As I understand it, there are two major arguments against keeping Shaun Livingston this summer:
1. With John Wall at point guard and Gilbert Arenas coming back, we don't need Shaun anymore.
2. He'll command too much money for someone who has such a long injury history. (I question this, but I'll leave that argument out of this post).
Both those arguments are understandable, on a theoretical level. Why go too far into our cap space for a bench player that plays the same position as our franchise cornerstone? Why risk a long-term contract on a guy with that kind of injury history? Why let two months of great play (if that) overshadow the rest of Livingston's career?
But in my opinion, they also kind of miss the point when it comes to Livingston's importance. I realize I'm treading into the dreaded "but he has great intangibles!" argument, one I like to avoid a lot. But I also think Shaun Livingston is a special case where they make a real difference. A difference that makes re-signing him extremely important, even with the two caveats listed above.
I'll try to explain - and quantify what I'm suggesting - below the jump.
Shaun Livingston's end of the season statistics were pretty damn impressive, to be sure. In 26 games with the Wizards, Livingston averaged 13 points and 6.2 assists/36 minutes while posting a 14.4 PER and a 58.2% true shooting percentage. Those are really great numbers who uses as few possessions as Shaun does. But even I realize that it's hard to imagine Livingston shooting that well again. Shooting percentages are a bit flukey, and Livingston's shooting was so out of line with what he was doing even when healthy.
But there's no denying this fact: Livingston's presence made many of the other players on the team better. In particular, our three young players that have been sharply criticized over the years: Andray Blatche, Nick Young and JaVale McGee. For most of the year, those three were drifting, not showing the kind of improvement we all hoped to see. Blatche certainly started off well, and showed more than he had in previous seasons, but he also saw his production take a hit and his attitude suffer a bit. McGee was buried on the bench, while Young went in and out of the rotation. But by the end of the year, all three looked a lot better than they did at the beginning of the season, and while there are many reasons for that (playing time, individual development, etc), Livingston deserves a lot of credit for setting a good example with his work ethic and for getting them the ball in the right spots.
To illustrate this, check out those three players' numbers with and without Livingston on the team. (Note: I'm using the 25-game mark instead of the 26-game mark because that coincides directly with October-February vs. March-April. Also, Livingston barely played in his first game, so I think it's ok).
Andray Blatche before Shaun joined the team: 11.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists on 49.4% shooting in just under 24 minutes per game.
Andray Blatche after Shaun joined the team: 20.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists on 46.1% shooting in 36.5 minutes per game.
Nick Young before Shaun joined the team: 7.2 points, 1.4 rebounds, 0.7 assists on 40% shooting and 42% shooting from three-point range in 16.9 minutes per game.
Nick Young after Shaun joined the team: 11.4 points, 1.3 rebounds, 0.6 assists on 44.2% shooting and 38.4% from three in 23.7 minutes per game.
JaVale McGee before Shaun joined the team: 3.8 points, 2.1 rebounds on 51% shooting in 11 minutes per game.
JaVale McGee after Shaun joined the team: 10.1 points, 6.7 rebounds on 51% shooting in 23.4 minutes per game.
Now, again, clearly increased playing time mattered, and clearly, this is a very incomplete exercise. But it appears Livingston's presence made a big difference for all these guys. In fact, if you break this down even further, Young and McGee in particular played so much better in April than they did in any other month. April, of course, just so happened to be the month where Livingston got the most playing time.
So we've seen how Livingston's presence may have helped save the development of our young players, at least temporarily. We've seen how he's developed a great rapport with Sam Cassell and how he always comes prepared for games. He's always one of the first ones out practicing before games whenever I go, whereas Blatche, Young and McGee tend to lag a bit further behind. These things matter when you have a young team, like the Wizards will going forward. You need guys to help show them the way, and it doesn't hurt that Livingston himself isn't all that old.
Obviously, price matters here, and if the offers for Shaun get too ridiculous, it's not worth overpaying too much. But I don't see that happening, especially if Ernie Grunfeld comes forward with a quick offer affirming to Shaun that he's a part of the team's plans. A three-year, $9-10 million dollar deal, with the third year either a team option or partially guaranteed, is a fair deal for both sides and wouldn't cut too much into the Wizards' cap space. Ernie should make that offer right away instead of waiting around to see what happens.