Vegas: Day Three
Billups, a Team USA big shot, ready to help Monroe, Drummond grow
Billups, who signed last week as a free agent after being traded from the Pistons nearly five years ago, is among the 11 people on USA Basketball’s board of directors as an athlete representative. So he’s been on hand for practices the past three days on UNLV’s campus with a natural curiosity to see how the two young Pistons big men have fared. He’s bullish on their futures.
“Drummond, he’s a freak athlete,” said Billups, who had dinner Tuesday night with both of his new teammates. “He’s very, very young, wants to learn, wants to be really good and I think he will be because of that. He doesn’t mind working. You love that about a young guy, that he doesn’t mind the grind. I love that about him.
“Greg is a little older, a little more polished in his game. Very smart player, very good player. I think I’m really going to enjoy playing with him, as well, because he’s smart. I love basketball IQ – being able to outsmart teams, beat them mentally, not only physically. Those two guys have got bright futures, man.”
“We just felt normal, like he’s been there from last year,” Drummond said of Tuesday’s dinner with Billups, to whom he surrendered his No. 1 jersey. “He gave off a great vibe. I am really glad he’s on our team.”
“Just an all-around great guy,” Monroe said. “Obviously, he’s a great player. We just learned a little more about him last night, just spending time with him.”
Billups said it was unexpected but a pleasant surprise when his agent, Andy Miller, told him the Pistons wanted him back. He had other options, he said, so returning wasn’t a snap decision. But the fact Monroe and Drummond were in place, with Josh Smith already aboard as a free agent, made it particularly appealing.
“Part of it was just an opportunity, whenever I’m done, leave the organization in good standing again,” he said. “Even though I was away and playing on different teams, it’s hurtful to see the years this organization has gone through. For me to have the opportunity, who considers himself a Piston forever, to be able to put it back on the right track and let it go from there.”
Billups has played for a number of head coaches over the course of his 15 seasons and eight prior moves, but some of his greatest successes have come when he’s played for coaches who shared his position, former point guards such as Larry Brown, Flip Saunders and George Karl. He’s eager to work with Maurice Cheeks, he said.
“When you’re playing for a point guard, and especially somebody like Mo, who was such a great point guard – I think he’s a Hall of Fame player – I’m looking forward to learning from him. It’s funny, even at my age, I want to learn. I know I can learn a lot from him, his experiences and just him being a coach, just gives you a certain comfort level.”
When Mr. Big Shot looks to the bench, he’ll see another familiar face, too – that of his former teammate, Rasheed Wallace, who has signed on to be a Cheeks assistant.
“I think it’ll be great,” he smiled. “Sheed is one of the smartest players I’ve ever played with as far as basketball IQ and knowing how to play and when to do what. I think if he can articulate that to these young two guys, and even Josh – if he can coach that, teach that – he becomes very, very valuable.”
Billups reiterated what he said at last week’s press conference to announce his return: He’s healthy. The Achilles tendon tear that ended his 2011-12 season isn’t an issue, he said, and wasn’t the problem last season; it was the atrophy his other muscles experienced while he was shut down with the Achilles that was at the root of his injury-marred 2012-13 season. Another reason he felt good about coming back to the Pistons was his regard for strength and conditioning coach Arnie Kander.
“That was definitely valuable for me, being able to get back with Arnie,” he said. “Arnie’s the best I’ve ever seen. So to have that opportunity at my age, to have a guy who can keep me healthy, was huge.”
One of Billups’ enduring strengths is his ability to sense a game’s rhythms and to pull back or push forward as needed. He’s not sure yet what the optimum style of play will be for the reshaped roster, but he’s eager to jump in and start the discovery process.
“I’m not sure yet, but up front we are very, very athletic,” he said. “And if we can use that athleticism to be one of the best couple, top three, four rebounding teams in the league, I would say that would give us a lot more possessions offensively and we’ll just have to see. But I’m excited about what can possibly happen.”
And as a veteran of USA Basketball, Billups believes that the Pistons will benefit from improved versions of Monroe and Drummond for their time in Las Vegas.
“I think it’s a great experience for the guys,” he said. “They get to compete against their peers and you get to be on a team with them as opposed to trying to beat them every single night, learn a little bit about them. Learn a little bit about why these guys are so good with their work ethic. There’s really no greater honor than playing for Team USA and having your whole country behind you. The opportunity they have is great.”