He was meant to be a throw in. An unnecessary incentive to complete a blockbuster deal; the free toy a near starving child would receive when all he really wants is to sink his desperate little teeth into that ever so juicy happy meal. As those who have been following basketball regularly for the past 10 years can attest, Chauncey Billups is more like a side of fries—even in this final stage of his borderline Hall of Fame worthy career. But even when healthy as a Knick, the 34-year-old Billups played more like that toy than those fries. In 21 games he shot a dismal (for him) 33% from deep while attempting six long balls a game (for the year as a whole he was 40%, fourth highest of his career). His defense was what we expected those aging legs to give us, which is to say almost nothing; the NBA is officially a young point guard’s game. Sure there are outliers like Derek Fisher and Mike Bibby who’ve surrounded themselves with some all-time greats, but these guys are severely hidden on defense and mostly used as spot up shooters. They aren’t very good. Chauncey belongs in more of an Andre Miller/Jason Kidd category of veteran point guards who remain in the league because they don’t turn it over, shoot the ball at a high percentage, and are capable of running offenses in their sleep. Billups says he’s coming back next year leaner than ever in order to accommodate D’Antoni’s offense and shadow those quicker, younger point guards. Not sure if the latter’s possible; Chauncey has a back to the basket game that the Knicks would be stupid not to take advantage of next year.
A couple weeks ago the Knicks picked up the $14.2 million option on Billups’ contract. For two reasons the move was a no-brainer for Donnie Walsh: 1) He keeps a talented, veteran point guard on board to lead what will likely be an ego-filled locker room; the services of Billups as starting point guard almost ensures the Knicks a second straight playoff berth while also keeping Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire in check on the court, and 2) Billups’ expiring contract will sit in Walsh’s back pocket as a wonderful trade chip, should things come to that.
Going over the first reason, there’s no denying Chauncey’s talent and proven pedigree as a winner in this league. He’s lead a team to the championship before, and for one stretch went to 48 straight Conference Finals with the Detroit Pistons/Denver Nuggets. $14.2 million is probably too much money for someone in the final stage of his career, but Chauncey’s scoring prowess seems to still be on the incline. In 2010, his last full year in Denver, Billups averaged a career high 19.5 points a game and his field goal percentage this past year was the third highest of his career (43%). Barring the two freak injuries (Dwight Howard’s knee to the thigh and the awkward fall at the end of Game 1 in Boston), Billups has been an extremely durable player, starting fewer than than 70 games just three times in his career—not counting the lockout year. Having him on board should be celebrated, and unless the Knicks are getting back Chris Paul or Deron Williams for him and a treasure trove of future draft picks, money, and whatever’s left of New York’s player assets, moving him at the trade deadline probably won’t be a good sign. The Knicks have placed themselves in quite the quandary with Amar’e and Carmelo’s twin-headed monster contracts and Billups’ $14.2 million option might end up being a casualty. But if they manage to keep him for the first 82 games as the team’s undisputed leader and are able to add a competent seven footer or two, the Knicks should be in a much better place than they were at the end of this year. Also, he’s much better than Ray Felton.