“Yeah, it’s not like home, but what is?
— Chauncey Billups on Detroit in 2002, according the Detroit News
That statement made sense, considering Billups hadn’t played a game for the Pistons yet. And it make even more sense, considering he was talking about southeastern Michigan’s flat elevation compared to the mountains of his hometown of Denver.
But it’s still strange to read anything about a disconnect between Billups and Detroit.
Billups helped elevate the Pistons from the second round of the playoffs the year before he arrived to six straight Eastern Conference finals, two NBA Finals and an NBA Championship. In the process, he went to three All-Star games and won an NBA Finals MVP. He became the face of the Pistons when Ben Wallace left.
Sometimes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.
The Pistons haven’t been the same since the traded to Denver. Their defense has gone down hill. They don’t move the ball as well. There’s a leadership void.
In many ways, Billups is more revered around Detroit than he ever was when he was here.
Of course, this is a clear case of the grass being greener on the other side. Billups wouldn’t be having the season he is if he was still with the Pistons.
He was in a funk. His play in the playoffs had fallen off, and everyone noticed.
2006: “Billups ready to bounce back after painful playoffs,” Jackie MacMullan of ESPN.com
He finished the series shooting 39 percent, including 25.9 percent from the 3-point line. Even more damning, the normally unflappable leader seemed tentative, unsure. His knack for pushing the ball in transition vanished (Detroit scored just six fast break points in Games 1 and 2 combined), and his sudden hesitancy to step up and drain the perimeter shots puzzled even his most ardent admirers. Mr. Big Shot had morphed into Mr. Big Flop.
2007: “Billups’ hiccups show up when it hurts most,” by Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press
Billups said at Tuesday’s shootaround that when he looked at the tape of Game 3, he got excited, because he saw gaps in the defense that he had not seen all series. I wonder what Billups will think when he looks at the tape of Game 4 and sees himself committing five turnovers, giving him an astounding 22 for the series.
2008: “If Billups doesn’t start playing like Billups, the Pistons are cooked,” by Rosenberg
He said his biggest disappointment from Saturday was that “I just didn’t really, personally, do a good job of leading, you know what I mean? That’s not just shooting the ball and scoring the ball. When I can’t do the things that I’m accustomed to doing offensively, there have to be other ways to have presence out there.”
Yes, I know what he means. But the shooting and scoring are important, too. Billups must play better, starting tonight. Otherwise, his rehab will start next week.
Last night was a memory something that never existed — a perfect Chauncey Billups. But it doesn’t matter Billups left a lot to be desired the last three postseasons.
He gave an endearing reason to the Detroit News about why he wanted to come to Detroit:
“I’ve been on a lot of teams where everybody says things are cool, we’re family and stuff, but everybody in that locker room knew it wasn’t true. It was a big fat lie,” said Billups, 26. “I got sick of that. I wanted to play for a team that was good and was like a family. I looked around and talked to people, and the more I heard, the more I knew the Pistons were for me.
“This team is close, like friends and family, they stick together. That’s what I want.”
Billups loved Detroit, and Detroit loved him. And last night, all the good feelings were recreated.
No, Billups wasn’t perfect. But he was close enough.