Shaun Livingston brings the Golden State Warriors a whole lot of what they were missing last season, but he also brings an intriguing question: What does his arrival mean for the on-again-off-again trade talks involving Klay Thompson?
First, the news, initially reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:
Make no mistake, Livingston is a massive upgrade over what Golden State trotted out in the backup point guard role last season. Kent Bazemore proved unready to handle defensive pressure of opponents who pounced on his inexperience, Toney Douglas couldn't facilitate, Jordan Crawford was predictably unhinged in his shot selection and Steve Blake fell out of the rotation entirely.
Livingston is a beast of a defender, capable of handling both guard spots and most small forwards. His length, physicality and smarts make him yet another fantastic wing stopper on a Golden State roster that already has one of the league's best in Andre Iguodala.
Slotting him into backcourt lineups alongside Stephen Curry will allow the Dubs to hide their franchise point guard on the weakest available matchup. And if the Dubs want to get particularly nasty on defense, they can put a flat-out-terrifying combination of Livingston, Iguodala, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut on the floor together.
Use a folding chair as the fifth part of that five-man unit and you still probably have a top-three defense.
Offensively, Livingston's measured, pass-first game is ideally suited to maximize Curry's catch-and-shoot gifts. Throughout his fantastic 2013-14 campaign, Curry either created his own offense or found shots for others. He rarely benefited from setups provided by his teammates.
Though we've beaten around the bush a bit, this seems like a perfect time to get into the impact the Livingston move could have on Thompson. After all, if we're going to gush over the phenomenal fit between Curry and Livingston, we have to point out the suboptimal interplay between Curry and his brother in splash.
Put simply, Thompson finishes plays. To an almost comical degree, he misses Curry when he's open. Always searching for his own shot first (which, by the way, it's hard to fault him for), Thompson simply doesn't maximize Curry's potentially immense value as an off-ball option.
Perhaps you've heard: Curry can knock down a shot when he's open.
Without any doubt, Livingston will enable his superstar teammate to flourish as a catch-and-shoot option far more effectively than Thompson did. And it's hard to overstate the importance of that fact, as Curry needs the occasional off-ball break to avoid the fatigue that comes with running a million (rough estimate) pick-and-rolls per game.
Livingston, of course, has his weaknesses. He can't shoot with any kind of reliable range, and his durability will forever remain in question because of his willowy build and grisly injury history. Granted, he's played at least 58 games in each of the past four seasons.
But he hasn't logged more than 26 minutes per contest in any of those campaigns.
It seems for every sign that points to Livingston making Thompson expendable, there's another that indicates Golden State should keep its incumbent shooting guard.
On the one hand, having Livingston in the backcourt rotation would seem to make Thompson's shooting much more valuable. The Dubs flourished last year when the game opened up and shooters had open looks, but Livingston isn't the kind of player who keeps defenses honest on the perimeter.
You can never have enough shooting.
On the other, Livingston's overall impact on the offense figures to be a positive one. He'll run the second unit more effectively than anyone Golden State had last year, which should turn a bench bunch that severely disappointed into one that actually moves the ball a little.
It won't be hard to improve on what last year's reserves did offensively. Just think about Harrison Barnes bumbling away isolation play after isolation play and you'll surely concede Livingston makes Golden State's bench much easier to watch.
That sounds like an argument to trade Thompson.
As for defense, that five-man unit with the folding chair mentioned above goes from scary to utterly unfair if Thompson slides in at the 2. With Livingston, Thompson, Iguodala, Green and Bogut on the floor together, opponents simply wouldn't score.
That seems like an argument to keep Klay.
Here's the key thing to consider, though: The Warriors shouldn't be thinking of this like a Livingston-for-Thompson trade.
Sure, if Thompson were to be shipped out, Livingston would absorb plenty of his minutes. But Barnes and/or Iguodala would take up some of them, too.
And the Warriors would, theoretically, get Kevin Love back.
Whatever spacing issues Thompson's absence might create, Love's presence would completely erase. Having a player who can stretch the floor as a power forward—something Love does better than just about anybody—is immeasurably more valuable than having a player who does the same thing from a wing position.
Shooting guards like Thompson are supposed to keep defenses honest by hitting perimeter shots. It's a prerequisite of the job.
When big men do the things Love does from the outside, it's a luxury—and perhaps even a championship-enabling one.
And if wing scoring is still a hangup for you, remember that Kevin Martin, who scores and does nothing else, would likely come back to the Warriors in any deal for Love.
Toss in the fact that Thompson is going to eventually cost a ton of money to retain when he hits free agency (Golden State can offer him an extension this summer to avoid letting him hit restricted free agency in 2015), and it becomes clear that trading Thompson makes sense for another reason: The Warriors can't afford to keep him long term.
In the end, acquiring Livingston changes a great deal about the Warriors—most of it for the better.
But it doesn't change the logical imperative that has driven many fans, critics and analysts to tear their hair out over Golden State's hesitation to trade Thompson. Livingston or not, the Warriors should view Thompson as totally expendable if the potential return is Kevin Love.
That's no knock on Thompson, and it's also not a contention that Livingston is somehow a better player than he is.
It's merely a conclusion brought about by the facts at hand.
Trading Thompson in a package for Love elevates the Warriors to legitimate title contention. Having Livingston on the roster is a great bonus, a shrewd use of the midlevel exception and a fine way to maximize Curry's skills.
But the overarching truth about the Dubs' biggest offseason issue remains the same: Klay Thompson was, is and must be totally expendable.