As soon as Carmelo Anthony decided he wanted out of Denver, Chauncey’s days were numbered too. From the feedback I receive Nuggets fans have already mentally and emotionally parted ways with Carmelo. However, the idea of being separated from Billups is more than they can bear.
It may seem strange that a fan base is so attached to a player who has only played 166 career games for their team. When anyone thinks of Chauncey as an NBA player the team that comes to mind is the Detroit Pistons, not the Nuggets. Chauncey helped Denver to their best season in two decades, but the Nuggets only won two playoff series while he was on the roster. There was no Nuggets dynasty. No parades. Denver was barely even considered a legitimate contender by most pundits.
Is there really that much of a difference between Allen Iverson who came and went and Chauncey who is about to do the same. Is the fact Chauncey was born in Denver really that big of a deal?
The truth is Chauncey Billups is a local hero in Colorado. He grew up in Denver, went to high school in Denver, and even though he had the opportunity to play anywhere in the country, he chose to play his college ball at Colorado University, akin to Larry Bird attending Indiana State. It was not a school great players chose to attend. Billups stayed in Denver as long as he could and was 21 years old before he played basketball for a team based outside the Denver metro area.
He was a star from the first time he stepped on the court as a freshman at George Washington High School earning first team all-state honors all four seasons winning two state championships. His decision to attend CU thrilled basketball fans to no end and he made the CU men’s basketball program matter for the first time in years. CU has exactly one NCAA tournament win since 1969 and that win happened during Billups’ sophomore year when the routed Indiana in the first round.
After declaring for the draft Billups was selected third overall in the 1997 NBA Draft, two spots before Denver was stuck with Tony Battie. Chauncey struggled early in his NBA career and was actually traded before the end of his rookie campaign from Boston to Toronto and we were worried he might not live up to our sky high expectations. Hope was restored when Billups was dealt to Denver from Toronto. A return to Denver was thought to be exactly what Chauncey needed to regain that dominating all-around game he flashed growing up.
The change of scenery was not enough. He was terrible and when he injured his shoulder early in the 1999-2000 season Chauncey was shooting well below 35% from the floor and below 20% from behind the arc. Billups was shipped off to Orlando and looked like may have been on his way out of the league.
It was a story that had been told many times. The local hero went out into the world and was not able to cut it. It hurt to see Chauncey struggle and wash out, especially out of Denver. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to him.
Billups found his way to Minnesota and slowly began to display his talent. His shooting improved and he was allowed to be a point guard instead of a combo guard. After two years in Minnesota, he was signed by the Detroit Pistons to run the team. The result was a fantastic run of six straight conference finals appearances and one NBA championship. Chauncey was winning games in Detroit, but his victories were shared by everyone back home and it was immensely satisfying to see him grow into a star.
Chauncey may have been a Piston, but he was no stranger in Denver. In 2006 he joined forces with Lonnie Porter, coach at Regis University in Denver, to fund a summer program to help provide scholastic and leadership training to at risk youth in Denver. It did not matter where Chauncey lived or played, he was always one of us.
When Joe Dumars decided he needed to deconstruct the Pistons, there was only one place Chauncey would rather play than the Motor City. Dumars sent Billups home for a second chance to play for the Nuggets. As he did with CU in the NCAA tournament, Chauncey took the Nuggets to a place they had not been in years, the conference finals. Sadly, the success was short lived and last season, which was probably the best chance the Nuggets had of winning an NBA title, came apart at the seams thanks to injuries and the shocking cancer diagnosis for Coach Karl.
Now with the Nuggets facing the prospect of rebuilding it simply makes no sense to have an aging player making $14 million on the payroll. Chauncey has made it known he wants to retire a Nugget and join the front office so that he can continue to support basketball in Denver. The bottom line is it simply does not make basketball sense to keep Billups in Denver anymore.
Denver needs to slash payroll and hand the reigns over to Ty Lawson. They need to move on and take another shot at building a contender. If I am honest with myself I cannot make a good basketball based argument as to why Denver should retain Billups, it just does not make sense to keep him around.
All I can say is it did not make sense when Chauncey chose to play his college basketball at CU. It did not make sense when Chauncey chose to involve himself in a charity in Denver when he was entrenched as a star in Detroit. In a sport and business where there is no loyalty, Chauncey has always proved to be the exception to the rule. He loves Denver and he wants to be here.
I wish there was a way that Billups could remain a Nugget and play on contending teams for as long as his body allows. Regardless of what uniform he puts on Chauncey will be our star and his accomplishments will be shared and enjoyed by many. We also know if at all possible, Billups will find his way back to Denver to help take someone or something to heights they had previously not known.