Parting wtih Chauncey Billups sweet sorrow for Nuggets
Coaching staff, front office appreciative of Denver native's contributions
It’s a business.
That’s the oft-uttered line that professional athletes, coaches and front-office executives use to sterilize the pain of a breakup.
Sometimes, though, it’s painfully personal.
Including Denver native Chauncey Billups in the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks was one of the hardest things Nuggets president Josh Kroenke has ever had to do. Ditto for executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri.
They weren’t going to pretend otherwise.
Kroenke and Ujiri issued a public apology to Billups, his wife Piper and their three daughters after the trade was finalized Tuesday. The deal came after months of rumors and speculation that included no fewer than eight of the 14 players on Denver’s roster at one time or another.
“One of the main reasons this dragged out so long is I wanted to avoid putting Chauncey in the deal at all costs,” Kroenke said.
“It’s impossible to put into words what Chauncey Billups means to the sport of basketball in Denver, and the community in general. He is Denver basketball, regardless of level – youth, high school, college, pro. Chauncey is Denver basketball.”
Billups won two state titles at George Washington High School and led the University of Colorado to the NCAA Tournament in 1997 before leaving for the NBA after his sophomore year.
He and Piper launched their charitible foundations in Denver in 2009, and Chauncey later started the Chauncey Billups Elite Basketball Academy aimed at identifying and developing the top young players in Colorado and helping them earn college scholarships.
“What a great professional, what a great person, what a great family,” Ujiri said. “He will always be welcome in Denver and he knows that.”
The Nuggets also lauded the professionalism of veteran backup point guard Anthony Carter, who made Denver his year-round home with this wife Cassie and their two sons. Carter had signed a one-year deal with the Nuggets each of the past four seasons.
With the emergence of second-year point guard Ty Lawson, Carter embraced his role as a mentor and started preparing for a possible coaching career. He appeared in only 14 of Denver’s first 57 games this season but was always ready when called upon.
The Nuggets were 6-2 in games that Carter played more than 10 minutes.
“A.C.’s a winner,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “He just knows how to win basketball games.”
On weekdays, Carter typically dropped his sons off at school and then headed to the Pepsi Center, where he always had a friendly greeting for his teammates.
“He and Shelden (Williams) were always the first two guys in the gym,” Nuggets forward Al Harrington said. “To come in and see their lockers empty was kind of weird.” Williams and Renaldo Balkman also were swept up in the trade winds.
Williams started the first 26 games of the season while power forward Kenyon Martin recovered from offseason knee surgery. He grabbed 16 rebounds in his Denver debut and averaged 4.7 points and 5.7 rebounds with the Nuggets.
Balkman’s best game came on Dec. 29 when he scored 10 points to help the Nuggets beat the Minnesota Timberwolves without Anthony, Martin, Nene and Harrington.
“Shelly and A.C. and Renaldo all helped us win a handful of games this year,” Karl said. “Wiliams was a guy that came out of training camp and helped us for a long period of time in a good way.”