Powder blue with envy

Tom Friend of ESPN wrote an excellent piece called “The Disposable Superstar” about Chauncey Billups. An excerpt:

The truth is, there’s something right with Chauncey. He’s like a psychologist to the NBA stars. On a night he’s watching "Desperate Housewives" with Faye on Poplar Street, Hamilton calls from Detroit to complain about being benched. Hamilton goes on so long, Chauncey misses the whole hourlong episode. The Pistons are absolutely lost without him. Before he left, Chauncey had been Pistons head coach Michael Curry’s truest ally, and even had hired Curry’s sister-in-law to be his nanny. But, without Chauncey, Curry has no sergeants, no one to talk Rasheed Wallace off the ledge or lower Hamilton’s blood pressure.

But the Nuggets are grateful to have him, and team camaraderie skies through the roof. When the players notice Chauncey always finger-rolls his layups — to preserve energy — Martin promises to give him $500 if he ever dunks. Then, in Minnesota, Chauncey slams one, and the bench is in stitches. "Did we know he’d be this good for us? No," Karl says. "He’s a gift from the basketball gods."

It has been a stunning transformation. And as the Nuggets enter the building, one by one, for their playoff opener against New Orleans, their two most talented, enigmatic players — Anthony and Smith — are dressed to kill. Anthony is wearing a grey pinstripe suit, and Smith is wearing black dress pants. Chauncey has made them pull up their britches.

"’Melo and J.R. have dressed up more this year than they ever have," team executive Rex Chapman says. "Not that that wins games for you, but Chauncey’s taught them it’s OK not to be on cool duty all the time."

Smith, in particular, tells people no one has ever influenced him more than Chauncey. On the court, Chauncey wants him talking on defense, and off the court, Chauncey wants him out of clubs. And Smith is all ears. After a game one night, Smith asks Chauncey why he only shot six times, and Chauncey tells him, "I read the game. I don’t play for stats. I don’t play for none of that no more. I play for the win." Smith’s reaction: "Damn. Makes sense."

Anthony’s basketball IQ is up, too. His only major negative incident comes March 1 in Indiana, when he refuses to come out of a game. That night, Anthony had been struggling with his shot, and when he finally hit a couple in a row, he didn’t want to sit. The front office suspends him one game, but in his first game back he sprints off the floor whenever Karl takes him out. Apparently, Chauncey’s idea.

The rise is so much more fun than the fall. This made me think back to when the Pistons were growing up together.

  • Billups was learning how to take over.
  • Ben Wallace was developing his swagger.
  • Richard Hamilton was taking over the role of best runner in the league from Reggie Miller.
  • Tayshaun Prince was becoming more assertive.
  • And Rasheed Wallace was out to prove he wasn’t a cancer.

Now, Billups and Ben Wallace are gone. Rasheed Wallace is a malcontent. Hamilton is a whiner. And Prince is passive.

Denver fans, enjoy this while you can.

(It was incredibly difficult to pick that excerpt. The whole article is excellent. I highly recommend reading the whole thing.)

Draft prospects from the Badger State

Wisconsin forward Marcus Landry and Marquette shooting guard Wesley Mathews will work out for the Pistons, according to Gery Woelfel of The (Racine, Wis.) Journal Times.

Draft Express doesn’t project either player will be drafted. NBADraft.net has Mathews going 52nd.

I’ve seen Landry play a few times, and he doesn’t seem to have NBA talent. But he plays hard, defends well and can shoot a little bit.

His brother, Carl, is a productive bench player for the Rockets.

Lakers not worth it

Check out this Bill Plaschke column in the Los Angeles Times after Rockets blew out the Lakers. It’s one of the most creative pieces I’ve read in a while.

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