From the sounds if it alone, it’s as if Shaun Livingston was the veteran backup point guard that the Wizards had sought – or should’ve been seeking – all along.
Now, whether that means he’ll start his first game in his return to Washington later today remains to be seen. But it wouldn’t be a surprise, especially with Wizards coach Randy Wittman hinting that changes may finally be in store after going 0-7 with the same starting lineup so far.
“I thought we needed to get another playmaker,” Wittman said. “A guy that can facilitate, maybe get us easier baskets Someone with that ability. I think he’s a very high basketball IQ player. Gives us more size too with John [Wall] out. It’s never an easy decision but one when he became available, I had some familiarity with, and I think he can help us.”
Given that Livingston arrived on Wednesday from Florida, where he had been training since being cut by the Houston Rockets at the roster deadline, it’s easy to see that his phone might’ve rung while the echo still sounded from Jannero Pargo’s ill-advised three-point attempt late that scuttled the Wizards rally at Dallas on Tuesday.
“I can fit it well just being versatile, also being a natural point guard just to kind of help guys with direction,” Livingston said. “This is my ninth year. I’m only 27 but still I’ve had a lot of experience just playing with different teams, different coaches, different players. Hopefully, I can help just with that experience on the court.”
Remember, Wall was the one who had pleaded for a veteran at the end of last season. Instead, the Wizards signed A.J. Price, who has only one more year of NBA experience. Price said he’s known Livingston since the two came out of high school the same year: 2004. While Price reached the NBA in 2009, Livingston has been in the NBA ever since.
“He was all-world before his knee injury, to be honest with you,” Price said. “He’s a good point guard. Not one of those guys they try to turn into a point guard. He’s really a point guard, and I’ve been a huge fan of his for a long time.”
Price has started every game so far this season, but he understands exactly what is at stake. His seven starts is still less than the 18 Livingston made for Washington in 2010.
“He’s only going to help the team in my opinion,” Price said. “He’ll give us what we need. I’m not sure how we’ll use him minutes-wise, but a little competition brings out the best in everybody.”
At a lanky 6-foot-7, Livingston creates mismatches on offense with his ability to pass over his defender and post up at time. He also can take pressure off whoever plays alongside him defensively because of his ability to guard the bigger of opposing guards. But running the team is Livingston’s specialty, and that’s an area where the Wizards desperately need help.
“Just I think to maximize guy’s potential, just the scoring on the wing, low post with Kevin [Seraphin], just trying to get easy buckets as well,” Livingston said. “I think everything, from what I’ve watched, has been kind if bogged down and hopefully I can help get guys easy buckets. You get a couple easy buckets you get some confidence, get some momentum you’ll play a little bit looser.”
When Livingston arrived two and a half years ago, former Wizards coach Flip Saunders gave him the platform to reintroduce himself to the NBA. It also reconnected him with Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell, who was a teammate on his first team, the Los Angeles Clippers, and has also been close with him ever since. At the end of Friday’s practice, Cassell and Livingston were having a conversation that will likely be the first of many this season.
“He played the point guard position, was very vocal with his leadership as well,” Livingston said. “Kind of instilling those same qualities in me. Just learning the games, being a student of the game, giving guys direction.”
The rest of the locker room is totally different. But it’s Livingston’s presence this time that could help the demoralized Wizards find themselves after another dismal start.
“It’s tough,” Livingston said. “I think the biggest thing is to try and get the monkey off your back that way you can play a little bit looser. Just worry about playing the game rather than, OK, now we gotta win. Playing with a sense of urgency. Really focusing and competing and bringing that everyday to practice. From the good teams that I’ve been on and the great coaches that I watched, that’s the mentality that they have, and it translates over to game night.”