Suicide lines: Billups happy to lead Team USA; the 76ers' spy

Each weekday morning, BDL serves up a handful of NBA-related stories to digest with your mostaccioli.

Jeff Zilgitt, USA Today: A time will come during the world championships in Turkey - a close game, possibly with a medal at stake - when Team USA, from players to coaches, will rely on Denver Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups(notes). For his experience. For his knowledge. For his leadership. Billups, 33, is the elder statesman of a team with an average age of nearly 25. He is to this U.S. team what Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Kidd(notes) was to the 2008 gold medal-winning Olympic team. When the USA opens play Saturday against Croatia (noon ET, ESPN Classic), Billups will be "as important as anybody on our team because he's the leader of the team," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He's been through every experience as a player, and he's been successful," Krzyzewski said. "He and I have a very close relationship, and we talk about the team all the time." That relationship began in earnest in 2007, when Billups worked out with Team USA in preparation for the 2008 Games. "We have a mutual respect for one another," Billups said. "We can always be honest and frank with each other." A family matter forced Billups to withdraw from Olympic consideration, but he maintained an interest in international basketball. When USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo began compiling names for the 2010 worlds, Billups was at the top of the list. Colangelo needed him, knowing that Kidd, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant(notes) and Miami Heat forward LeBron James(notes) and Heat guard Dwyane Wade(notes), among other big stars, would not be playing in Turkey. "Even though these guys are really good players on their NBA teams, this is just a different situation," Krzyzewski said. "And having Chauncey there to settle everyone down, give confidence, know game situations, it's invaluable."

Bob Cooney, Philadelphia Daily News: After working in Las Vegas, New York, Spain and Greece, a U.S. spy is now firmly planted in Istanbul. Make that a 76ers spy. While Sixers forward Andre Iguodala(notes) has been trotting the globe to land a spot on the U.S. team for the World Championships, a pair of eyes has been glued to his every move since workouts started a month ago in Las Vegas. Chris Collins, who will enter his 10th season on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski's staff, is part of the coaching group overseeing the collegiate players practicing against Iguodala and his U.S. teammates, who just happen to be coached by Krzyzewski . While Collins' main responsibility is to oversee his team's defensive play, he can't help but keep a close eye on someone who will be playing for his dad, Doug, this NBA season. "Oh, my dad has been getting in touch with me every day asking how Andre's doing," Collins said. "He'll either call me, e-mail or text me. That's the way he is. He is on top of everything and very attentive to detail." That trait is one of the reasons, if not the main reason, why the Sixers decided to hire Collins as their coach in May after firing Eddie Jordan, who led the team to a 27-55 record in his only season. Though Doug Collins just turned 59, his son doesn't see that as a red flag. "He is just loaded with energy, and even more so when it comes to basketball," Chris said. "It was the right time for him to get back into coaching. He has always loved coaching. He and I have such a close relationship and he's been so helpful to me in my career. His knowledge of the game is incredibly high. His ability to relate to players is terrific, and he can teach the game as well as anyone."

Howard Beck, New York Times: Landry Fields signed his rookie contract Thursday, completing a Knicks roster that is younger, deeper and more talented than any recent edition. It comes, however, with one minor asterisk. Kelenna Azubuike(notes), who was expected to compete for a starting job, may start training camp on the sideline, because of lingering concerns over his surgically repaired left knee. Azubuike tore his patellar tendon last November while playing for the Golden State Warriors. He missed the rest of the season, and the Warriors expected he would need a full year to recover. The Knicks are taking a similarly conservative approach. "We're not sure," said the team president Donnie Walsh, who described a torn patellar tendon as "one of the worst injuries in the league." Azubuike spent most of the summer rehabilitating with a private trainer. He just began working with the Knicks' staff this week, so team officials do not yet have a firm assessment. Azubuike is not yet running or jumping, which suggests that he is a long way from playing high-level basketball. "I think it's 50-50 whether he'll be ready for training camp right now," D'Antoni said. "He thinks he will be."

Marc Berman, New York Post: According to a source, Knicks free agent center Earl Barron(notes) turned down an offer recently from Maccabi Tel Aviv because he's confident he will sign with an NBA team soon. The Knicks showed interest in re-signing him, but because they overpaid for young Russian center Timofey Mozgov(notes) with a three-year, $9 million deal, brass ultimately has to see if he can contribute in his rookie year. Nevertheless, if Mozgov has a poor World Championships for Russia, sources said they could revisit Barron before training camp if he's unsigned.

Ira Winderman, South Florida Sun Sentinel: This typically is when the NBA discard pile tends to grow. By now, teams have a sense of who they want to bring to camp and who they would just as soon avoid. So Erick Dampier(notes) and his non-guaranteed contract is dangled by the Charlotte Bobcats. J.R. Smith(notes) and his somewhat questionable approach is reconsidered by the Denver Nuggets. Mario Chalmers(notes) is a Heat rarity as a potential trade chip. And Rudy Fernandez(notes) continues to push for a somewhat rosier outlook than he has found at the Rose Garden. As a result, the question continually directed this way becomes: What about the Heat? Well, what about them? They can't (at least for anyone other than Fernandez, who holds a relatively miniscule contract). By NBA rule, any free agent signed in the offseason cannot be traded until Dec. 15. It is a mechanism that keeps teams from signing players and then instantly flipping them for players under contract elsewhere. The exceptions are draft picks, who can be dealt 30 days after signing.

Fred Mitchell and David Kaplan, Chicago Tribune: Our NBA sources tell us that the finalists for the last spot on new Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau's staff are former NBA head coaches Terry Porter and Eric Musselman and former college coach Kelvin Sampson.

Paul Coro, Arizona Republic: Halfway into his second day on the job, Suns General Manager Lance Blanks' first impression was to not make too much of an impression on a club he considers to be great. Blanks just wants to nudge the superlative needle from "great to greater." Despite spending the past decade in Cleveland and San Antonio, Blanks endorsed the Suns' more open style of play. After missing all the off-season action that brought in five new Suns, Blanks hailed the moves that leave him little roster work to do but for adding a big man. "There's a great infrastructure in place to have success," Blanks said. "So part of my job will be staying out of the way and not messing things up." New Suns President Lon Babby hired Blanks three weeks ago to be his "basketball genius." Babby cited Blanks' acumen for the game, locker-room presence as an ex-player and his front-office work with successful teams, including the past five years as Cleveland's assistant GM. "He will have the most influential voice on personnel matters," Babby said, diffusing opinions that the GM role would be watered-down under Managing Partner Robert Sarver and Babby.

AP: Chinese businessman Kenny Huang has pulled out of a deal to buy a minority stake in the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA team. A Cavaliers spokesman confirmed Thursday that the a partnership between the group headed by Huang and the Cavs never materialized. Earlier this month, Huang had also pulled out of a proposed takeover of English Premier League club Liverpool. The Cavaliers minority sale had been expected to be completed last year, pending approval by the NBA's board of governors. But in May, commissioner David Stern said there were no plans for a league vote and the deal quickly dissolved. The Cavaliers said they will maintain a relationship with Huang's company for business development in China.

John Rohde, The Oklahoman: The Oklahoma City Thunder announced Thursday it has begun negotiating naming rights to its home arena with new potential partners. During the negotiation period, the facility will continue to be called the Ford Center and signage throughout the building will remain intact. The original naming rights agreement came in 2001, when the Oklahoma Ford Dealers agreed to pay $8.1 million over 15 years. That contract allowed an NBA franchise to terminate the existing naming rights agreement if a team came to Oklahoma City, which occurred when the Seattle SuperSonics relocated here in July 2008. The Thunder previously had discussions with the Oklahoma Ford Dealers, but a new agreement could not be reached. As a result, the Thunder officially has terminated the existing naming rights agreement and entered a period of negotiations with other potential partners.

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