Denver native Chauncey Billups set for homecoming
If not for Chauncey Billups, Nuggets coach George Karl honestly believes he would not have been sitting on a stool at the Pepsi Center practice court Saturday talking about Chauncey Billups.
Before acquiring the Denver native on Nov. 3, 2008, the Nuggets were struggling to find an identity. After the trade that sent Allen Iverson to Detroit and brought Billups back home, the Nuggets went on to win a franchise record-tying 54 games and advance to the 2008-09 Western Conference finals.
“I’ve told the story that if we don’t make the Chauncey trade, I don’t think I’m here right now," Karl said. "The way we were going that season, we were playing very ordinary basketball. We made the trade, and we went from ordinary to good pretty quick. I’m probably going to live in Denver because we made that Chauncey trade.”
Billups, a star point guard at George Washington High School and the University of Colorado, will return to Pepsi Center for the first time Sunday as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. The homecoming is the latest headline in a whirlwind 12 months for the 15-year NBA veteran.
Billups spent two-plus seasons guiding Karl’s offense before he was sent to New York as part of the 13-player, three-team trade between the Nuggets, Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves last Feb. 22.
Nuggets president Josh Kroenke and executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri did everything possible to avoid including Billups in the deal but reluctantly did so to finalize the trade.
“He’s a classy individual,” Ujiri said. “In my stay here, he was great. Going through all that stuff, I couldn’t have asked for a better person to deal with. It was tough for him. It was tough for us, too, on our part. It will be good to see him again. … Hopefully he doesn’t kill us.”
Billups, a five-time All-Star and the 2004 NBA Finals MVP, landed in Los Angeles after being waived by the Knicks in December to make room for free-agent acquisition Tyson Chandler. The Clippers signed Billups on Dec. 12, and he is averaging 14.9 points while starting at shooting guard alongside Chris Paul.
With athletic big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan manning the middle, the Clippers (10-6) are in first place in the Pacific Division and widely considered as one of the rising teams in the Western Conference.
“When Chauncey ended up in L.A., I thought it was perfect for Griffin and Jordan – two young kids who could be All-Stars now having the professional guidance of a guy that’s been incredibly good with developing the mentality to play the game the right way,” Karl said.
“Of all the teams that you don’t know how good they’re going to be, they’re probably the scariest of all of them.”
With the second-best record in the West, the Nuggets (14-5) are proving to be pretty formidable themselves. They are riding a six-game winning streak and hope to welcome starting point guard Ty Lawson back to the lineup Sunday.
Lawson missed Friday’s game against the Toronto Raptors because of a sprained left ankle, but he was able to participate in practice Saturday. He is optimistic about playing against the man who served as his mentor for nearly two seasons.
“Chauncey was huge because I was a young point guard coming into the game,” Lawson said. “He’s been everywhere I want to be. He’s been an All-Star, he won a championship. I learned everything from him. He was very important to my development. It’s going to fun playing against him.”
The feeling is mutual, though Billups understandably downplayed his return to the Mile High City. Early in his career, he went through the same drill with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons.
"It's just another game, no big deal," Billups told reporters after the Clippers' practice in Los Angeles on Saturday. "I've been in this situation so many times. It'll be good to see all the guys again, though."