He may have been labeled an accessory in the Carmelo Anthony trade. But there were high expectations upon his arrival, and Billups was to be a key factor of a playoff push.
Although he doesn’t quite carry the pizazz of a Chris Paul pairing with Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, Billups is no slouch. Considering Billups’ history of winning and that, at 34, there’s been no drop-off in his production, New York essentially already has its own rendition of the “big three.”
Many were under the impression that a Billups-helmed team with a frontcourt tandem of Anthony and Stoudemire might not only upset the Boston Celtics, but do some damage in later stages of the postseason.
While it was a triumph simply to reach the playoffs, and realists projected first-round elimination, no Knicks fan is content with a four-game sweep.
Billups can’t be blamed for a bum knee that kept him sidelined the final three games of that series. Nevertheless, could the mounting injuries Billups endured throughout his succinct term in New York be a foreshadowing of a career meeting its demise?
With one more year remaining on his Knicks deal worth $14.2 million, the organization has a lot riding on Billups to recreate some of the past glory he experienced during his championship days in Detroit.
Had the lockout not taken effect, there’s a strong possibility the Knicks would be pursuing a mid-level point guard to back up Billups as we speak—someone who may not only be utilized as a reserve but is capable of starting too.
The Knicks front office knows as well as anyone that Billups is on shaky ground. And, while Toney Douglas has shown signs of growth, Donnie Walsh took it a step further by drafting another point guard in Iman Shumpert.
Frankly, at Billups’ age, players are often bitten by the injury bug. Fighting through constant discomfort, it becomes an uphill battle until retirement is inevitable.
Whenever next season ensues, Billups’ knee should be 100 percent, and he’ll resume his role as a leader. But, should he stumble and fall, New York will have an emergency plan in place.
It’s pure speculation, but let’s say Billups goes down again for an extended period of time. Then, the Knicks make a run with Douglas, Shumpert or whomever else at the point.
The offense is thriving, and a younger, fresher set of legs has helped breathe new life into the defense.
When Billups recovers, is it worth the risk of reinserting him into the starting lineup and potentially throwing a monkey wrench in the works?
Beginning with the name, “Mr. Big Shot” has never been a pass-first type of player. A career average of 5.6 assists is on the low end in terms of point guard standards.
In that respect, is Billups even the right man for Mike D’Antoni’s system? He’s certainly incomparable to Steve Nash, who is an assist wizard and flourished under D’Antoni in Phoenix.
Of the 21 regular season games he appeared in as a Knick, Billups led them to 10 wins. During the six regular season contests he sat with a left leg injury, the team went 4-2. Interestingly, three of these victories came against the New Orleans Hornets, Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies—all playoff-bound teams.
The sample size is too small to come to any conclusions, but it does compel one to wonder if New York would be as successful or better without Billups.
Perhaps team management had something up its sleeve when it signed Billups to a one-year extension; his expiring contract could be a major asset amid trade talks.
If that’s the case, there shouldn’t be any pressure on the staff to give Billups enough minutes to showcase his talents and justify his trade value.
Even in a position of reduced responsibility, the Knicks can still benefit from Billups’ veteran presence. He can offer direction and advice to a squad loaded with youth and provide assistance with the maturation process.
Billups also understands what it takes to excel in pressure situations, and having him as a teammate will be very advantageous as the Knicks head back to the playoffs.
Additionally, bringing in a sub with the shooting pedigree of Billups would augment a second unit that frequently struggles to score. Without a definitive leader among the reserves, he could stabilize a group searching for an identity.
Most of all, Billups can pass on the wisdom he’s soaked up over the course of 13 years as an NBA floor general to Douglas, Shumpert and any other point guard New York may acquire.
He may not be there yet, but all evidence is leaning towards a career in decline. Age catches up with the best of them, as we recently witnessed with Shaquille O’Neal and have seen with countless other superstars past their prime.
There’s no doubt about it. If D’Antoni has the audacity to bench him, it will cause a stir.
Billups will surely be obstinate. No former All-Star wants to go through it, and when it happens, denial sets in.
For his sake, I hope Billups has a healthy, productive season and is able to guide the Knicks further than the postseason’s opening round. He’s got a lot to prove—not only to the Knicks and their followers—but to possible suitors for his journey beyond the Big Apple.
However, if he falters, there should be no hesitation to sit the old guy and cultivate the point guards of the future.
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