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As he prepares to enter his 17th NBA season, Chauncey Billups still feels like he has something to prove.
Not to his teammates on the Detroit Pistons – but himself.
"I'm 36 and I'm going to be 37 when the season starts," Billups said. "I've accomplished everything I tried to accomplish in basketball.
"So I don't have anything to prove. But to my own personal self, I want to end my career playing my position and just doing what I do."
After winning the 2004 NBA championship with the Pistons and being named a five-time All-Star, Billups wants to prove he can still play point guard at a high level. He suffered a season-ending Achilles' tendon injury that limited him to 20 games during the lockout shortened 2011-12 season with the Los Angeles Clippers. Last season, he played just 22 games, averaging career-lows of 8.4 points and 2.2 assists. The Clippers then acquired shooting guard J.J. Redick to replace Billups, who played out of position alongside point guard Chris Paul.
"I definitely wasn't disappointed," Billups said. "I didn't want to be a two-guard anyway. I did it there because it's a way for me to get on the floor. You are playing behind the best point guard in the league in Chris.
"I never saw myself as a shooting guard. I never wanted to play it."
The Pistons entered free agency with three goals: sign Atlanta Hawks free-agent forward Josh Smith; re-sign point guard Jose Calderon; and, if Calderon wasn't re-signed, add a quality, veteran point guard.
The Pistons signed Smith to a four-year, $54 million deal. Calderon, however, left for the Dallas Mavericks. Pistons president Joe Dumars said the first veteran free-agent point guard he thought of was Billups. Still, the Pistons also knew Billups wasn't particularly happy with the way he left Detroit nearly five years ago when he was traded to the Denver Nuggets for guard Allen Iverson.
While the Nuggets were Billups' hometown team, he was frustrated about being traded from Detroit after what he gave the franchise.
"What happened then was unfortunate," Billups said. "It did, at the time, sting a little bit. I know I didn't deserve the way it happened. Not that I shouldn't have been traded – everyone gets traded at some point. But the way that it went down wasn't justifiable.
"It is what it is. Joe and I had a long talk and he apologized. We moved forward. I'm over it."
Dumars called Billups about six months after the trade to clear the air and attempt to rebuild not only their professional relationship, but also their friendship.
"It was the toughest transaction I've ever had to make," Dumars told Yahoo! Sports. "There was the closeness of our relationship and also a balance of having to do what's best for the team. I knew he was going to take some time to get over it."
After Calderon left for Dallas this summer, Dumars called Billups' agent, Andy Miller, to broach the idea of Billups returning to Detroit. Billups was shocked when he heard of the Pistons' interest, but he also was intrigued.
These aren't the same veteran Pistons that Billups helped lead. Ben Wallace is retired, Rip Hamilton is a free agent after spending last season with the Chicago Bulls, Tayshaun Prince is with the Memphis Grizzlies and Rasheed Wallace is now on the Pistons' staff as an assistant coach. The current Pistons are young and athletic with Smith (27 years old), Greg Monroe (23), Andre Drummond (19), rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (20) and Brandon Jennings (23), who was acquired in Tuesday's sign-and-trade with the Bucks. Even Tom Gores, the franchise's owner, is new.
Billups, however, couldn't turn down the chance to end his career in Detroit, and signed a two-year contract.
"I always wanted to retire a Piston anyway," Billups said. "That's where I stayed the longest and had most of my success. I always wanted to be remembered as a Piston. This will hopefully give me the opportunity to end my career there."
Billups hasn't played primarily as a reserve since the 2000-01 season when he was with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He started every game he played with the Pistons from 2002-09. Although it would seem like a long shot with Jennings onboard, Billups plans to prove he deserves to be the starting point guard next season. Billups said his Achilles' tendon, which has been medically cleared by the Pistons, "is fine" and his body feels as good as it has in years.
Billups was asked before the Jennings deal if he thought he had could start at point guard for Detroit and said: "I would think that when I'm healthy I give us the best chance to win. I'm not sure. But I believe in me."
Dumars said Billups' role is ultimately up to new coach Maurice Cheeks.
"We had a conversation about his role not only as a mentor, but to help us win games, shoot the ball well and make decisions on the floor," Dumars said of Billups. "This is not just a feel-good signing."
Billups has been one of the NBA's best point guards over the past 10 years and is a proven leader. Coaching would seem to be a natural fit for him, but Billups isn't interested. He instead wants to follow Dumars' lead and eventually move into a front-office role.
For now, though, he wants only to focus on playing.
"I'm saying now that I'm going to retire in two years," Billups said. "But as long as my body holds up…"
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