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Mixed On Livingston-to-Phoenix Idea

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The Suns' summer-long search for a back-up point guard continues, and as the team looks to lock up journeyman Tyronn Lue, it appears that another westward possibility has popped up as well.

The East Valley Tribune's Jerry Brown reports that the Clippers point guard Shaun Livingston could be the next target of interest in Phoenix.  The Clips declined to put forth a qualifying offer for the long-injured 22-year-old point guard this summer, and he is now on the market as an unrestricted free agent.

The idea of Livingston in a Phoenix uniform is an intriguing one.  While it's hard to imagine the fit being a poor one for him, he might not be the sort of risk the currently constructed Suns should be looking to take. 

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There is undoubtedly no shortage of upside to signing Livingston.  As has been discussed in this space previously, he is a young player with a truly unique physique and a boatload of talent.  The 6-foot-7, 182-pound stringbean has excellent size and a special sort of passing vision as a result.  He can back down most point guards but also has the quickness to get in the lane well and the length to become a very good defender in time.

Livingston is just four years removed from being selected fourth overall in the 2004 draft (fours galore!), and there is still plenty of reason that he has franchise point guard capabilities within him.  With Steve Nash now 34 years old, it can't hurt for the Suns to start thinking about potential long-term options down the road.  Livingston would likely be happy to run in the Suns point-dominant fast-paced system (though we'll see what new head man Terry Porter does with it), and he would no doubt benefit from Nash's tutelage.  The Suns should be able to get him for a relatively reasonable price and could end up netting themselves a gold mine for down the road if all works out well.

That being said, this is a Suns team that likely needs to be primarily concerned with the present.  The championship window opened when Steve Nash came aboard in 2004, and two conference finals losses, one semis loss and one first-round exit later, the window appears to be rapidly closing -- if it hasn't already.  Given the Suns' continued confidence in the likes of Shaquille O'Neal and Steve Nash (to whom they will be paying a combined $32-plus million this year), it's hard to imagine they see it that way.  O'Neal, Nash, Grant Hill and Raja Bell, four core players from last year's team, are 36, 34, 35 and 31 years old respectively.  With the notable exception of Amare Stoudemire (though Boris Diaw and Leandrinho Barbosa are also in their mid-20s), this is a team that likely only has a year or two left with adequate enough play from its veteran core players to even think about contending on a championship level.

While Livingston could be a great investment for the future, and while he might help now, his game is still largely unrefined, and he is prone to youthful mistakes on the court.  Further, Livingston's injury history makes him a dangerous signing for this year on a team reputed to be short on depth and high on injury risks.  The Suns have become known for only running seven or eight deep, which has come back to bite them in past postseasons due to injury.  Hill has played as many as 70 games in a season once this decade.  O'Neal has done so just twice.  Stoudemire is only a couple of years removed from major micro-fracture surgery that cost him a season.  Nash continues to play nearly every night, but word from Phoenix (see some of the reports from the Arizona Republic's excellent Paul Coro for details) is that they will be looking to increase his rest over the course of the season.

For his part, Livingston is of course coming off of a beyond-major knee injury that has already cost him nearly a season and a half.  Meanwhile, he only played 30 and 61 games respectively in his first two seasons prior to the 2006-07 campaign in which he sustained the knee injury.  There are no guarantees about how well Livingston will hold up coming back from the disaster of early 2007, and it doesn't help his case that he wasn't exactly an iron man before that.  Adding one more injury question mark to this team -- particularly at a spot crucial to getting the two-time MVP some rest -- seems the sort of move of which the Suns should be quite wary.

For Shaun Livingston, he'll be no more injury-prone in Phoenix than he would be anywhere else, and the chance to work with Steve Nash would likely be an excellent experience for him.  While the upsides to signing Livingston are no doubt present for the Suns, his health risks might push them toward finding a healthier and more experienced back-up if that option is still a possibility.