Entering 14th season, Billups still good as gold
It didn’t take long for Nuggets point guard Chauncey Billups to find a suitable spot for his newly acquired gold medal.
“Yes, sir. Right next to my MVP,” he said.
Billups was named the 2004 NBA Finals MVP after leading the Detroit Pistons to a championship, and he added to winning reputation this summer while playing for Team USA at the FIBA World Championship in Turkey.
By the time Billups reported for training camp this week, gold never seemed so undervalued. His summer accomplishment received only cursory notice as the media focused on teammate Carmelo Anthony.
Billups even needled reporters on media day, saying that he thought they were there to talk about his latest piece of hardware.
“I was just joking,” he said. “I know there’s something a little bigger at stake.”
The truth of the matter is that Billups has never coveted the spotlight or played the game for individual recognition. The lack of attention upon reporting to training camp did nothing to diminish the pride he took in helping the United States win its first world title since 1994.
“Even though we feel like we have the best basketball in the world, it hadn’t been done in 16 years,” he said. “It felt so much better after hearing people say, ‘They can’t play. They don’t have this, they don’t have that.’ Outside of the Brazil game (a two-point win), we didn’t even have a close game. We dominated the tournament. It just felt good.”
Billups, who turned 34 last week, says his body is also feeling good as he prepares for his 14th NBA season. Team USA’s training for the World Championship coincided with his normal offseason workout schedule.
“Those games were a lot shorter over there – 40-minute games. I was playing for like 22-23 minutes,” he said. “So really it was no difference in my preparation for the season, other than just the travel.”
Even if Billups had wrapped himself in cellophane and lounged on his couch all summer, Nuggets coach George Karl would still be looking to manage his minutes this season. The maturation and development of second-year point guard Ty Lawson should give him that luxury.
“Anytime a guy gets a little older, you’re more aware of trying to keep him in the low-30s (per game) instead of the high-30s,” Karl said. “For 82 games, that’s about 400-500 minutes, and that sometimes gives you a fresher guy in the playoffs.”
Billups averaged 34.1 minutes per game last season, down from 35.3 a year earlier. With three capable point guards (Anthony Carter is also a steady hand off the bench), the Nuggets should be well-equipped in the backcourt.
After helping guide Lawson through his rookie year in 2009-10, Billups is looking forward to seeing his protégé take another step forward this season.
“That’s my man,” Billups said. “I know how hard he worked this summer and he played great out in Vegas during the summer league. If he can come in and change the pace of the game, that’ll help me out and help our team out in the long run.”
Billups and Lawson could also share the floor frequently this season, with the veteran moving over to the shoot-guard position while the young guy runs the point. It’s something that Billups did without a hitch at the World Championship, making opponents pay with his three-point accuracy.
However the point-guard rotation works out, it will all be in the pursuit of capturing another piece of gold this season. That would be the gold ball that sits atop the Larry O’Brien Trophy given to the NBA champs each June.
Contact Aaron J. Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org