The Brooklyn Nets’ training camp at Duke’s practice facilities marks a homecoming for general manager Billy King and forward Mason Plumlee.
For point guard Shaun Livingston, who was signed by King to back up star Deron Williams, it brings back memories of “what if.”
Livingston was one of the top recruits in the class of 2004, widely regarded as the best prospect after center Dwight Howard. Livingston had committed to Duke and head coach Mike Krzyzewski, but those were the days when high school players could jump directly to the NBA. Livingston, like Howard, did just that and was selected fourth in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers.
Now Livingston is back training where he almost went to school.
“I talked to Coach K, I saw him the first day. It’s 10 years removed, I think everybody knows or has an idea that I was going to come here,” Livingston said after practice Wednesday. “I think he wishes the best for the players, and I think he wishes I went to school for a year too. It’s always the what if, but at the end of the day, I feel that in my heart I made the right decision.”
Livingston would have joined DeMarcus Nelson and David McClure in the freshman class that year, and Krzyzewski told Livingston he wishes he were a part of that.
“He says, 'I wish I could’ve got you for a year,' but he says the number four pick wasn’t a bad option,” Livingston said. “That was just one of those things where it was tough. He definitely competed against all the other schools and won out, but against the number four pick, that’s a pretty tough competition.”
The other what if in Livingston’s career is how it might be different if not for injuries. He averaged just 48.3 games per season in his first three years with the Clippers while battling ailments. Then in 2007 he blew out his entire left knee and other parts of his leg, forcing him to miss the entire 2007-2008 season and play just eight games for the Miami Heat in the 2008-2009 campaign.
The same what if label is often stuck to the man who made Livingston want to attend Duke: Jay Williams, who after one season in the NBA suffered a career-ending leg injury in a motorcycle accident. Williams, Chris Duhon and Duke’s “pro-style offense” are what separated Duke from the pack during Livingston’s recruitment.
“The way they play it was perfect for a guy like me who likes to have the ball in his hands,” Livingston said.
Now as Livingston prepares for his 10th season of professional action, the 6-foot-7 floor general is thankful to be playing for Jason Kidd, one of the best ever to play his position.
“He gets it. He’s smart,” Livingston said. “He’s a thinker, and I’m a thinker.”
And even though Livingston didn’t end up going to Duke, he’s still a fan.
“I keep up, and I root for them in the tournament.”