At this point, the games themselves really aren't that interesting. Last night was no exception. The Wizards hung around for three quarters against a very good team, but then Jamal Crawford caught fire and the Hawks pulled away to get the win. It was pretty ho-hum, all things considered.
So really, we're left with digging for storylines that will affect how the Wizards act this summer. One such storyline, of course, is the fate of Shaun Livingston. Obviously, the whole Livingston angle is a huge, multi-layered story in and of itself, one that I'm working on telling as we speak. But perhaps the scariest layer of that story from our perspective is that it may continue in another city next year.
So from that perspective, it was really interesting to talk to Livingston last night after the game.
First, let's set the scene. Normally, Livingston is among the earliest Wizards to emerge to talk to the media, but tonight, he was nowhere to be found. As it turned out, he was taking an extended soak in the whirlpool as a way to help his body recover from playing over 40 minutes in back-to-back nights. A number of media folk waited around until finally a Wizards PR guy told everyone that Livingston was "gonna be a while." Everyone left except me and a Comcast SportsNet crew, because neither of us had deadlines to worry about. Finally, Livingston emerged, dragging his clearly sore body from the training room to his locker. He saw us glancing at him and immediately said, in a friendly way, "You guys ready? Let's get this over with."
The questions veered from the game itself ("Be careful what you ask for," he said, smiling, when asked about all the minutes he was playing) to larger topics that I wanted to cover, like his injury recovery, his jumper, etc. But eventually, the topic of this summer came up, and Livingston definitely seemed like he was positioning himself in a potential contract negotiation.
"[My time here has been] beneficial, productive, and it's been a great opportunity for me. I'm thankful for that and I'm trying to make the most of it. [But] we'll see [about next season]. It's a business. You got to see what happens. I was on the outside looking in, now I'm on the inside and I hope to stay that way."
"Like I said, it's a business," he said a little later. "At the end of the day, [the Wizards] gave me a chance because they felt I could help the team, and it was an opportunity for me, so at the end of the day, it's a win win. Hopefully things turn out for the better for both sides."
Nothing too crazy, though from experience, I know that, whenever you're trying to make a point in a non-combative way, you start with positive reinforcement before going into what you really want to get across.
Eventually, trying to find a good way to end the interview, I asked him about what type of growth he's seen from some of the other young guys on the team during his time here. His answer surprised me a bit.
"It's coming along, [but] we're still so far, so far from being a playoff-caliber team," he said. "I've been around winning basketball and have seen what it takes, and there's still that progression. You want to see glimpses of it if you're the coach, the organization or the players. Like I said, it's all about getting better, evaluating players, and guys stepping up."
Have you seen those glimpses, Shaun?
"I have, I have. I feel like, first of all, guys have to want to win, and that's where it starts. Then, it's making sacrifices and dedicating yourself. The little things - loose balls, making stops, all those things."
That the Wizards are still far away from being a playoff-caliber team is pretty damn obvious. So obvious that it's odd to hear someone saying it so explicitly. Livingston certainly didn't need to sell me on that point, and I'm pretty sure it's a little late in the season to be selling that point to his teammates.
But every word a non-Gilbert Arenas athlete says has a purpose, so what was Shaun's purpose? Perhaps he's trying to send a message to the organization, as if to say, "I want to be with an organization that's dedicated to winning, and I need to know this organization is fully committed to all the steps you need to take to win." This isn't to say that Livingston definitely doesn't want to be a part of that road. I don't know that, and neither does anyone. But it could be a way of Livingston throwing a bargaining chip into this summer's free agency negotiations.
Here's hoping the "I have, I have" portion of his answer was coming straight from the heart and not merely a way to avoid the question, because Livingston leaving would eradicate possibly the only good thing that's happened to this team all season.