This is what’s known as a costly injury for everyone
Watching Shaun Livingston blow out his left knee Monday night was the most heartbreaking scene since Bambi’s mother got shot in the meadow.
If the sight of the likable Livingston writhing in pain wasn’t discouraging enough, there’s this harsh realization: The fate of the franchise hit the deck along with him.
The cold facts: Both sides could lose substantial money from this horrific injury.
As Livingston’s displaced kneecap told Coach Mike Dunleavy what the MRI would confirm the next day -- Livingston was done for the season -- Dunleavy also thought about how well the young point guard had played in recent practices where he looked ready to make that long-awaited leap. He even allowed a “poor us” thought for the team. One other thought crossed his mind: Livingston’s coming up on a contract year.
The Clippers can sign Livingston (who is guaranteed $4.4 million in 2007-08) to an extension before next season, just as they signed Chris Kaman to a five-year, $52-million extension last fall.
Surely the Clippers would have had to commit to Livingston. They’d already made a philosophical commitment to him when they kept him out of trade discussions that could have brought, say, Allen Iverson to the Clippers.
Now there’s no way they can tie up big dollars in Livingston. This could wind up costing him upward of $40 million. It hurts just writing that, and it’s not even my money.
In the best-case scenario, Livingston will return to the court next fall. That’s one possibility team physician Tony Daly laid out. Then again, it could take a full year. We’re talking about a torn anterior cruciate ligament, a torn medial collateral ligament and a torn posterior cruciate ligament, a torn lateral meniscus and a dislocated kneecap.
“No one’s seen a lot of these,” Daly said.
There’s a chance his knee could get stiff after the surgery. There’s a chance, on the other extreme, that it might not be as stable.
Here’s the one thing we know for certain about Livingston: He’s injury prone. It’s undeniable. His high-water mark for games in his three seasons is last year’s 61. He sat out 39 games because of a dislocated right knee and 12 with torn cartilage in his shoulder as a rookie. A bad back kept him out of the first 21 games last year. Now he’ll miss the final 26 games this season, off a play that didn’t even involve another player, just an awkward landing after a layup.
The future of one of the expected franchise cornerstones is in doubt and guess what goes out in the mail this month? Clippers season-ticket renewal forms! Featuring new and increased prices! Somehow I don’t think the idea of paying more for a diminished product will be that appealing. So while the payroll increases (Kaman’s salary more than doubles next season, to $8.6 million), the season-ticket base could decrease. You don’t need Alan Greenspan to tell you that’s not a good economic situation.
The Clippers thought they were all set at point guard for now with Sam Cassell and down the road with Livingston. Now Livingston’s career is in jeopardy, while Cassell, under contract for one more year, has looked every bit of age 37 this season.
The Clippers have to look at a point guard with their first-round draft pick (they also could gain Minnesota’s first rounder if it’s not among the top 10). That’s why I spent most of the first half of Wednesday’s Clippers-SuperSonics game watching Texas and Texas A&M; on TV, scouting D.J. Augustin and Acie Law IV. Liked the freshman Augustin’s elusiveness and the senior Law’s decision-making and toughness in crunch time, when he made a three-point shot to send the game into overtime and another to send it into double OT.
Clippers officials say they’re focused on the immediate task of getting to the playoffs with what they have now.
They’re currently in eighth place in the Western Conference and not completely dead in the playoff race, simply because the Denver Nuggets haven’t committed to defense, the New Orleans Hornets have been even more injury-prone than the Clippers and Kevin Garnett seems headed toward a showdown with Kevin McHale.
But even if they get in, they’re looking at a seventh or eighth seed, a first-round matchup with Phoenix or Dallas, and a quick trip home.
Dunleavy planned to lighten Cassell’s workload this season to keep him fresh for the playoffs. That plan’s gone now, and the ailing Cassell can expect plenty of 35-minute nights.
“If I break down, I break down,” Cassell said. “But I’m going to give it my all.”
As much as I love Cassell’s honesty, that quote doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, does it?
They were a game away from the conference finals last year, so anything short of that means they’ve regressed -- whether they go to the playoffs or the lottery.
At this point they’d be better off with a higher draft pick to choose their point guard of the future -- a future that’s murkier than ever.
J.A. Adande can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more by Adande, go to latimes.com/adandeblog.