BILLUPS IN FINAL PHASE OF REHAB

Less than eight months removed from surgery to repair his torn left Achilles tendon, guard Chauncey Billups is participating in non-contact drills during Clippers training camp.

Chauncey Billups Clippers Media Day 2012
Billups participating in the team basketball signing held on Clippers Media Day.
Photo: Varon Panganiban

The progress may be incremental, but veteran guard Chauncey Billups is getting closer to a full-time return to the court.

Less than eight months removed from surgery to repair a torn left Achilles tendon, Billups, who is entering his 16th NBA season, is participating in non-contact drills and 5-on-0 sets with the offense.

“It feels like I’m really on the team again. It feels good,” he said following Monday morning’s practice. “That’s a lot of [what] you miss, just being out there and the camaraderie and being able to talk stuff. Obviously, I’m not playing yet, so it’s going to get greater later.”

Billups sustained the injury Feb. 5 during the Clippers’ 107-102 win over the Magic in Orlando and underwent surgery 10 days later. Now, he’s entering the final phase of a grueling rehabilitation. He said he’s running full speed and cutting, but still looking to regain his explosion and lift.

“J.P. (Clippers trainer Jasen Powell) is very sensitive to how long I should be out there,” Billups said. “And when they go live I step off [the court] because I haven’t been freed up to do that yet, but other than that when I’m out there I really have no limitations.”

According to Head Coach Vinny Del Negro, putting an exact timeframe on Billups’ return is somewhat elusive because there is still the unknown of how the 36-year-old guard’s Achilles will feel once he begins full-contact participation.

“There’s no specific date put on it, it’s just how he feels,” Del Negro said. “He does all the non-contact stuff, but we’ll reevaluate it once we get back from China (Oct. 7-14) and see where he’s at.”

While Billups spends most of his time during full-contact portions of practice seated on a large fitness ball, he has still observed enough from his teammates to be excited.

“I see the guys working really hard,” he said. “I see a motivated group of guys who are coming off being swept in the playoffs. And guys who are motivated to be an elite team. I love what I see.”

Meanwhile, the opening night starter at shooting guard is yet to be determined. Jamal Crawford said he worked with the second unit Monday to “kind of balance practice” and Del Negro is still looking at other options, including potentially using nine-year veteran Willie Green and keeping Crawford in a sixth-man role.

“Willie’s very versatile, works hard, knows how to play,” Del Negro said. “He gives us more depth and just more professionalism. He’s done a good job for us.”

The Clippers this offseason added Green, Crawford, Grant Hill, and Matt Barnes to a backcourt that already included Billups, superstar Chris Paul, and youngster Eric Bledsoe. The newfound depth has helped Billups remain patient throughout the process.

“It gives me an opportunity to take my time, be patient, and come back when I feel good,” Billups said. “I’m not fighting myself off at all [to come back too soon] because I know how severe this injury was, and I’m not going to compromise all the hard work I’ve put in all summer to get back a week earlier or two weeks or two days. It is tough because you want to be out there.”