1. How do you grade the Pistons’ signing of Chauncey Billups?
Patrick Hayes: A. It can’t undo the past, but the fact remains Joe Dumars made a colossal mistake – and I think he’ll admit as much, which is rare for a guy who is slow to admit mistakes – when he traded Billups. Billups, and not Tayshaun Prince or Richard Hamilton, was the transitional talent the Pistons needed as Dumars undertook his stopping and starting slow rebuild over the last five years. Billups belongs in Detroit, he deserves to retire a Piston, and he actually still does a few things – taking care of the ball, making 3s, running an offense – decently enough to help fill some needs in a limited role for the team.
Dan Feldman: A-. Above all, I’ll just really be happy to see Billups in the Pistons’ red, white and blue again. Detroit’s backcourt needed upgrading, and although he’s the elite guard I dreamed of, he’s an affordable option who can help. The Pistons might have slightly overpaid, but after paying Tayshaun Prince so much for his supposed leadership, at least they’re understanding they can’t put such a premium on an intangible that’s extremely difficult to predict.
Brady Fredericksen: A-. What’s the harm? The Pistons aren’t bringing him in to be a savior. Hopefully, they aren’t even bringing him in to be a real difference-maker. The Pistons have lacked plenty over the last few seasons, but leadership has been one of the biggest voids. We’ve heard the Rodney Stuckey-is-a-Leader banter, and Greg Monroe doesn’t really have the persona to be that vocal leader, but Billups has done it and can do it here. If he can come in, give 10-15 productive minutes every few nights and hit some (perhaps big) shots from the perimeter and be that coach on the floor and calming locker room presence — it’s a worthwhile signing. Plus, The Palace is going to be bananas for the home opener with a big-name free agent and the return of a legend in Billups. Nostalgia for all.
2. What on-court role will Billups fill next season?
Patrick Hayes: He’ll be a rotation guard. I think he’ll serve as a point guard/mentor to Brandon Knight if the Pistons remain committed to the Knight-as-point guard experiment, but I also think we’ll see Billups off the ball spotting up as well. A lineup that includes Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond desperately needs some spacing, and Billups parking himself at the 3-point line can provide that. I could also see him being the team’s primary point guard down the stretch in games, taking the ball out of the hands of the turnover-prone Knight.
Dan Feldman: I can definitely see him starting with Brandon Knight in the backcourt. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope brings plenty of positive attributes, but ball-handling is not one of them. With Detroit’s jumbo front line and the spacing restrictions it will cause, not only do the Pistons need shooters, they need players capable of protecting the ball in tight spaces. Billups provides both. It’s much more tenable for Caldwell-Pope to work his way into the starting lineup rather than the chance of having to demote the young player if he’s not ready.
Brady Fredericksen: Hopefully not a huge one. Billups still has value as a rotation player — he’s still a good 3-point shooter and he’s going to make good decisions with the ball — but he’s not the old Chauncey. He shouldn’t be a full-time point guard, backs down smaller defenders or barrels into traffic to draw a foul. That’s just not realistic. Ben Wallace made his return to Detroit in 2009-10 and he was a pretty useful player (albeit for a putrid team) with his rebounding and defense. If Chauncey can give the Pistons some shooting and an extra ball handler, I think he could have some moments this year.
3. What does this mean for Brandon Knight?
Patrick Hayes: It means he won’t be handed anything. Heading into each of the last two seasons, Knight has been the presumptive starting point guard by default. The Pistons had no one on the roster equipped to challenge him for that job, even with the notable flaws in his handling of the position. Ideally, Knight goes to camp, shows massive improvement and wins the point guard job in a landslide. That will be the best outcome for the Pistons, for Knight and for fans hoping to see a better product on the court. But if he continues to be inconsistent, to be turnover prone, to struggle figuring out when to shoot or when to pass … the Pistons now have a competent option who can take that job from him. Billups is old, not a very good defensive player and probably not equipped to handle big minutes or a big role anymore. Asking Knight to beat him out to earn his spot as starting point guard is not asking a lot, but it’s still enough of a challenge that Knight will have to rise to a challenge to do it. If the Billups signing successfully pushes Knight to improve his weaknesses, it will be a major win for the Pistons.
Dan Feldman: The Pistons are giving him every tool succeed – while preparing in case he doesn’t. They hired a former star point guard, Maurice Cheeks, to coach him, and Billups would prove further mentorship. But in what could be Joe Dumars’ last season, with their first-round draft pick very likely headed to the Bobcats, the Pistons can’t afford to keep starting such an ineffective point guard. Between Chauncey Billups and Will Bynum, the Pistons will likely have an option than what Knight provided the last two years. Ideally, that’s third-year Knight. But Plan B is now more reliable.
Brady Fredericksen: That the Pistons want him to succeed, and this feels like a nudge in the right direction. Joe Dumars knows what Chauncey is at this point, a supplementary bench piece, but he’s also a piece that can help Knight. Now, I’ll be honest, I don’t know how the whole "veteran teaching a rookie" thing goes in the NBA — I guess I never saw that in high school hoops — but whenever Knight picks up from Billups is a plus. Maybe it’s just something as simple as teaching him to slow the game down, which was Billups biggest problem before Larry Brown got ahold of him. I think Brandon Knight still starts at point guard, and I think there’s a good chance to see a number of Knight-Billups backcourts, too.