For a lot of Cleveland Cavaliers fans, the four full seasons in between “The Decision” and “The Return” are remembered more like one long, very weird dream—the kind that fizzles out of your brain once you try to make sense of it in the morning. “Did Mike Brown really get hired a second time? Did that happen? It doesn’t seem like that would have happened.” It’s easy to equate 2010-2014 Cavs fandom to what 1996-1999 felt like for Browns backers, only instead of the franchise being “on pause”—as David Modell likes to say—they were merely staggeringly irrelevant.
Of course, there were plenty of diehard loyalists who braved the era of Luke Harangody and Semih Erden—two players who, coincidentally, will be coached by David Blatt in Turkey next season. For us, there was the promise of a competitive (distant) future, represented by Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson. Occasionally, there was also a veteran player who came on board and earned our respect and admiration, standing out in a sea of mediocrity. One such fellow was Shaun Livingston, a guy who revived his career in Cleveland long before he started killing the Cavs in the playoffs.
A former top 5 draft pick in 2004, Livingston had famously massacred his knee while playing for the L.A. Clippers in 2007. His NBA career, much like his knee, was suddenly hanging by a thread.
Reduced to journeyman status upon his return a year and a half later, Livingston bounced around from Miami to Oklahoma City, Charlotte to Milwaukee. Ahead of the 2012-2013 season, the 27 year-old couldn’t even make the cut for the Rockets out of training camp, and wound up as a part-timer with the Washington Wizards—the only team in the league arguably worse than the Cavaliers at the time. And yet, even on a Wizards club off to a 3-22 start, Shaun Livingston was deemed expendable, and was handed his walking papers on December 22, 2012. He’d shot just 36 percent from the field in 17 games with Washington, and appeared to be on the absolute fringes of the NBA talent pool.
Then came the ultimate Christmas present. On December 25, Chris Grant called and offered Livingston a spot on the Cavaliers—well actually, he just claimed him off waivers. Had another day passed, Shaun would have become a free agent and maybe would have wound up in the D-League, or playing in Europe. But instead, he joined the Cavs the next day, and was on his way to completely rebuilding his career.
When the Livingston signing was announced, it didn’t exactly make waves in Cleveland. The Cavs had a 6-23 record at the time, and hadn’t appeared on national television in about 1,000 days. Reports at the time suggested that Livingston would likely be the club’s new third-string point guard, slotting in behind Irving and, naturally, Jeremy Pargo.
"I'm excited about the opportunity," Livingston told the Plain Dealer, mentioning his respect for coach Byron Scott and interest in playing with Irving. "I'm looking forward to it."
He was asked what he would bring to the table as a veteran presence, and replied: “I hope just a steady hand, as far as advice goes. Not really getting shaken. Try to be steady, consistent as well, try to stay calm, go out there, focus on trying to get the job done."
If you watched Livingston torch the Cavaliers for 20 points in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, the words above sound like the exact verbal translation of the dude’s body language on the court. Steady, consistent, calm. He could have added, “lethal.”
To his credit, Byron Scott saw early on that Livingston had plenty left in the tank. "I've always been very intrigued with Shaun,” he told the media on the day of the singing. “I've always liked him, especially at that point-guard position because of his size and his basketball IQ. A 6-7 point guard who can pass the way he passes the ball and see the floor the way he sees the floor—we thought it would be good to give him a try. …It's a lot like Luke [Walton], another guy who just knows how to play."
Yes, that’s right, current Warriors assistant coach and soon-to-be Lakers head coach Luke Walton was also a member of the 2012-13 Cavaliers. And so were current Warrior players Anderson Varejao (obviously) and Mo Speights (less obviously). In probably my favorite bizarre stat of the 2016 NBA Finals, Golden State actually has twice as many members of the 2013 Cavalier roster on its side than Cleveland does. Only Irving and Thompson have survived the three-year, LeBron-induced overhaul of that generally horrendous 24-win team.
At this point, most Clevelanders have erased their memories of 2013—if they were even paying attention back then in the first place—but Shaun Livingston likely remembers the year fondly. Finally given a shot at regular minutes, he rediscovered his groove as a Cavalier, shooting 51 percent across 49 games, and averaging 23 minutes and 7.2 points per game. He managed to pass Jeremy Pargo on the depth chart, and endeared himself to the Cleveland faithful with his smooth moves and consistent effort on both ends of the floor.
He very well might have become Cleveland’s diamond in the rough going forward, had they not made the free agent “splash” of signing Jarrett Jack away from Golden State in the summer of 2013, leaving Livingston as the odd man out.
Playing in a career-high 76 games the following year as a Brooklyn Net, Livingston left no doubt as to his new-found usefulness as a dynamic, matchup-nightmare role player. The Warriors signed him as a free agent on July 11, 2014, the same day LeBron James announced his return to the Cavs. “We won’t miss the days of Samardo Samuels and Donald Sloan,” said the true Cavs fans. “But that Shaun Livingston guy, he was okay.”