The game clock in Boston last Thursday night struck zero and the Cleveland Cavaliers, after clinching a third straight trip to the NBA Finals, began embracing. In the visitor's locker room at TD Garden, the players yelled and jumped up and down and doused each other with water.
Meanwhile, almost 1,000 miles to the west, DeAndre Liggins sat with his girlfriend in his Chicago home and watched the celebration unfold on TV. Just two months earlier he was sharing a locker room with these same Cavaliers players. Then, with three games left in the regular season and following a morning walkthrough in the conference room of an Atlanta hotel, Cavaliers general manager David Griffin pulled Liggins aside. The team, Griffin said, had decided to waive him.
"I thought I played well enough to be on the playoff roster," Liggins told Bleacher Report in a recent phone interview. "I thought I had proven that I could guard the Steph Currys, Kyle Lowrys of the world."
Liggins, whom the Dallas Mavericks scooped up two days later, is quick to add that he bears no resentment toward the Cavaliers organization.
"Yeah, they cut me; sometimes life isn't fair, but it's all a part of it, and I'm glad they gave me an opportunity to resurrect my career," Liggins texted to B/R Friday morning, just hours after watching his former team earn a Finals trip without him. "That's all it's about with me."
Yet Liggins' story, which, if the Cavaliers can win four more games will ironically end with him receiving a ring, shows just how fickle life can be for NBA players from the end of the bench.
After all, it had taken him years to reach that level. A second-round pick of the Orlando Magic in the 2011 draft, he had spent the previous five seasons bouncing around various outposts all over the world. There were quick stops in the NBA with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat, mixed in with sojourns in NBA D-League cities Tulsa and Sioux Falls. Liggins even spent parts of two years playing overseas, first in Russia and then in Germany.
(There was also a gruesome domestic violence incident with a different girlfriend in 2013. Liggins since then has openly discussed the episode and, as detailed here by NBA.com's David Aldridge, has seemingly done all within his power to address his problems.)
Then in September the defending champions came calling. They were looking to add some strong defenders and bolster their backcourt depth and thought the 6'6" Liggins fit the mold. As the season inched along, the team's coaching staff became impressed with Liggins' length and athleticism and the way he was able to lock down opposing scorers.
Coming into the year, Liggins had appeared in just 57 NBA games; he suited up in 61 this year for the Cavs and even started in 19. His defensive rating was tops (among those who played in more than 23 games) on the team, and Cleveland was three points per 100 possessions better defensively with him on the floor, per NBA.com. Liggins even helped hold Curry to 4-of-11 shooting from the field while starting against the Golden State Warriors during the two teams' Christmas Day showdown. With the two franchises set to match up once again in the Finals, it's possible Cleveland may wind up regretting its decision to let Liggins go.
"He gives us that pit bull out on the floor that's, like, 'I'm here to just work. I'm going to make you work every single possession,'" LeBron James said of Liggins days after that performance, via Cleveland.com. "'I know you don't know my name yet, I know you don't know my game yet or what I'm about, but I'm going to make you work.'"
Later on in the year, though, Liggins fell out of Cavaliers head coach Ty Lue's rotation. His crooked jumper (he shot 37.8 percent from three but attempted just 0.7 a game) threw off the team's offensive spacing. Also, sharpshooting veteran JR Smith returned from injury.
Still, he thought he'd shown enough to warrant a chance to play in the postseason.
"I was shocked when Griff told me," Liggins said. "I was definitely a little bit salty at first."
"Liggs gave us a lot," Lue told reporters after the team announced the move. "I think when JR went down, we inserted him into the starting lineup to change our defense to get Kyrie off the ball and to pick up full court, be aggressive defensively—he was really good for us. Hopefully he gets a chance to go somewhere else and get an opportunity to play."
Liggins said Griffin told him that the Cavaliers were looking to bring in another veteran for the postseason run. He figured it would be a big man, but two days later Cleveland brought back guard Dahntay Jones, who had been with the team last year.
"I understand they got to stick with what they know," Liggins said. "Dahntay is a great locker room guy and friends with LeBron—he's very emotional on the bench. He's the kind of guy who's going to have his presence felt there.
"Some guys are different than others. That's not my personality."
Liggins retreated to his hotel room while the rest of the team finished preparing for their game that night against the Hawks. He called his agent, CAA's Henry Thomas, and then his sister. In an email exchange with B/R, Thomas said he was never given an explanation for the decision.
"Why would they let him go, especially this close to the end of the season?" Thomas wrote.
Liggins spent the night in his room watching movies. All he could think about was getting back to his Cleveland apartment. Only there was one problem—the Cavaliers, Liggins said, were taking a long time to book him a flight.
According to Liggins, Griffin had told him that a woman in the team's office would get back to him with flight details. Liggins claims he waited all day to hear from her.
"I texted Griff once about it, and he told me that she was at church but would get back to me," Liggins said. "I guess church lasted all day."
The Cavaliers declined to comment on the matter, stating that they don't talk publicly about situations like these and that they have no desire to embarrass Liggins. A team source added that Liggins' claims are "completely untrue. We take care of the travel arrangements when releasing a player and that standard process took place in this case as well."
Liggins suited up for the Mavericks for one game, then returned to Cleveland, where he watched his former teammates march on in the playoffs without him. He says (upon being asked) that he hasn't heard from a teammate since being released, though he did run into Jones and point guard Deron Williams in a club one night.
"Yeah, it was weird, but it was all love," Liggins says. "I've thought about all this a lot now. As long as I'm in the NBA, playing and getting better, none of that stuff really matters to me. I came from a tough background; nothing really phases me."
Yaron Weitzman covers the NBA and other things for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.