Chauncey’s Payback

Pistons will lean on Mr. Big Shot for all the wisdom, insight he can offer

Chauncey Billups
Chauncey Billups
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)

Andre Drummond gave up his No. 1 jersey to the man who made it famous. He didn’t extort any lavish cash payment in return, as players often do for surrendering their number to an established star, but it might not have been a completely selfless act, either. Drummond is going to ask plenty of Chauncey Billups in return.

“I’m going to try to take as much as I can from him,” Drummond said on Monday, wearing his new No. 0 while Mr. Big Shot again donned the number that figures to one day be retired in his honor. He took that jersey home to Denver with him after it was re-issued at his July introduction upon shaking hands with Joe Dumars on a free-agent deal to come back to the place he considers his NBA home.

“I had to practice putting it on again so it wouldn’t be weird today,” he said. “But I feel good. This” – the Pistons jersey – “means a little something different, as you can imagine.”

There was a different air at Monday’s media day than the past three or four. Optimism always abounds on the eve of training camp, when all 30 NBA teams talk about the payoff of the playoffs if everything works out to the best. But things rarely work out to the best.

The Pistons had no margin for error these past few seasons. They do now, adding size, athleticism and shooting in big chunks with the off-season acquisitions of eight new players, led by borderline All-Stars Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, Italian league MVP Gigi Datome, lottery pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the player who earned Finals MVP honors when the Pistons last won an NBA title nine years ago.

Some – perhaps all – of the other players on that list will have bigger roles on this year’s team, based on minutes, but nobody will be more central to the critical act of pulling all of those new faces together, of making sure maximum benefit is gained from all of that added talent.

“It’s going to be real big,” said Smith, who was drafted into the NBA as an Atlanta teen merely days after Billups held aloft the 2004 Finals MVP trophy. “That’s a guy that’s been very successful – the ultimate veteran, the ultimate pro.”

“Any person that’s a Finals MVP is going to have respect around the league,” Greg Monroe chimed in. “There’s only a select few people that have done that. To win a championship is the highest peak you can get, but to be a Finals MVP on a championship team takes you to a whole ’nuther level. It’s obvious how much they respect him around the league, not just here in the city.”

Joe D anticipated the storyline – Pistons bringing Chauncey Billups back to his roots to help mentor young players and restore franchise to elite status – and did his best to set the record straight. The Pistons, first and foremost, were interested in adding his deadly efficiency in a tight game’s big moments and his widely known shooting ability.

But they were also swayed by what they know about his ability to coalesce a locker room. Chauncey Billups will be the guy on the road making sure the Pistons have full participation in events that ultimately transform a roster of loose parts into a team.

When Dumars hired Maurice Cheeks in early June, he was sold in part by the compelling testimony of those who’ve worked with or observed Cheeks as to his ability to relate to and instill confidence in young players. Adding Billups to the mix, given the shared experience both have under point guard oracle Larry Brown, gives Cheeks an invaluable go-between to spread his gospel.

“When you have a veteran guard with the credentials of a Chauncey, it can only help us,” Cheeks said. “It can only help when you have a guy who’s done the things he’s done, then you have a younger point guard out there, some of the things I’m telling Brandon will be reinforced by a player like Chauncey.”

Cheeks said he and Jennings had an interesting conversation Monday afternoon, deferring questions of its content to Jennings.

“I’m not going to share what he said,” Jennings said, “but it was actually a very good meeting. To hear the things he said to me, especially for a guy who played at a high level and won, really just boosts my confidence a lot.”

Jennings just turned 24 and, with four years in the NBA, he comes to the Pistons at a similar point in his career as Billups did. Now both his head coach and a teammate perfectly willing to serve as a mentor have NBA titles on their resumes. He’s fully aware the situation couldn’t set up much better for him.

“Just working with a guy like Chauncey, and also Mo Cheeks, is going to be great,” Jennings said. “Two guys who played at a high level, won championships, and two point guards that are well respected in the NBA.”

Andre Drummond gave up his No. 1 jersey. It looks like the rest of the roster is ready to take payment in kind from Chauncey Billups.