As one of the heart-and-soul players of Detroit's 2004 NBA championship run, Billups remained a favorite, despite his relocation to Denver, his actual home turf (he starred at Colorado in college). It was a move that was hard to stomach for his former fanbase, especially given his resume of accomplishments.
In 2004, Mr. Big Shot averaged about 16 points per game through the playoffs, which were capped by a 4-1 drubbing of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. He went on to earn a top-12 share of league MVP honors in each of the following three seasons and gained attention as one of the Association's reliable point guards.
Still, in the name of rebuilding, the aging Billups, now 37, had to go. Dumars traded off the franchise man in 2008 but admitted during an interview with CBS Sports Detroit's Ashley Dunkak that he may have made an error.
"You know every decision's going to be debated from the time you make it, and you live with that, but very few of them do you simply wish that, 'Man, I wish I had that one back,'" Dumars said to Dunkak during the offseason. "And I've said that to him -- if I had to it all over again, absolutely not. Wouldn't have ever made that move with him."
Pistons fans can entertain the what-ifs. But this is the what-is: Billups may encounter unrealistic expectations due to his storied past. That's OK, everyone wants to see Old Chauncey.
But don't chastise the guy if he's not an All-Star. If anything, he'll be a coach who can play some ball.
"I feel like I've still got some good years of basketball left," Billups said during an offseason interview with the Associated Press (via ESPN). "I've said it , time and time again, that I always wanted to be remembered as a Piston."
Don't be mistaken, Billups still has NBA-level skills, otherwise he wouldn't be in the league. Despite injury, he showed that he could hand over 20 minutes and double-digit point totals while keeping pace with a younger crowd.
He wasn't the leader, obviously, but Billups fit in well with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin -- the stars of "Lob City" -- during his two-year stint with the Los Angeles Clippers (2011-13).
And to address his "always wanted to be remembered as a Piston" comment, well, he didn't even have to return to the Palace to be king of its court.
Solid Minutes and a Few Big Shots
His nickname says it all -- and Billups still has enough gas in the tank to hit a game-winning shot or spark a comeback rally. He's not a decrepit old man, just a seasoned vet. He'll probably play at his own pace and let the youngsters such as Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe handle the brunt of the duties.
Due to a young guard contingent, expect Billups to average somewhere in the range of 18 to 22 minutes per game this year, if that. That may be a high estimate. But there will certainly be those 30-minute marathons in the future, especially if the Pistons make the playoffs.
It doesn't hurt having a guy such as Billups tucked away for the real season.
Guards Will Flourish
Now that Brandon Jennings is in town, the Pistons have a guard that's capable of demolishing scoreboards. But the Pistons don't really need that from Jennings, who has no problem bursting for 30; they need him to distribute at the point position.
That's where Billups enters the fold. He's a been-there, did-that veteran who knows how to evolve one's game, particularly his own.
However, at the moment, Billups is being rested (left knee tendinitis) -- that's to save him and to get younger players into the rotation. Rookie Kentavius Caldwell-Pope and Rodney Stuckey are other options for coach Mo Cheeks, who played the point during his NBA career.
"I think I did too much in training camp but I wanted to build with the guys, make sure 'I'm here, I'm not just here to cheer, I'll do it with you,'" Billups said to Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News. "I maybe did too much, but that's who I am. I don't like chilling, sitting out."
Judging by that quote, it sounds like Billups is ready and willing to shape the future of the Pistons' backcourt. Experience guiding youth tends to sew seeds of success. It worked for Drummond, who formed a bond with Ben Wallace and exploded into one of the league's top young bigs.
The same could happen for Jennings and Caldwell-Pope. Billups' influence certainly wouldn't hurt Stuckey, either.
Legacy, Meet the Cement
It could be argued that Billups' legacy is safe and sound in Detroit, and that it couldn't get any more "legacy-ier." He won a title. He became an icon in the city that loved him. He made the lunch-pal mentality cool. The sound of a work whistle immediately conjures images of Billups holding the O'Brien Trophy.
Yes, Billups' reputation is safe.
But it could reach a higher level of legendary status should he motivate this year's team to run through the playoffs. That's the next step for Detroit. Billups' play may not do a whole lot for the team in general -- there is enough talent to win without him -- but his contributions and presence away from the cameras will cement him as one of Detroit's most-beloved sports figures.
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- Chauncey Billups
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