Chauncey Billups was looking forward to a rematch with the Celtics this week after they ended his season in the Eastern Conference finals. He didn't expect to be doing so as a member of the Nuggets, though.
After years as a Celtics nemesis with the Pistons, Billups will make his lone regular-season visit to Boston tonight as a new member of the Nuggets. The Pistons dealt Billups, forward Antonio McDyess, and center Cheikh Samb to Denver for guard Allen Iverson Nov. 3. So when the Celtics hammered Detroit, 88-76, Sunday, it was Iverson in a No. 1 Pistons uniform, not Billups.
"I was definitely looking forward to the [Pistons-Celtics] game," Billups said yesterday in a telephone interview. "But that day has gone and passed. They played against a different No. 1 in Detroit in that game. I'm sure they didn't expect that, either. We get a chance to play again [tonight].
"I'm with a whole different team now. But [the Celtics are] the cream of the crop and you always use those kind of games as a measuring stick to see where you are at."
Point guard Billups guided the Pistons to six consecutive Eastern Conference finals and two straight NBA Finals. The 2004 NBA Finals MVP led Detroit to the championship that year.
But last spring, the Celtics thwarted their 1997 No. 1 draft pick (third overall).
"When you get beat by anybody, you're mad, upset, and disappointed," said Billups, who was bothered by a hamstring injury in the playoffs. "I really wish I had a chance to play them when I was healthy. Man, it would have been an awesome series. After that [loss], I just dealt with the frustration and disappointment of them beating us.
"But I'm happy for [Kevin Garnett] and I'm happy for Paul [Pierce] having a chance to get that ring and going ahead and getting it."
Billups was one of the Pistons' most popular players ever, and his profile is still on a huge banner on the side of The Palace of Auburn Hills in celebration of the arena's 20-year anniversary. But with Billups being in the twilight of his career at 32, a young, promising guard in the wings in Rodney Stuckey, and an opportunity to clear major salary cap room for the coveted 2010 free agent market, the Pistons dealt him.
"It will always be my home away from home. Always," said Billups about Detroit.
The trade was bittersweet for Billups since he had dreamed of finishing his career in his hometown of Denver. The former Colorado star and his wife, Piper, are from the Mile High City and went to Denver George Washington High together. And if he had to be traded, Billups added that he was "extremely grateful" Pistons president Joe Dumars sent him home.
"We accomplished so much as a team [in Detroit]," Billups said. "Those guys are not like my friends, they are like my brothers. It's definitely bittersweet to not have that anymore. But a sweet part of it is I'm at home. I'm at the crib. That means so much to me."
Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo believes Billups will influence his new team the same way he did Detroit.
"He makes them a lot better - he's obviously a winner, a veteran point guard, one of the best point guards in the league," Rondo said. "He brings them a lot of knowledge at the point guard position."
While Billups and Samb will be in uniform for Denver, McDyess is now a free agent the Celtics are eyeing. McDyess is expected to return to Detroit Dec. 7 after 30 days have passed following his buyout. Even so, Billups expects Boston to be one of the legitimate suitors who could sway him.
When asked if he thought McDyess would return to Detroit, Billups said, "That's a tough question right now because if you asked me on different days, I would probably say, 'For sure, he's going back.' But now I don't know. There are some good teams in the mix."
Billups and Garnett are close friends who have missed making contact on the phone since the trade. After beating Detroit, Garnett said, "The armory doesn't look the same on this team," and added that with all due respect to Iverson, "when a team is cohesive and is joined as one, you know it's different. It's very different." Garnett seemed to have Billups, who has been viewed as the piece that kept the Pistons together, in mind.
"I haven't talked to him yet, but I know how he feels," Billups said. "[The Celtics] beat [the Pistons] pretty good on their home court. That team is going to get adjusted to AI. Boston is just the cream of the crop right now."
Now that he is out West, Billups is comfortable saying the Celtics will be extremely difficult to beat in the East.
"I'll tell you what, once you're a champion, and you know I know, once you know what it takes to win and you do, it makes you that much tougher the next year going in," he said. "You know what it takes, you know what it feels like, and you want that again. It makes you tougher.
"But Cleveland is improved. Detroit definitely will still be in the mix, of course, out there in the East when they get adjusted to playing with Allen. They have a lot of guys that have been there before. It will be tough, though."