats) where it was like, okay, a little bit (of hype), but it’s not the same as this. Not even close. I don’t even know what to expect. My thing has been no expectations.
If Livingston were to take bigger money or more long-term security elsewhere, it would be hard to blame him. No one has worked harder to come back from injury and revive his career than he has, and while being a part of a winning team certainly has its value, teams that aren't ready to compete likely won't be targeting him anyway.
For the Nets, offering the full mid-level exception might not be enough to bring Livingston back, but it should be offered regardless. Livingston has earned the right to be the Nets' top priority this offseason.