If you haven’t already given that clip three or four views, go ahead and watch it one more time. Was that Chauncey Billups? The same Chauncey Billups who hasn’t—deservedly so—been referred to as Mr. Big Shot in almost three years? The same Chauncey Billups who’s been in this league long enough to say he was drafted by Rick Pitino? Isn’t he washed up? Wasn’t he a throw in? A Raymond Felton downgrade?
Yes, the man is 34-years-old; creaky in the knees and long in the tooth. But underneath the blanket that was Carmelo Anthony trade rumors, Billups has quietly put together one of his most efficient seasons. Right now he’s shooting career bests from behind the three-point line and the charity stripe (43 and 92 percent, respectively), he’s slightly raised his field goal percentage to 43.6 percent from last year’s 41.8, and his points per 36 minutes is at 18.5, the third best its ever been. (For the record, his career high in this category is 20.6. It occurred last season when Chauncey was a 33-year-old All-Star.) Not that it’s news to anyone, but Billups is a seasoned playoff veteran who’s most noted for a 2004 NBA Finals MVP nod. He averaged 35.4 minutes a night that year. This season? 32.3, including a 33 minute, 21 point, eight assist, six rebound debut with the Knicks.
The primary point of all those jumbled numbers, decimal points, and statistical figures is to analyze just how great Billups can be for this team. His eight trips to conference finals as a starting point guard is historically impressive, and it should be noted that Carmelo didn’t see any postseason success until Chauncey came to town. While everyone’s counting down the days until Chris Paul swings into Madison Square Garden to take over as the team’s floor general, Chauncey Billups is the type of player who can make a fan base believe nothing’s sweeter than living in the present.
ESPN’s Scoop Jackson breaks things down nicely:
For the short time that he may be with the Knicks, it will be Billups who makes the giving up of “too much” for Melo justifiable. Nothing against Raymond Felton (traded to Denver as part of the deal) or any other high-profile point guard whom Knicks owner James Dolan might want to bring in beginning in 2012, which is when $14 million of Billups’ salary can come off the books. But when you are trying to win — when you are trying to be a part of the latest NBA trend of stacking squads — there’s something to be said about a Hall of Fame-caliber vet who has Finals MVP experience (2004 with the Pistons) being at the helm of a squad that has no Finals experience.
Few point guards can stabilize the flow of a game like Billups—he’s like a walking time-out. After a 13 year career spanning across five different citiesy, Billups should be used to the dreaded trade—just 50 games into his rookie year, he was dealt by Boston, and Pitino, to Toronto. Getting traded is always harsh. Your confidence tanks as you wonder why your bosses don’t want you anymore. Is there something else you could’ve done? After all the hard work you’ve put forth, they’re moving you? Billups knows all about it, and he’s never let it shake him. Off the top of my head I can’t think of anybody in league history more talented or valuable to be traded or declined a contract extension more often than Billups.
This time it seems different, though. The five-time All-Star is nearing the end of a great career, and all signs point to him wishing he could’ve seen it end in Denver. When a player gets traded, all involved parties like to say the league’s a business, that they understood that going in and will carry no hard feelings or personal baggage in their back pocket. But in this case, Denver’s management is doing a 180. Rare apologies were issued, and for just a moment, the cold world of professional sports was doused with a soft spray of sentimentality. But Chauncey isn’t going back to Denver—at least not not anytime before June—and that’s good news for the Knicks. They’ll need him.
When a team has two superstars who each require the basketball in their hands to govern, an experienced point guard who can’t be intimidated is a necessary component for success. Billups is the straw that stirs the drink, and should they win a playoff series he’ll be recognized as the most notable reason why.
I’ll let Howard Beck close this one out:
Professionally, Billups is embracing the challenge, however long it lasts. His contract has one year left, at $14.2 million, but it can be bought out for $3 million, a move that would open up salary-cap room. Or the Knicks could hold on to him until 2012, when they hope to pursue Chris Paul or Deron Williams. Billups is hoping for clarity soon. His heart may be in Denver, but his passion is now streaked in orange and blue, and there could be no better place to close out a storied career.
“You look at the excitement, you look at the youth, the athleticism, the guys that we have,” Billups said. “And what we can do this year and even next year going forward, man, why not?”