Shaun Livingston is having a career season for the Nets, and has arguably been their most valuable player.
The question is, will he stay? Or will he go?
Nets GM Billy King made it known publicly Friday during his pregame news conference that the team’s top priority heading into the offseason is re-signing Livingston.
“He’s a free agent, so come July 1, I’ll meet with him and his agent, and try to keep him here. He’s priority No. 1,” King said. “He’s been pretty successful for us, and helped us win games.”
The biggest problem, in terms of keeping Livingston, is how much -- or rather, how little -- the Nets can pay him. Because they don’t have his Bird rights -- which would enable them to exceed the salary cap to re-sign him -- the Nets can only offer him at most their entire taypayer mini midlevel exception, or three years and around $10 million.
Livingston is currently making the veteran’s minimum. It would be a raise, but it’s possible he could get more elsewhere.
“I think the market will set itself, and then he’s got to make a decision on what’s best for him,” King said. “Do you take a million more to go play and lose? I think that’s where players choose to make those decisions.”
Livingston’s impact has been big. While his numbers (8.0 PPG, 3.1 APG, 3.1 RPG) don’t blow you away, his contributions go far beyond the stat sheet.
Many nights, the Nets ask Livingston to guard the other team’s best player. In their two biggest wins of the season -- at Oklahoma City and at Miami -- Livingston played terrific defense on Kevin Durant and came away with a huge deflection on the Heat’s final possession to clinch a Brooklyn victory.
Livingston is the perfect player for Nets coach Jason Kidd’s system: a versatile defender who is adept at switching and doesn’t need the ball to be effective.
Kidd, remember, was instrumental in convincing Livingston to join the Nets back in the offseason. The two have the same agent, Jeff Schwartz. Deron Williams is also represented by Schwartz.
Livingston has said all the right things when asked about his impending free agency. “It feels good to be wanted,” Livingston said, when asked about King’s comments. “But my focus right now is on the season and the playoffs. I just want to help my team win games and just keep getting better on the court each game.”
The question then becomes, how do other teams around the league value Livingston? Is the 28-year-old a starting NBA point guard, or simply a product of a system that maximizes his talents?
Brooklyn’s season turned when Kidd inserted Livingston in the starting lineup at the start of the new year. In 122 minutes with Livingston playing with Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, that five-man unit has produced a 15.9 net rating.
You have to wonder how much money teams will be willing to commit to Livingston given his past injury history. He has set a career high in minutes played, though. Another factor: Assuming Brook Lopez is healthy and Pierce and Garnett come back, Livingston would probably come off the bench next season -- does he want to do that?
Given how much he’s already had to endure, if there’s anyone who deserves to cash in, it’s Livingston.
Now it’s just a matter of whether that will be with the Nets or someone else.