Concerned Billups can hear the clock ticking
With time dwindling in a career that began slowly but surged to potential Hall of Fame consideration, Chauncey Billups is clamoring for the next season to begin.
His Knicks ended the last one with a thud. New York was swept by the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs while Billups sat on the bench with a left knee injury sustained near the conclusion of an intense Game 1 at TD Garden.
He led reporters to think he would make a return in the series, but the reality is he was just cleared to participate in basketball activities, more than three months later. But with the lockout, there is no certainty there will be a 2011-12 season, and if there isn’t, Billups, 34, would be greatly damaged financially and professionally.
He wants to get started.
The Knicks became a factor again when then-general manager Donnie Walsh acquired Carmelo Anthony and Billups from the Nuggets for four players. If nothing else, the Knicks were an exciting crew with their new additions, but without Billups, they didn’t stand much of a chance against Boston. They lacked a true point guard and floor leader, and the Celtics capitalized on their lack of direction.
The Atlantic Division won’t be a cinch anymore for Boston, as New York and Philadelphia have vastly improved, and New Jersey is a few steps back but improving. The lack of a full training camp may damage the Knicks more than any other club because they never had the opportunity to build chemistry with coach Mike D’Antoni last season.
“It is tough, the uncertainty of not knowing what’s going to happen,’’ said Billups. “But I’ve been through it before, and as a veteran and as a professional, I’m just going to stay ready.
“Whenever we can make a deal or whatever might happen, I’ll be ready to go.’’
Billups had just finished his first NBA season when the last lockout occurred in 1998. He had already been traded from the Celtics to Toronto during his rookie season, and the Raptors dealt him to his hometown Nuggets days before the shortened season began.
That work stoppage cost the league 32 games, but with Billups entering his 15th year, time is more precious to him now. He has avoided serious injury in his career and has played at least 70 games in each of the past 11 seasons, but six weeks short of his 35th birthday, Billups realizes his time as a front-line player is diminishing.
“I have played most of my career out,’’ he said. “I don’t have that many more years to play. I’m just looking forward to getting back out there.’’
The Knicks are unlikely to compete for the Eastern Conference crown regardless of when the season starts, but they should be vastly different with Billups and Anthony more comfortable in the system, and Amar’e Stoudemire completely recovered from the back issues that ailed him during the playoffs.
“That’s what I want so bad, is to have a training camp together, where we can build,’’ said Billups, who averaged 17.5 points, 5.5 assists, and 3.1 rebounds in 21 games with New York. “Because I feel like with the players that we have and the ability that we have to put some pieces together, we can be a very good basketball team.’’
The first two games of the playoff series against the Celtics were so close that Billups wonders what would have happened had he not tweaked his knee while driving to the basket in the final minutes of Game 1.
Billups missed Game 2 - and Anthony’s stellar 42-point, 17-rebound performance - as the Celtics prevailed, 96-93.
With Billups out, the Celtics won the final two games by a combined 29 points.
“I’m so disappointed, upset, man, that I went down when I went down,’’ he said. “I really felt like that would have been a heck of a series.
“What can you do?’’
Billups was in Springfield this weekend to receive the Mannie Jackson Basketball Human Spirit Award for his work with children in the Denver community. He came to the Hall of Fame with the hope of meeting one of his idols, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who makes occasional appearances there.
“I was hoping that Kareem would be here,’’ Billups said. “Now, I am a Magic Johnson guy. He is my favorite guy.
“But every time I see Kareem, I am always in awe because he was like a basketball player, but he seemed more than that. He was like a community guy, a militant guy at one point. He was more than [a player]. If I see him, I am in awe of him.’’
Twenty years ago, “Run TMC’’ were in their prime. Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin were running teams out of the building and pushing the Lakers in the West.
But before the momentum could get rolling, Richmond was traded to the Sacramento Kings for Billy Owens in November 1991, just months after the Warriors reached the Western Conference semifinals. It would be 16 years before Golden State won another playoff series.
The trio came together this weekend in Springfield to celebrate Mullin’s induction into the Hall, and it provided a chance to reflect.
“I wish that time would have lasted a lot longer,’’ Hardaway said. “Me and Chris played together for a few more years, but it wasn’t the same. We didn’t jell like we wanted to jell.
“Us three had a great chemistry but I wish us three would have stayed together and gave it another two years. I think we were deserving of that. Stuff like that happens.
“One of us is here [in the Hall of Fame] right now, so that’s good.’’
Owens was seen as a Magic Johnson-type player who could play point guard and revolutionize the game. While his numbers in his first three seasons were impressive, he never made the expected impact and was out of the league by age 31, with zero All-Star appearances.
Richmond, meanwhile, went on to play seven seasons in Sacramento, making six All-Star teams and establishing himself as one of the best shooting guards in the game. Don Nelson has said his worst mistake as a coach/GM was moving Richmond, who was just 26 at the time.
“At the time, we all was trying to figure it out, but we thought it was [a big mistake], too,’’ Hardaway said. “That’s then. This is now.’’
Said Richmond, “All my individual stuff was great in Sacramento but as far as really enjoying a ride with a team, Golden State was it. That was my most proud moment.’’
Mullin made the Hall of Fame not only for his NBA accomplishments, which included 17,911 points and a spot on the 1992 Dream Team, but also his illustrious career at St. John’s and as a New York City high school prodigy.
Richmond piled up 20,497 points in 14 seasons, was named All-NBA six times, and led Kansas State to the Elite Eight as a senior in 1988.
“I think you have to go back and look at that stuff at K-State,’’ said Richmond. “We had some good runs, coming from a junior college at that time.
“It’s tough to play for [bad NBA teams] because you have all the critics not label you a winner, and I won all my life.
“Sometimes it’s just not your fault. You go to a situation, it’s just not put together right.’’
Richmond reached the postseason once while in Sacramento, a first-round elimination by the eventual Western Conference champion SuperSonics. He won an NBA title with the 2001-02 Lakers but he played just four postseason minutes.
“It’s hard when you are not labeled as a winner because of so many years you played with a team that wasn’t up to par,’’ he said. “I don’t have regrets because when I look at it, I did what I had to do and rode off into the sunset.’’
Richmond’s accomplishments likely went under the radar because he played in the Michael Jordan era, and he was one of Jordan’s shooting guard contemporaries.
“I think he’s a Hall of Famer,’’ Hardaway said of Richmond. “The numbers speak for themselves. He did go to bad teams and didn’t get the credit he deserves. But he was a great player.
“I tried to get him to Miami and I think that would have put us over the top. But it didn’t work out.’’
Derrick Rose is the catalyst now, and Chicago raced to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference before being eliminated in five games by the Heat in the conference finals. The Bulls’ weaknesses were exposed, especially how heavily they depend on Rose, who was left to score and create while his teammates watched.
“Well, he can’t win by himself,’’ Rodman said. “I just thought that series was a bad situation with [coach] Tom Thibodeau. He should have did something about Derrick Rose and all those other guys. [Carlos] Boozer should have stepped up big-time. [Joakim] Noah should have stepped up a lot.’’
Rodman made the inevitable comparison between Rose and Jordan.
“Derrick Rose is like Michael Jordan when he first came into the league,’’ he said. “He’s shooting the ball 25-35 times a game and trying to carry a team. It doesn’t work that way.
“Until Scottie Pippen came and all of a sudden you got John Paxson and after that you got Steve Kerr, Craig Hodges. You need people who are going to have those intangibles with you.’’
Neither Boozer nor Noah responded to the magnitude of the moment against the Heat, especially in the paint, where the Bulls desperately needed rebounds and scoring.
“I think they should have stepped up to the plate,’’ said Rodman. “When you are paying somebody [a combined] $125 million and you are not on the floor [in the fourth quarter], there’s a problem.
“Boozer is a great guy, I love Boozer. I love Noah, but if you’re going to get paid that much money and sit on the bench at the end of a game, this is a problem.’’
What’s the hurry? There appears to be a push to get former Rockets center Yao Ming into the Hall of Fame, and the Chinese media have nominated him as a contributor, meaning he would not have to be subjected to the five-year waiting period for players. While it is unfortunate that Yao retired at age 30, he is not the first professional athlete to lose a potential Hall of Fame career to debilitating injuries. While the sympathy for Yao is understandable, pushing him into the Hall of Fame won’t bring his career back. Let him wait the allotted time like other players, including Artis Gilmore, who was inducted 23 years after his final game.
Layups New Detroit coach Lawrence Frank has not announced his coaching staff, but it could include Roy Rogers, who last season worked with the Celtics’ big men. Behind the scenes, Doc Rivers is seeking a defensive coach to replace Frank. Rivers has maintained mostly a low profile during the lockout, but the search for the next defensive coordinator is ongoing . . . One of the more touching moments of the Hall of Fame ceremonies was the induction of Tex Winter, the inventor of the triangle offense, who is 89 years old and recovering from a stroke. Winter’s induction was long overdue, and he is attempting to relish the moment as best he can. He is able to walk on his own and tried to utter a few words during the press conference Thursday. The criteria for election into the Basketball Hall are among the most mysterious in the four major sports. There have been complaints from many former players over the years about the amount of active college coaches inducted, such as Geno Auriemma and Jim Boeheim. The Hall needs to be clearer about the process and review how giants such as Winter and Gilmore were forced to wait decades for the honor.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.