His contemporaries are, sadly, sitting the season out. Kobe Bryant is out for the remainder of 2013-14, while Steve Nash may or may not see action as the final month of the term plays out. Kevin Garnett is attempting to get healthy prior to the start of the postseason, but his back injury hasn’t allowed him to play more than half a game more than once over the last six weeks.
All three future Hall of Famers have a reason to keep going. Nash wants to end his career on a healthy note, Bryant could legitimately work as a key part in another Laker resurgence following the 2014 offseason, while Garnett is the go-to defensive anchor on a Nets team that was built on championship hopes.
Chauncey Billups? He’s trying to make a Detroit Piston homecoming work, but he’s also dealing with an organization that may have a lame duck general manager and head coach, one that could tank the rest of the season in order to save itself from having to surrender a first round pick to the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats have enjoyed a better season than the Pistons, by far, which tells you all you need to know about the state of the Piston team that Billups returned to last summer, nearly five years after GM Joe Dumars traded him to Denver for Allen Iverson.
Billups has barely played this year, and has managed just 38 total minutes in the 2014 calendar year. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in February, understandably taking time away from a 25-42 team that ranks in the 20s in both offense and defense, soberly considering the wheels that have steadied him through over 38,000 combined career regular and postseason minutes, and eight teams. Not including the two different stints with both the Pistons, and Denver Nuggets.
Chauncey was in Denver on Wednesday night as his at once past and current team lost to his ex-times-two team, and because of the homecoming (Chauncey is from Colorado), the media were out and wondering if this would be the last time they’d be able to cover Chauncey Billups the player, even if he wouldn’t be playing. Billups, however, has other ideas. From Vince Ellis at the Detroit News:
“You always want to go out on your own and not kind of be forced out due to injury or just not good enough anymore,” he said. “Injuries have been a problem for me the last few years, and I would like to walk out on my own and not have to crawl out.”
The guy wants to play, and he’s got a month left. He’s also shooting just 30 percent on the year, for a team that genuinely has a vested interest in losing games in order to keep what could be a top ten pick in a very good draft. Does Billups regret moving back to Detroit, after two years with what looks like a championship contender in the Los Angeles Clippers?
"It's been great, actually," Billups said. "Obviously the team is not playing great — I feel like we've underachieved a little bit. But me being back with the people that love me so much and the fan base there has been great.
"Obviously I would look at that (going into the front office) if that opportunity came about. That's like my home away from home. They really adopted me there. Of course, (Denver) is always going to be my home. But Detroit is like my second home. So any opportunity that arose, I would obviously look at."
Billups is not unlike Nash in his hopes to go out on his own terms …
“I’ll never take for granted just playing the game no matter whether in the picture or not as far as the playoffs are concerned,” he said. “It’s the game of basketball that I love, so, if I can go, I will.”
… but unlike Nash, his future isn’t as assured. The Pistons hold a $2.5 million team option for Chauncey in 2014-15, one they’re not likely to pick up. For comparison’s sake, even if the Los Angeles Lakers waive Steve Nash using the stretch provision, he’ll still count for more than Billups’ team option against the team’s salary cap next season. Outside of retroactively giving the guy some scratch as a deserved retirement gift (remember, Billups led the Pistons to the 2004 NBA title while working for the league’s average salary), Detroit has no real reason to bring him back as a player.
And with Joe Dumars, the man who has signed him twice, likely out as GM? Moving past misty legacy-related decisions about a franchise legend’s permanence may not be as complicated. Any new GM will have plenty to figure out, working with the miserable roster and potential draft situation Dumars has put the franchise in, but cutting a player who will turn 38 just before training camp won’t be that tough a decision.
Which is a shame, because considering Billups’ history, he should have fit right in with both these Pistons, and the Clippers over the last three seasons. Injuries curtailed his output, and his ability to stay on the court – he’s played just 61 regular season games since the New York Knicks waived him prior to the 2011-12 season.
The Pistons have less than one month left in their season, all the reasons in the world to attempt to lose most games, and 10 of the team’s final 15 contests are on the road as the franchise wraps up what has been a brutal campaign.
Why would Chauncey Billups deign to be a part of whimpering last stand? Same as it is for anyone you respect – the guy is a competitor, he has a basketball soul, and he wants to go out his own way. Even if Billups can return this spring, we just wish it were under different circumstances.
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