Posts Tagged ‘Chauncey Billups’

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 13



VIDEO: The GameTime crew makes predictions for FIBA final

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Klay paves the way | Korver speaks with Deng | Serbia not in awe | Billups a tough Hall call

No. 1: Thompson shows his stuff to the world — There have been few days when the multi-talented Anthony Davis and the uber-hustling Kenneth Faried haven’t been part of the highlight videos for Team USA out of the FIBA World Cup. But as the Americans prepare to face Serbia on Sunday in the gold medal game, it’s time to acknowledge that the consistent contributions of Klay Thompson to the effort. The Warriors guard started out the offseason with his name being part of trade talks to lure Kevin Love to Golden State. Now, our own Sekou Smith relates, Thompson is using the whole summer as an experience to take his game and his career to the next level:

Thompson’s contributions off the U.S. bench, a role he probably hasn’t had to play at any point in his basketball career since before high school, if ever, could pay huge dividends when this tournament is over and he goes back to his role as one of the stars for the Warriors.
“You expose yourself to different stages of basketball,” Stephen Curry said of the benefits Thompson will gain from this medal run with the U.S. National Team. “It’s beneficial because you’re being called on to play a different role, to be a scorer off the bench and it’s just different. It adds a little bit of character and charisma to your game. And that should translate to even more success when we get back to Golden State.”
This has definitely been a character building summer for Thompson and other guys used to starting and the spotlight that comes with it in the NBA. He’s perhaps a better defender than anyone imagined. He’s stepped up to the challenge on defense night after night, while serving as the team’s most consistent scoring threat off the bench as well, averaging 12.8 points while shooting 66 percent on his 2-point shots and 41 percent from beyond the 3-point line.
We’ve gotten a glimpse of his game, the entire scope of his game, in ways we don’t normally get to see in the NBA.
“He’s been a lockdown defender for us, no doubt,” James Harden said. “Scoring is never going to be a problem for him. It’s not an issue for this team. So it says something when you see guys working hard on defense and trying to make an impact any way they can.”
That’s the spirit of the program, the one Jerry Colangelo and Coach K have tried to foster from the start. And the results have worked beautifully. The U.S, takes a 62-game win streak into Sunday’s gold medal game, having put together a flawless run in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition dating back to 2006.

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No. 2: Deng says Hawks not racist Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke with Hawks guard Kyle Korver, who is also a member of the executive board of the National Basketball Players Assocation, following a conversation the veteran guard had with Luol Deng, who is at the center of the Danny Ferry controversy. Korver said he hopes the Hawks can put the issue behind them and that Deng does not believe Ferry is motivated by racism:

Q. What is your reaction to everything that has happened?
A. My thoughts are, when I got traded to the Hawks, I didn’t want to come here because all I knew was what I had heard, about bad culture and no fans and no excitement in the city. So I didn’t want to come to Atlanta. At all. I was bummed to leave Chicago. But by the next summer, I chose to re-sign and come back to Atlanta. After a year of watching what Danny (Ferry) was doing and the people he was bringing in. Everything I saw, was so attractive to me and I really believed in it. I believed that he was going to turn things around. I saw that Atlanta was an incredible city, and that there was so much potential here to both raise my family and help build a great basketball culture. I had some opportunities to go to places that were already established and played really good basketball but I wanted to come back here and be a part of building this. I think in all this, I’m hopeful that when the dust settles, it keeps on going. I really do believe in what has gone on in the two years that I have been here. I think anyone who knows the game and has watched the transformation would agree with me. But it’s just sad what’s all going on. That all this has happened has really bummed me out.
Q. You were teammates with Luol Deng. Would you care to comment about what was said about him? Have you reached out to him?
A. Yeah we did speak. Luol is such a good guy. And he’s been through so much in life that I don’t really think this has really even phased him. He told me that he didn’t think that Danny or anyone with the Hawks was racist. He said he was shocked when he heard what was said, but that sometimes things just slip out. It was pretty amazing, really. He just wants everything to move on. He wants to get back to basketball.

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No. 3: Serbia says USA will have to earn gold medal — When France upset hometown favorite Spain in the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Cup, the knee-jerk reaction around much of the basketball planet was that Team USA could making room in their luggage for those gold medals. However Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops says the history of international basketball and the particular pride of the Serbians could make things interesting in Sunday’s gold medal game. In other words, the Americans must be careful not to get caught in a trap:

But here they are now, playing for the gold medal after defeating the team that defeated Spain.
They are much older than the Americans. They have a player who once played for the Nets in East Rutherford, N.J. (Nenad Krstic). They have a point guard, Milos Teodosic, who is a lock for First Team All-Tournament (he scored 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting against France).
Most importantly, they have nothing to lose.
And when all the pressure is on the other team, as it will be for the United States on Sunday, it can be an enormous equalizer. Just ask Spain.
“We’re not going to be scared, for sure,” Krstic said. “Some players never get this chance — the chance to do something great in our lives.”
A previous generation of Serbians got that chance and capitalized on it in 2002, even if one of them — Divac — got a gold medal after one of the worst games of his life.
Another generation, Djordjevic’s generation, put a scare into the Americans in 1996 when everyone thought it would be another 20 years before anyone would even come close to defeating Team USA.
The Serbians played a huge role in making the basketball universe change less than two decades ago, which allows us to remind everyone of this famous quote: Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
Just a few words of caution heading into Sunday’s game.
Do yourself a favor and turn off the football for two hours and see what happens. When the Serbs are involved in a gold medal game, you really never know what you are going to get.
“If they beat us, when it is over I will shake their hands,” Djordjevic told me. “But we are going to play our game.”

Read more at http://www.sheridanhoops.com/2014/09/12/sheridan-serbia-coach-on-team-usa-prove-you-are-better/#yTv5JLmTPPyalJhA.99

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No. 4: Is Billups Hall of Fame worthy? — We all know him as Mr. Big Shot and the driving force in the middle of the Pistons 2004 team that shocked Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers to win the championship. But is being the MVP of The Finals and five All-Star seasons enough to get Chauncey Billups a spot in the Hall of Fame? That’s the question raised by our Scott Howard-Cooper:

He was a leader in 17 seasons with seven teams, filled with positive intangibles that never reach the box score. He was a difference maker in attitude alone as Detroit won the title in 2004 and Denver reached the Western Conference finals in 2009, a locker-room presence chosen by the league as the first winner of the Twyman-Stokes Award in 2013 as the “player deemed the best teammate based on selfless play, on and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and his commitment and dedication to his team.”
He was even the kind of person chosen by the media as winner of the 2008 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for charity work.
Billups’ strongest attribute cannot be measured. Now, get two sets of voters — one that determines the finalists, another in a second round of voting that chooses the inductees — to put that into tangible terms on the ballot when Billups becomes eligible to be nominated for the first time as part of the Class of 2019.
Which makes two problems.
Besides the first issue, 15.2 points, 5.4 assists and 41.5 percent from the field, with one top-five finish in assists average and a lot of years less than 42-percent shooting, does not get anyone inducted.
Five All-Star appearances, three as a Piston and two with the hometown Nuggets, is a big credibility boost. Being named second-team All-Defense twice, second-team All-NBA once and third-team All-NBA twice will matter. Having a lead role on a championship team — while being named Finals MVP — and also winning a gold medal with the United States in the 2010 world championships will count for a lot.
But being a positive force of energy is what set Billups apart and made him a player to emulate more than the gaudy numbers usually required for a serious Hall bid. It’s why there is a very good chance he will be in the conversation when the time comes, but not get across the line, a good talent with unique qualities but not historic.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: With the return of LeBron-mania to Cleveland, the Cavaliers will hold a lottery for the sale of individual game tickets this season…The Clippers re-signed veteran forward Hedo Turkoglu and plan to add Sam Cassell and Mike Woodson as assistant coaches on Doc Rivers staff…Tobias Harris hopes to stay in Orlando with the Magic for the long haul…Film critics and Maverick teammates Tyson Chandler, Monta Ellis and others will fly to Germany next week for the premiere of Dirk Nowitzki: The Perfect Shot.
ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Hall of Fame debate: Chauncey Billups

VIDEO: A Chauncey Billups slideshow

Chauncey Billups’ candidacy for the Hall of Fame, now that he has retired and the clock officially starts on the enshrinement conversation, begins with a problem: the greatest selling point for a ticket to Springfield, Mass., is a tough sell.

He was a leader in 17 seasons with seven teams, filled with positive intangibles that never reach the box score. He was a difference maker in attitude alone as Detroit won the title in 2004 and Denver reached the Western Conference finals in 2009, a locker-room presence chosen by the league as the first winner of the Twyman-Stokes Award in 2013 as the “player deemed the best teammate based on selfless play, on and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and his commitment and dedication to his team.”

He was even the kind of person chosen by the media as winner of the 2008 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for charity work.

Billups’ strongest attribute cannot be measured. Now, get two sets of voters — one that determines the finalists, another in a second round of voting that chooses the inductees — to put that into tangible terms on the ballot when Billups becomes eligible to be nominated for the first time as part of the Class of 2019.

Which makes two problems.

Besides the first issue, 15.2 points, 5.4 assists and 41.5 percent from the field, with one top-five finish in assists average and a lot of years less than 42-percent shooting, does not get anyone inducted.

Five All-Star appearances, three as a Piston and two with the hometown Nuggets, is a big credibility boost. Being named second-team All-Defense twice, second-team All-NBA once and third-team All-NBA twice will matter. Having a lead role on a championship team — while being named Finals MVP — and also winning a gold medal with the United States in the 2010 world championships will count for a lot.

But being a positive force of energy is what set Billups apart and made him a player to emulate more than the gaudy numbers usually required for a serious Hall bid. It’s why there is a very good chance he will be in the conversation when the time comes, but not get across the line, a good talent with unique qualities but not historic.

“The Hall of Fame would be a big dream,” Billups told Yahoo! Sports in making his retirement announcement. “It marks you down as one of the greatest players ever. It’s not what I shot for, but that would absolutely be a dream. I know in my heart I had a Hall-of-Fame worthy career. If you look at most Hall of Famers, I don’t know how many of them started off the way I started off and made it to the top.”

There is also that, how Billups is a reminder not to give up on top picks too soon, the way he was traded around and played for four teams the first three seasons after going No. 3 in the 1997 draft and didn’t find a real permanence until signing with the Pistons in 2002. He didn’t give up on the dream of a real career in the NBA. Same thing now. He will keep pointing to Springfield.

Mr. Big Shot one cool customer


VIDEO: Veteran Billups calls it a career

There are players such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Blake Griffin, whose careers throw off smoke and sparks and noise like drag racers, right from the starting line.

Then there’s Chauncey Billups, who simply hummed as quiet and cool as an air conditioner.

For 17 seasons and seven different NBA teams, Billups was the proverbial duck who might have been paddling furious beneath the surface, but never gave the appearance of doing anything but gliding across the water.

He moved fast by taking it slow and he always seemed to be taking it slow, even when pushing the ball down the court in the middle of a fast break. He was the strong man who never felt a need to flex his muscles until the game got late and there was heavy lifting to do. He played with a warm smile on his face that could chill a defender. He was often the shortest one on the floor, yet the player who stood tallest when it was needed most.

Mr. Big Shot.

The standard line about the 2004 Pistons is that they were the last team to win an NBA championship without a superstar.

But that’s if you measure a star only by its brightness, as one that grabs headlines along the way to the more critical task, which is grabbing games by the throat.

Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace did work in concert, a symphony orchestra in high tops and shorts. But it was Billups who stood on the rostrum with the baton in his hand, making sure everyone hit the right notes.

“He’s at the head of the table and he determines how people eat,” none other than Kevin Garnett once said when they were teammates in Minnesota.

That’s the way Billups had always been since his days as a teenager at Denver’s Skyland Rec Center, when he was often the youngest player on the court. He not only found a way to fit in, but developed a way to earn the respect and the trust of the older kids.

Funny thing is, it took a while to gain that same respect in the NBA. After a standout college career at Colorado, he was the No. 3 pick in the 1997 draft by the Celtics. But the franchise that prides itself on recognizing smarts didn’t keep around. Neither did the Raptors, Nuggets, Magic or Timberwolves.

So Billups finally wound up in Detroit in 2002 with a resume list of ex-teams that was longer than his arm, but not even a trace of doubt.

“My demeanor, how I am, it never swayed,” he said back then. “A lot of guys in this league when they’re not playing a lot of minutes, they get a chip on their shoulder, they’re mad at everybody. I’ve never been that way.”

Billups came to the Pistons at a time when then-president Joe Dumars was constructing a team in the “three-peat” era of the Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant off-court bickering, where he wanted talent to work together like five fingers inside a glove doubled up into a fist, where effort took a backseat to ego.

The point guard with the butler’s name and the sniper’s nerveless confidence was the perfect choice to pull it all together and be the driving force. Billups was the steady hand on the reins of disparate personalities that knew how and when to take clutch situations in the biggest of games into his own grasp. Thus, the nickname, Mr. Big Shot. The player who could miss his first 10 shots of the night and then coolly put No. 11 into the bottom of the net with a game or a playoff series on the line.

You could picture him in a tuxedo ordering a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.

Billups, Chauncey Billups, was always the player who could lock and bar the door, the one that took the guessing and drama out of that final minute. Send him to the line and he’d drill those six straight free throws to seal a win. Leave him an opening and he’d stop up and drain that long 3-pointer without thinking twice.

“Who else would you want with the ball in his hands at that point than Chauncey?” Dumars asked.

He was a five-time All-Star from 2006-2010, was MVP of The Finals when the Pistons took down the mighty Lakers in 2004, a two-time All-Defensive second team member and, notably, in 2013 was named NBA Teammate of the Year by a vote of his peers. The only question left is whether Hall of Famer voters five years from now were really paying attention.

Let the others throw off loud sparks. For 17 seasons Billups just hummed. Perspiring, but never letting you see him sweat.

Hot jersey, but LeBron needs a number

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – LeBron James‘ new Cleveland Cavaliers jersey is flying off the shelves.

Only that’s not completely accurate. For the time being, LeBron jerseys are still kind of on the tarmac, awaiting takeoff.

lebron6The NBA Store’s website and phone lines are ablaze with demand for LeBron goods. The NBA doesn’t release sales figures outside of its regularly scheduled reports, but a league source provided this glimpse into recent demand for all things LBJ: Since James announced his return to Cleveland on July 11, his Cavs replica jerseys (all three color versions: home, road and alternate) are the top three best-selling items on NBAStore.com. Eight of the top 10 items sold overall since then are LeBron Cavs items.

The store initially sold out of all LeBron jerseys, but it’s now restocked in just about every size. The problem: When shoppers buy their LeBron jerseys, they get this message in red type:

“This item will ship within 2-4 weeks after the player has officially signed his contract and is assigned a number by the NBA.”

Ah, yes. LeBron picked his city. But he has yet to pick a number.

Of course, the NBA won’t assign the King a jersey number, like he’s some 7-year-old at the YMCA.

COACH: “Here you go son, got No. 18 for you.”

LeBRON: Hmm … Got 23?

COACH: “I got 18. Youth medium.”

A week ago, James summoned the aid of his 13.75 million Twitter followers:

lebron23James wore 23 during his first seven seasons in Cleveland, the number he picked as a prodigy at Akron, Ohio’s Saint Mary’s-Saint Vincent’s in honor of his hero Michael Jordan. When James took his talents to South Beach in 2010, he ditched 23 for 6, the number he wore in the 2008 Olympics.

Neither number seems like a proper fit for The Return. His first number, 23, still invites all those insufferable comparisons to Jordan. And 6 would just feel weird in Cleveland after all that’s gone down since the original Decision. It should stay in Miami.

With James winding down a Nike-sponsored tour of China, maybe picking a number will soon become top priority. Right behind getting Kevin Love. (For the record, Love wears 42, in honor of the uniquely gifted former NBA star Connie Hawkins. In Cleveland, Nate Thurmond‘s 42 is retired in the rafters.)

All this number talk shouldn’t be shrugged off. A player’s number is a key part of his identity. It typically holds a special meaning.

So we’ve been busy mulling a third number for Phase Three of James’ career. We want his fans to get their jerseys sooner rather than later.

The old flip-flop

32: Obviously it’s the reverse of his original 23, which wasn’t an original at all. James wore No. 32 as a freshman in high school apparently because 23 was already taken by an older kid who didn’t quite yet recognize James as the King. There’s a larger hook here. The player James is most compared to stylistically is not Jordan but Magic Johnson. There’s been a lot of big names to wear 32, which might or might not motivate James to pick the number: Bill WaltonShaquille O’NealKevin McHaleKarl Malone, Julius Erving with the Virginia Squires and New York Nets and one of my personal favorites, Seattle’s “Downtown” Freddie Brown.

The old flip-a-roo

9: Flip the 6 and what do you get? Yep, 9. Makes sense. Plus, James already has done 9, so it makes even more sense. He wore the number for a season as an all-state receiver in high school before giving up football to focus on hoops. Last summer James purchased new Nike uniforms for his alma mater’s football team. For the arrival of the new gear, James actually showed up in full uniform, pads and all, and surprised the gathered crowd. The number he chose for his jersey? Yep, 9. There’s some standout players currently wearing 9; Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo. Old-time great Bob Pettit wore it, too.

Honoring the Big O

14: Forgive me for bringing up Mount Rushmore, but it was LeBron who started the whole thing when he said Oscar Robertson would be on his personal NBA Mount Rushmore (along with Magic, Michael and Larry Bird). LeBron’s game can also be favorably compared to Robertson, the original triple-double machine. Robertson wore 14 with the Cincinnati Royals for a decade. He averaged a triple-double in his second season and darn near did it three other times. Bob Cousy, Sam Perkins and LeBron’s Cavs teammate on the 2007 Finals team, Ira Newble, also wore No. 14. This would be an intriguing choice and would once again shine a worthy spotlight on the Big O’s amazing career.

1: When Cincinnati traded Robertson to the Milwaukee Bucks for Charlie Paulk and Flynn Robinson, the Big O traded in his 14 for 1. LeBron choosing 1 could have dual meaning, paying respect to Robertson while proclaiming to world, “I’m No. 1.” A lot of No. 1s have come and gone in the league, but the list is short in terms of all-time greats. Tiny Archibald wore it before he got to Boston, then there’s Tracy McGrady, Chauncey Billups and, of course, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks.

King Football

84: It seems every year we hear fantasy stories about LeBron joining an NFL team and instantly becoming an All-Pro receiver. Hey, at 6-foot-9, 260 pounds, who’s gonna get in his way? So why not buck traditional NBA numbers for a traditional NFL one? Since James was an All-State receiver in Ohio (we covered his No. 9 above) it makes sense that he pick a traditional NFL receiver’s number (between 80 and 89 and 10 and 19). My first inclination is to pick 88 because of LeBron’s love for the Dallas Cowboys and the lineage of players — Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin and now Dez Bryant — who made the number famous. Only three NBA players have ever worn 88 and one currently does: Portland forward Nicolas Batum. So, scratch that. If we narrow the numbers to tight ends, the position LeBron would likely play in the NFL, he’d probably choose between two Cowboys greats, No. 84 Jay Novacek and No. 82 Jason Witten. One has more titles than LeBron. Go with Novacek. Only one NBA player, Chris Webber, has ever worn 84 and for only one season (2007 with Detroit). No NBA player has ever put on 82 (according to basketball-reference.com).

Alternatives:

29: It’s the sum of LeBron’s first two numbers, and it’s a pretty rare one in the history of the NBA with Paul Silas being the most famous 29.

33: It’s just a great basketball number worn by such luminaries as Kareem Abdul-Jabber, Bird, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Scottie Pippen and the underappreciated Alvan Adams.

40: This comes with an eye toward some serious goal-setting, as in 40K, as in 40,000 career points. No player has ever reached it. Abdul-Jabbar remains the league’s all-time scoring leader with 38,387 points. James, 29, has scored 23,170 points in 11 seasons. It is doable.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 25


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sixers expect decision on Granger soon  | Celts to ask Rondo about Sacramento absence | Big Baby to debut Wednesday? | Knee injuries may force Billups to retire

No. 1: Sixers’ decision on Granger buyout coming soon — Newly acquired Sixers forward Danny Granger has yet to suit up in a game for Philadelphia, and questions remain as to whether or not that will actually ever happen. According to Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com and Christopher A. Vito of the Delaware County Daily Times, the Sixers and Granger are working to resolve his future with the team, which may soon lead to a buyout of Granger’s contract so that the veteran can sign with a contender before the March 1 deadline.

Here’s Lynam’s report on Granger, who sat out last night’s game against the Bucks:

Danny Granger, who was acquired in a trade with Indiana last Thursday, is in Philadelphia but is not at the Wells Fargo Center for the Sixers’ game against the Bucks tonight.

“The discussions and meetings are continuing on with Sam [Hinkie],” Brett Brown said prior to tipoff. “I spoke with him yesterday and that really is the latest update.”

Brown called his discussion with Granger a “private meeting” giving no indication if Granger had any thoughts of playing for the Sixers for the remainder 25 games after tonight.

A buyout of his contract is thought to be the topic of discussion but that is speculation based on Granger not yet being with the team despite having passed his physical.

“In the next short period of time, maybe even in the next 24 hours and announcement will be made on the direction our situation with Danny Granger will go,” Brown said.

And here’s Vito providing another angle (and a great Brett Brown quote) on Granger, too:

Danny Granger’s status with the 76ers remains unresolved, though it appears both sides could be working toward a buyout arrangement.

Granger is not with the Sixers. He was not at Wells Fargo Center for Monday’s game against Milwaukee, Sixers coach Brett Brown said, and there was no locker room stall arranged for the ninth-year forward.

“He’s in the city of Philadelphia. Go find him,” Brown said. “He’s got a fake wig and sunglasses on.”

Granger finished his physical examination Sunday, meeting with Brown after doing so. He also sat down with Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie sometime over the weekend.

Brown wouldn’t divulge what was discussed when he spoke with Granger.

Acquired from Indiana at the Feb. 20 trade deadline, Granger does not seem to have any interest in playing for the foundering, rebuilding Sixers. If he seeks a buyout of the remainder of his expiring contract, it’d be for roughly $4 million. Brown insists that “there’s still more going on with the discussions,” however.

“He most definitely wants to play basketball this year,” Brown said of Granger, the one-time All-Star. “The obvious stuff is assessing his goals at this stage of his career. He’s a player and he wants to play. Just trying to sort out what’s going to be best for both parties has yet to be determined.”

But Granger and the Sixers are at a critical juncture: the 30-year-old Granger has to be signed by a team by March 1 to be included on that club’s playoff roster. That gives him and the Sixers a small window within which to complete the buyout process.

There have been multiple reports that Granger, upon his release, will opt to sign for a championship contender like Miami or San Antonio.

If Granger’s brief tenure with the Sixers plays out the way it looks like it will, the Sixers will have come up almost completely empty-handed on their deadline day deal with Indiana. They acquired Granger and a 2015 second-round draft pick from the Pacers, in exchange for forwards Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. And since the Pacers are expected to contend for at least another few years, that second-rounder from Indiana will likely fall between the 50th and 60th overall choices.


VIDEO: Sixers coach Brett Brown talks about Danny Granger’s future and more

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No. 2: Celtics plan to ask Rondo about Sacramento absence — Last Friday, the Celtics took on the Lakers in Los Angeles with Rajon Rondo in the starting lineup at point guard. Rondo finished with six points, six rebounds and 11 assists in 34 minutes of work in a 101-92 loss. After the game, the Celtics were due to take on the Kings in Sacramento the next night, but Rondo did not play in the game. The official word was the Rondo didn’t play so he could rest his still-recovering knee, but he did not accompany the team to Sacramento and it may have created an issue the team has to address, writes Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:

The Celtics are not taking it as a major issue, but the team is still hoping to straighten things out with Rajon Rondo after his decision to stay in Los Angeles and not accompany the team to Sacramento for Saturday’s game.While some were displeased by the move, for which Rondo did not receive official permission, others pointed out he was not scheduled to play in the game anyway (on the second night of a back-to-back), and that he may have simply been making some assumptions based on precedent. Multiple sources say he remained in LA for a birthday celebration. He turned 28 on Saturday.

The captain didn’t want to get into the matter before last night’s 110-98 loss to the Jazz.

“We already talked about it,” Rondo said. “There’s nothing to talk about.”

That doesn’t appear to be the case. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge said yesterday he is still looking into the situation.

“I plan on talking to Rondo when he gets back into town,” he told the Herald. “I’ll find out more about what went into it, and then we’ll handle it internally. We handle all of those kind of issues internally.”

Among that which could have factored into Rondo’s thinking was he had been left home from the trip to Milwaukee for the Feb. 10 game on the end of a back-to-back as he returns from a torn right ACL. Then there was the birthday plan.

“His wife and kids were with him in LA, and there were some other people who came in,” a source said. “I think he felt obligated to them, too, and what they had planned for his birthday.”

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No. 3: Davis expected to make Clips debut Wednesday — The L.A. Clippers signed veteran forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis yesterday in what they hope is a move to provide more frontcourt depth for a run to the Western Conference finals and beyond. Davis is happy to be reunited with coach Doc Rivers, who coached him when both men were in Boston, but he sat out last night’s win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports that Davis is expected to get into the Clips’ mix sometime this week:

Glen Davis arrived at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans after signing with the Los Angeles Clippers but will not play Monday night against the Pelicans.The Clippers said Davis will take a required physical exam Tuesday and should play Wednesday at home against the Houston Rockets.

“We were on the phone with him and just told him what we offered and I’m sure the other guys did that,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I do think that it helped a little bit that we have a relationship. He knows me and I know him. I think that’s the situation he wanted to be in and that’s good.”

Davis, 28, reached a buyout with the Orlando Magic on Friday and was waived. The Brooklyn Nets had also shown interest in Davis, but decided to sign Jason Collins, feeling that they were out of the running on Davis.

“I just really felt the Clippers were heading in the right direction,” Davis said. “They’re young, they got a great coach, a great point guard, a great rising star like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and guys that you can build around and I feel like I’m one of those types of guys, a glue guy.”


VIDEO: Glen Davis explains why he signed with the L.A. Clippers

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No. 4: Knee woes may force Billups to retire — If he never plays another minute in a Detroit Pistons uniform, Chauncey Billups‘ legend and legacy with the team is complete. That’s a good thing to realize as it seems his career may be nearing its end sooner than expected. Billups has been out since having minor knee surgery a few days ago and his timetable to return is 2-3 weeks. But according to the Detroit Free PressVince Ellis, Billups’ knee injury problems may lead him to retire early:

After Chauncey Billups finished speaking to the media late Monday night, he was asked if Father Time had him up against the ropes.

Billups just smiled and said: “The gas light is on. I don’t know if there’s 15 miles or 30 miles left.”

His response caused an eruption of laughter — the only laughing going on in the Detroit Pistons locker room after the latest loss — a 104-96 loss to the Warriors.

Billups, 37, spoke to the media for the first time since he had minor left knee surgery several days ago.

The diagnosis is 2-to-3 weeks of rehab before a possible return, but Billups said he isn’t going to rush back.

So with only one year left (a team option) on his deal, is retirement a possibility?

“It all kind of just depends how this feels, how things are with the knee,” Billups said of a return next season. “If the knee is fine, sure I would like to come back. But if it’s not, I don’t want to come back to this.

“It’s tough to do this and we’re not a winning team at this stage. It’s tough to do that, but hopefully in a perfect world and my knee is fine … I feel like if my knee was fine we probably wouldn’t be in the position that we’re in.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Chinese league star Lester Hudson is drawing some interest from a couple of contenders as the playoffs’ stretch run nears … Wizards seem likely to sign veteran big man Drew Gooden to a 10-day deal as they try to offset losing Nene for 4-6 weeks to injury … Clippers may have some interest in bringing the recently bought out Metta World Peace in for a deal, but don’t expect to see MWP in Brooklyn … The Jazz are simply better when Derrick Favors plays

ICYMI(s) of The Night: Dirk Nowitzki played hero last night against the Knicks with a game-winning buzzer-beater at MSG. That was great, but we also don’t want to overlook a pair of behind-the-back passes leading to power jams, the first one from O.J. Mayo to Brandon Knight and another from Brandon Jennings to Greg Monroe


VIDEO: Brandon Knight finishes strong off the O.J. Mayo feed


VIDEO: Greg Monroe puts down a power flush off the dish from Brandon Jennings

Pistons’ Sluggish Start Prompts Change




VIDEO: Josh Smith’s early season highlights with the Pistons

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – A blockbuster free-agent/trade summer doesn’t always deliver the desired results come the start of the regular season, at least not immediately.

The Detroit Pistons are living that reality after just seven games. Pistons coach Mo Cheeks benched veterans Chauncey Billups and Josh Smith at the start of the second half of Tuesday night’s rout at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, inserting youngsters Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Singler in their places, respectively.

This season was supposed to mark a shift in fortunes for the Pistons, an escape from the grips of the lottery and a move back into the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference. The summer additions of Billups, Smith and point guard Brandon Jennings was the masterstroke that was going to jumpstart that process.

But so far … it’s just not happening. The Pistons are 2-5 and showing no signs of being the playoff outfit some of us assumed they would be. In addition to chemistry issues that need to be sorted out, they’re also the worst defensive team in the league.

Losers of four straight games, Cheeks is rightfully trying to get out ahead of what could be a bigger problem. If his intent was to light a fire under his veterans, mission accomplished. If it was to point out to veterans and youngsters alike that no one is safe from being removed from their spot in the starting lineup or rotation, no matter how big a name or reputation they have, then he should be commended for taking that sort of stance this early in the campaign.

Cheeks said he wasn’t trying to send a message by singling Smith and Billups out, but did offer up specifics for Smith to shake out of his mini-funk, telling Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News:

“He has to get involved in the offense, get some offensive rebounds, run the floor, get some post-ups,” Cheeks said of Smith. “Get your hands on the ball and things will change for you.”

To his credit, Smith handled it like a pro, something that his critics probably didn’t expect given his history of clashing with authority during his formative stages in the league. Instead, he put the onus back on the leaders in the locker room and pointed out their lack of focus and attention to detail on the defensive end:

“Just gotta cheer my teammates on. You can’t focus on decisions people make, higher than you. You have to adjust around it and as long as I’ve been in this league, that’s what I’ve been willing to do — learning to adjust.”

With investment the Pistons have made in Smith, knowing that they have to make decisions on the long-term futures of young bigs Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, everyone needs to maintain the proper perspective on things during the start.

Smith is averaging 15.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks so far this season. He’s been a factor. The Pistons, however, need him to be a force. They need him to lead the way in the frontcourt. They need his play, his all around abilities and particularly his penchant for facilitating from the point-forward position, to bolster the production up front.

With Jennings returning from injury, Smith was bound to lose some of that freedom he enjoyed in the first few games of the season. So ultimately, it’s up to Cheeks to make sure all of the pieces fit and the Pistons don’t lose any more ground in the Eastern Conference standings.

So if a change is needed after this sluggish start, even a minor one at halftime of a road game in mid-November, so be it. Better to fix it now than have to worry about it later.

LeBron: The Evolution Of His Game

Editor’s note: As the NBA embarks this week on a new season, Miami Heat superstar LeBron James stands as the league’s most iconic figure. In Part Two of a three-part series on James and his place in the league, we take a look at how James’ on-court game has changed since he burst onto the scene straight out of high school in 2003 and how his early failures shaped the player he is today. 

In Part One (Sunday), we looked at the people who have helped shape James into an international marketing force and a difference-maker for at-risk kids in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. In Part Three (Tuesday), we’ll weigh in on where James stands in the greatest-of-all-time argument.


VIDEO: The LeBron Series — Growing Up

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – May 31, 2007 was the day LeBron James seemingly put it all together. In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals in Detroit, James scored 29 of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ final 30 points in a double-OT victory that helped the franchise and its star reach The Finals for the first time.

As usual, James was nearly impossible to stop when he got into the paint. And no Piston defender was able to stay in front of him without help. But the difference on that night was that his jumper was falling. There was a ridiculous, pull-up 23-footer from the right wing to tie the scorein the final minute of regulation. There was an even crazier three in front of the Pistons’ bench to tie it with 1:15 to go in the second overtime.

The Pistons — one of the best defensive teams in the league — were helpless.

“It was very Jordanesque,” Detroit’s Chauncey Billups said afterward. “That kid was on fire, it was crazy. He put on an unbelievable display out there. It’s probably the best I have seen against us ever in the playoffs.”

James was 22 at the time. That performance was six years ago. And in the six years since, that basketball prodigy has evolved into a much different and much better player.

The evolution has not been a straight path. While his game has expanded and improved year by year, there have been hiccups along the way. And everything has come under the intense scrutiny that comes with being dubbed as “The Chosen One” in high school.

From star to MVP

With his combination of size, skill and athleticism, James was ready to be a star from the time he was drafted at the age of 18. He lived up to the hype right away, becoming the third rookie in NBA history — Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan were the first two — to average more than 20 points, five rebounds and five assists. And he did it with little variety in his game.

That night in Detroit, at the end of his fourth season in the league, all of James’ offense in the final 16 minutes originated from the top of the key. There was a single give-and-go through Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the high post, but everything else was James dribbling on the perimeter and either getting to the basket or pulling up for a jumper. Only one of his 18 baskets in that game came off an assist.

James’ shooting and efficiency
Season EFG% TS%
2003-04 43.8% 48.8%
2004-05 50.4% 55.4%
2005-06 51.5% 56.8%
2006-07 50.7% 55.2%
2007-08 51.8% 56.8%
2008-09 53.0% 59.1%
2009-10 54.5% 60.4%
2010-11 54.1% 59.4%
2011-12 55.4% 60.5%
2012-13 60.3% 64.0%
Career 52.4% 57.5%
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5*3PM))/FGA
TS% = PTS/(2*(FGA + (0.44*FTA)))

That was the kind of player he was. He attacked from the outside in.

“We tried to post him up at times,” says then Cavs assistant Michael Malone, “and sometimes he would, sometimes he wouldn’t.”

For opponents, the No. 1 priority was preventing James from getting into transition. If they could do that, the next step was keeping him out of the paint and making him a jump shooter. From his second year on, he was one of the best finishers in the league, shooting about 70 percent in the restricted area.

That accounts to 1.4 points a shot. Comparatively, his jumpers, even when accounting for the extra point he got when he made a three, were worth just 0.8 points. So defenders sagged off of him, went under the screen, and played the odds. Complicating things for defenders, though, was that he’s been a willing and competent passer since the day he entered the league.

“I tried to make him think,” says Shane Battier of his days guarding a younger James. “If he was instinctual, there’s not much I can do.”

The hiring of Mike Brown as coach in James’ third season helped him become a better defensive player. But though he was unstoppable at times and the most complete player among the league’s top stars, his numbers didn’t change much from his second season through his fifth. It was in his last two years with the Cavs when James really established himself as the best player in the world, becoming a better shooter and more efficient scorer.

He got into the paint more, got to the line more, and his jumper started to improve. And with a better supporting cast for their star, the Cavs jumped from 19th in offensive efficiency (in both 2006-07 and ’07-08) to fourth (in both ’08-09 and ’09-10). They held the league’s best record each year and James earned his first two MVP awards.


VIDEO: James claims MVP in 2009-10

Expanding his game in Miami


VIDEO: LeBron makes his famous ‘Decision’

James’ move to South Florida not only gave him two All-Star teammates but a coach who would finally get him to step out of his comfort zone. In that first season in Miami, coach Erik Spoelstra used pie charts to show James and Dwyane Wade that they needed to add more variety to their offense.

James in the post, last 5 seasons
Season Reg. season Playoffs
2008-09 5.3% 6.8%
2009-10 6.4% 6.3%
2010-11 8.0% 8.3%
2011-12 13.9% 15.3%
2012-13 11.9% 16.0%
% of total possessions, according to
Synergy Sports Technology

Though Wade clearly had to make bigger sacrifices, James saw his usage rate go down. He learned to play off the ball a little and even dabbled with a post game. His standard field goal percentage hit a career high of 51 percent in 2010-11, though his effective field goal percentage and efficiency took a dip because he shot fewer free throws and 3-pointers.

It was Season 2 in Miami that brought the biggest change in James’ game and, ultimately, his first championship.

“When we lost to Dallas,” Spoelstra says, “he put in a lot of time that summer, really to help us establish a back-to-the-basket post-up game.”

James began to work out of the post a lot more than he ever had and reduced his 3-point attempts. In The Finals against Oklahoma City, he shot just 7-for-38 from outside the paint, but he destroyed the Thunder inside.

And it was in that playoff run that Spoelstra and the Heat turned to the idea of positionless basketball. Thanks in part to an injury to Chris Bosh, they used more one-big lineups, with James essentially playing both power forward and point guard at the same time.

Last season, with Ray Allen adding more shooting to the rotation, the Heat assumed a full-time identity.

“Their situation has evolved where he has become the lead guy,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle says of James. “[In 2011], they didn’t have all that stuff sorted out and so we took advantage of that, and they’ve adjusted brilliantly since.”

James is the primary attacker, of course, but he has also become a pretty good shooter. After making fewer than 33 percent of his 3-pointers in his first eight seasons, he shot 36.2 percent from beyond the arc in 2011-12 and then 40.6 percent last season.

“The scouting report used to be he would lose faith in his jumper,” Battier says. “That’s no longer the case. That’s the biggest difference, but that’s a huge difference. It changes the way you have to guard him.”

“That doesn’t happen by accident,” adds Spoelstra. “That doesn’t happen by you getting your reps in games. That was a lot of repetitions before and after practice, and in sessions on his own.”

With his own shooting improvements and all the space he was creating for his teammates, the Heat became the best shooting team in NBA history last season, registering an effective field goal percentage of 55.2 percent.

The priorities when defending James are basically the same as they always have been. Defenders still don’t want to see him in the open court, and they still need to keep him out of the paint. According to SportVU data, the Heat scored 1.67 points per James drive* last season. The league averaged just 1.03 points per possession. (*Drive = Any touch that starts at least 20 feet of the basket and is dribbled within 10 feet of the basket.)

James can now attack opponents from the inside out, using his refined post game to bully himself to the rim or draw extra defenders and create open looks for his teammates. And when he does have the ball on the perimeter, he’s better able to punish defenses for sagging off.

“Those became pivotal shots in the San Antonio series,” Spoelstra says. “It was the only thing they would give us.”

The Spurs’ strategy of making James shoot from mid-range worked for much of the 2013 Finals. But the new James eventually came through, appropriately sealing Game 7 with a 19-foot jumper.

“I looked at all my regular season stats, all my playoff stats, and I was one of the best mid-range shooters in the game,” he said afterward. “I just told myself, ‘Don’t abandon what you’ve done all year. Don’t abandon now because they’re going under.’

” ‘Everything you’ve worked on, the repetition, the practices, the off-season training, no matter how big the stakes are, no matter what’s on the line, just go with it.’ And I was able to do that.”


VIDEO: LeBron , Heat hot early in Game 6 of 2013 Finals

Closing the deal

Improved post game? Championship No. 1.

Improved jumper? Championship No. 2.

Of course, James’ journey to the top of the mountain was not quite that simple, because he really was good enough to win championships in 2010 and 2011.

In his final year in Cleveland, the Cavs held a 2-1 series lead over the Celtics in the conference finals. But they blew it, with James shooting 18-for-53 (34 percent) over the last three games. In Game 5, his final home game in Cleveland, he shot 3-for-14 and acted like he’d much rather be somewhere else in the second half. Even if many doubted his championship mettle, that game was stunning.

In his first year in Miami, the killer instinct was there through the first three rounds, as James made several huge plays late in games against both the Celtics and Bulls. But then something changed in The Finals against Dallas.

He didn’t play terribly, but he played passively, more like a ball-distributing point guard than a 6-foot-8 freak of nature with the ability to take over games. In a six-game series, he got to the free-throw line a total of 20 times. Many wondered if he would forever be known as a superstar who couldn’t close the deal.

“I definitely didn’t play up to the potential I knew I was capable of playing at,” James said of the Dallas series in a recent interview with ESPN the Magazine’s Chris Broussard. “So you could make any assessment — I froze, I didn’t show up, I was late for my own funeral. You can make your own assessment. I can’t argue with nothing.”

Less than a year later, James was faced with another moment of truth, Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals in Boston with the Celtics leading the series 3-2. That night, five years after that memorable game in Detroit, he had another breakthrough.

There were no signs of passivity as James racked up 45 points (on 19-for-26 shooting), 15 rebounds and five assists, sending the series back to Miami.

That was the night things changed, perhaps forever. Six games later, LeBron James had his first championship.

What was the difference between that game in Boston and some of the others that came before it? Only James really knows.

“The best thing that happened to me last year was us losing The Finals and me playing the way I played,” he said the night he won his first title, “It humbled me. I knew what it was going to have to take, and I was going to have to change as a basketball player, and I was going to have to change as a person to get what I wanted.”

The development of his  game, the development of the Heat’s system and the shedding of whatever mental roadblock was holding him back in 2010 and 2011 all contributed to James going from the best player in the world to NBA champion.

Staying at the mountaintop won’t be much different from getting there. Every season is a new journey, and James almost took a step backward this past June. If Kawhi Leonard didn’t miss a free throw in a critical and series-changing Game 6 of The Finals, if Bosh didn’t get a key rebound, or if Allen didn’t hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history, the scrutiny would have been right back on James for the two ugly turnovers he committed in the final minute of the fourth quarter.

That’s sports. And that scrutiny is what comes with having the kind of talent that no one has ever seen before.

Now, we see what comes next.

“I want to be the greatest of all-time,” James said as he began his quest for championship No. 3. “I’m far away from it. But I see the light.”


VIDEO: James fuels Heat’s back-to-back title run

Billups, James Wear Out Similar Paths To Itinerant NBA Success

 

CHICAGO – Hissing matches over loyalty, love of team and just who betrayed whom first tend to be limited to the big dogs of the NBA. Witness the rhetoric that went flying about, via the media the other day, involving Ray Allen, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, the Boston Celtics, the Miami Heat and the Brooklyn Nets.

Most of the working stiffs (relatively speaking) of this or any other sports league know a different reality when it comes to the bond between player and team. Generally, it’s covered by the Don Draper quote, said in a moment of pique over Peggy Olson‘s need for affirmation: “That’s what the money’s for!”

The business aspects of sports get pounded home so frequently – you’re an asset (until you’re not), anyone can be traded, your contract can end up being more marketable than your skills – that teams, teammates and fans shouldn’t gripe too much when a player, rightly or wrongly, gets out front of the process, as Allen did in exiting Boston a year early rather than a year late.

Meanwhile, for every Allen, James or Garnett, there are dozens like Chauncey Billups, All-Star caliber players who have been forced to move time and time again, regardless of their wishes. And there are hundreds like Mike James, who move for professional survival, cobbling together careers out of one- or two-year stops.

Allen has switched teams, what, three times? Milwaukee-Seattle via trade, Seattle-Boston via approved trade and Boston-Miami as a free agent. Garnett has moved twice now, James and Pierce once each.

Billups and James each has them beat. Billups, back with the Pistons this autumn, has changed teams eight times and played for seven different franchises, with two stops in Denver and Detroit. Mike James has moved 11 times and played for 11 teams, repeating himself only with Houston while awaiting his preseason fate with Chicago.

“You have to be a chameleon,” James said. “You have to be able to adjust to any environment. You have to continue to stay true to who you are and keep working every day, regardless of the outcome of the situation. People [around you] may change but the game is still the same. So you need to just play the game the right way regardless of the faces you’re playing with.”

Both point guards, both products of non-basketball factories (Colorado for Billups, Duquesne for James), their pro careers scarcely could have begun more differently. The former was the No. 3 pick in 1997 behind Tim Duncan and Keith Van Horn while the latter, one year later, went undrafted. Immense expectations vs. zero expectations, turned out it didn’t matter – Billups moved three times before he’d played the equivalent of two full seasons, James bounced from Austria to France to Rockford, Ill., before reaching the NBA with Miami at age 26.

After stops in Boston (no, he wasn’t Duncan), Toronto and Denver, Billups had two productive seasons with Minnesota, but the Timberwolves’ contractual commitment to oft-injured Terrell Brandon sent him to Detroit in free agency. Reminded of that Minny mistake, Billups said: “But how many teams can say that? Nobody thought I would do what I did, after the start that I had.”

The Detroit years – from 2002-03 into 2008-09 – were the best and most stable of Billups’ career, with six conference finals appearances and a title in 2004. But then Allen Iverson came available and it was back to Denver. Then to New York as a chip in the Carmelo Anthony trade. Amnestied so the Knicks could pursue Tyson Chandler. Two broken seasons with the Clippers due to an Achilles tear and other ailments. Now back to the Pistons. Churning at the back end not unlike churning at the start, never mind his career earnings of $100 million or more.

“It’s been rough the last couple years, more from the injuries than moving,” Billups said after a preseason game against the Bulls. “Being traded and moving, I’ve been doing that my whole career. That’s not hard to deal with. But injuries…”

First in Denver, his hometown, then in Detroit, Billups thought he had found his forever basketball homes. He wound up playing twice in each, sandwiched around the other teams. “Nobody wants to just pick up and move every year or every two years,” he said. “But you deal with it the best you can and see how it works out. Nobody wants to have that kind of instability.”

The one-team NBA player, who clicks quickly, fits perfectly and stays from start to finish, is more ideal than real. Even among the old-school set. Of the guys selected in 1996 as the NBA’s “50 Greatest,” only 20 of them (40 percent) spent their entire careers with one team. Add free agency and salary-cap restrictions, and it’s a wonder anyone stays put these days, loyalty be damned.

For a plugger like James, understanding that he might have to move a lot made the moves easier. “A lot of times, most of my trades, I asked for,” he said. “I felt like I got to this game basically on my own – I snuck in through the back door. If I didn’t feel like a situation was for me, I was never afraid to say, ‘I want to go somewhere where at least I’m trusted and respected and someone will give me a chance.’

“So I could have been some places probably longer in my career, but at the same time, you can be somewhere you don’t want to rock the boat but then you find yourself unhappy. I always figured management can trade you and get rid of you at any time they wanted to, so why shouldn’t the player have a hand in the decisions in their career?”

Freed from ever feeling as if he let people down, James, 38, has played with a chip on his shoulder, his one reliable traveling companion through the moves. He believed he was most appreciated when he was gone – OK, he’s been paid more than $32 million in NBA salaries too – and now, hustling for a roster spot in Chicago, he still believes.

“I’m better than everyone who’s not in the NBA,” James said. “Believe me, I’m pretty sure I’m better than a lot who are, but because of my age, I won’t get the opportunity. At the same time, I’m always going to keep plugging.

“I found myself every year facing, ‘You’re not this’ and having to prove, ‘Yes I am,’ ” the journeyman guard said. “Then when I proved that, it was like there was a cockiness to me. And then management would be like, ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’ “

Guys like Billups and James know who they are. Stop after stop after stop.

Yoda, Father Time And Billups’ Dual Role

h

Marketing whizzes love to throw big, rhetorical “choices” at us. Is it a phone or is it a computer? Is it soup or is it a meal? Is it a salad dressing or is it a floor wax?

Well, here’s another one … NBA-style: Is Chauncey Billups a combo guard for the Detroit Pistons or is he a mentor and coach’s apprentice?

For now, and both the player and the team are sticking to this story, Billups is both. That’s usually the “wink-wink” point of those commercials anyway.

Billups, 37, is in his 17th NBA season, a five-time All-Star who has played for seven different teams, twice finished in the top six in MVP balloting and won the Finals MVP award for being the floor leader of Detroit’s ensemble title in 2004. The No. 3 pick in the 1997 (Tim Duncan) Draft, Billups enjoyed the best six-plus seasons of his career with the Pistons and he re-signed in July with the idea, again, of boosting their point guard play. After all, through two years, young Brandon Knight had handled the position more like a miscast shooting guard.

Two weeks later, though, Detroit president Joe Dumars swapped Knight in a sign-and-trade for Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings, no purist’s dream as a playmaker but at least more proven and committed as a point guard. That cast Billups’ return in a different light — he had played shooting guard next to Chris Paul for the stretches they both were healthy in 2011-12 and last season, but then the Pistons also had Rodney Stuckey, Kyle Singler and lottery pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as options there.

So, Billups told Detroit reporters that he didn’t need to start and understood the team’s vision, adding “Here’s my thing: I don’t mind playing the 2 only if I’m able to play like a point guard. Control it, play with the ball in my hands, make plays, have an effect on the game.”

Everyone, most notably Billups, still is waiting to see how that works out. Through the Pistons’ first four preseason games, Billups logged just 19 minutes in one game, missing four field goals, hitting a pair of free throws and dishing a couple assists. With Detroit getting a lovely preseason back-to-back, there was a chance he would play again Thursday in Cleveland. The veteran guard said he’s healthy after two horribly scarred seasons of injuries (left Achilles, foot tendinitis, groin strain and back pain).

Coach Maurice Cheeks still sees a guy in a uniform, working on a $2.5 million salary with a team option next summer for the same amount.

“No. 1, I think he can still play,” Cheeks said Wednesday night in Chicago. “His knowledge and the things he can still do on the court — he can still shoot the ball, he can still run pick-and-roll, he can still do certain things that he did before. Maybe not at the pace he did before, but he can still do ‘em.”

In the six consecutive seasons in which he helped Detroit reach the East, from 2002-03 through 2007-08, Billups on a 36-minute basis averaged 17.7 points, 6.6 assists and 1.1 steals, with a PER rating of 21.0 and shooting percentages of 42.4/40.0/89.2.

Since the start of 2008-09, same 36-minute prorating, he’s been at 18.9 points, 6.0 assists and 1.1 steals, with a PER of 18.8 and a shooting line of 41.6/39.5/91.3.

He’s very well could be capable of similar performances. Just not for as long or as often.

“You’ll see it, you’ll see it,” Billups said, when a familiar face asked him about his DNP against the Bulls. “Absolutely I’m fine [being a veteran voice]. But I’ll be here to play and help. As needed. I mean, I’m not going to play 35 minutes a game. If I want to make it through I’m not. But nah, I’m here, man. I’m healthy to play.”

The openings might be there, given the NBA’s injurious ways. Jennings and Stuckey both are hurt, the former with a hairline jaw fracture and impacted wisdom tooth, the latter with a bum thumb. Caldwell-Pope looked good with 18 points and seven rebounds in 40 reserve minutes Wednesday and another newbie, Peyton Siva, logged 26 minutes backing up Will Bynum. But they’re rookies.

In the meantime, Billups can be Yoda, the vestiges of his serious Jedi game under wraps.

“Off the court, his knowledge can only help our team,” Cheeks said. “He’s been through every situation imaginable. … Things I’m trying to tell ‘em, he can reinforce it to players. Any time a player of Chauncey’s [status] says it, it validates what the coach is saying.

“Jennings, Bynum, Siva, Kentavious. He can help a lot of guys: big guys, small guys. He can help ME.”

Said Bynum: “Chauncey’s been through the wars. He’s been through ups, he’s been through downs. We’re all eager to learn from that. It’s the small attention to details, the critical things. Splitting the screeners, small things Chauncey’s telling us that can be the difference between winning and losing.”

Then Bynum — with Stuckey, the only two Pistons remaining from Billups’ first Detroit stint — stuck in a needle for old time’s sake. “I hope he’s healthy enough to play on an everyday basis,” Bynum said. “Father Time’s undefeated, though.”

How Is A Championship Team Built?

The Miami Heat were able to acquire most of their roster through free agency.

The 2013 NBA Champion Miami Heat acquired most of their roster through free agency.

By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com

There’s been much discussion recently about the proper way for an NBA franchise to rebuild. Many of these discussions have been about teams who appear to purposefully build an inferior roster in order to obtain a high Draft pick. This concept, also known as “tanking,” inspired an entire series by the ESPN TrueHoop Network staff and an excellent rebuttal from Tom Ziller at SB Nation.

The key question raised by all of these articles: What IS the optimal way for an NBA franchise to construct a championship team?

The best way to answer this question is to look at how past champions were constructed.

Here’s a graph that breaks down the roster construction of the past 20 NBA champions (click to enlarge):

 Championship construction

And here’s how the top three players on each team were acquired:

championship construction 2

(EDITOR’S NOTE ON ABOVE TRANSACTIONS: Maxwell was sold to the Houston Rockets by the San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 20, 1990; James technically joined the Heat in a sign-and-trade deal that gave the Cavs two future first-round, two future second-round picks, a trade exception and an option to swap first-round picks with Miami in 2012 — which the Cavs passed on. Bosh technically joined the Heat in a sign-and-trade deal that gave the Raptors two first-round picks in the 2011 Draft and a trade exception.)

A few things of note:

  • The 2004 Pistons were incredible. None of their top three players was drafted by the team; Tayshaun Prince and Mehmet Okur were the only players drafted at all by the Pistons.
  • The Pistons and the 2011 Mavericks were the only championship teams over the past 20 years who acquired the majority of their players through trades.
  • The importance of the Draft is clear. Outside of those pesky Pistons, each championship team drafted either their best or second-best player. I labeled both Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant as drafted by their current teams even though they were drafted by other teams (Milwaukee and Charlotte, respectively) and traded on Draft night or, in Kobe’s case, shortly thereafter.
  • The Heat started a new trend of how to build a champion with the majority of their players being acquired through free agency. This has a lot to do with the roster purge they experienced during the summer of 2010 when they cleared significant roster space to re-sign Dwyane Wade and sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

Overall, the general construction of these squads seems to be quite basic. Draft a superstar, trade for players who fit well with said superstar, sign supporting role players and, boom … championship. Sounds easy enough.

But it’s obviously not that easy, considering only eight franchises have been able to crack the code over the last twenty seasons.

It’s clear, though, that the first and most important step in building a championship roster is acquiring a superstar. Unfortunately, superstars are rare. So for most franchises that are not located in a hugely desirable free-agent destination, or can’t swing a blockbuster trade, the only way to acquire one is through the Draft.