Commentary

Real change agent? Chauncey Billups

He'll make the rest of the Knicks look better and the teams they play look worse.

Originally Published: February 24, 2011
By Scoop Jackson | ESPN.com

Don't doubt. Don't sleep. Not on him. Not this time. Not ever.

And no, we are not talking about Carmelo Anthony. He isn't who this is about. The immediate impact of the trade as it affects New York will be determined by someone else. By the guy who came with the Knicks' newest savior.

[+] EnlargeChauncey Billups
AP Photo/Kathy WillensGame No. 1 for Chauncey Billups in a Knicks uniform? Not bad: 21 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, a win.

So this is about that guy, the other guy. The guy with the ring. The guy whose résumé is more impressive than that of the other 11 players on the Knicks' roster combined. The guy whose full name was chanted by the Garden crowd on Wednesday night because Knicks fans apparently don't know yet that "Smooth" is his nickname -- that, or they didn't feel comfortable enough with him yet to choir his other aka: "Mr. Big Shot."

The guy whose face wasn't up on the marquee all day before his first home game in a Knicks uniform.

In the middle of all the Melodrama that has become New York basketball is a 34-year-old player's player who very well could be the linchpin of the most important trade-deadline transaction since the 2004 deal that led to Billups' crown -- when Rasheed Wallace was imported to Detroit.

But until Wednesday night, New York didn't see Chauncey Billups that way. Until Knicks fans saw Amare Stoudemire play the fourth quarter in foul trouble and eventually foul out, until they saw Melo have a bad shooting night (despite 27 points), until they saw Ronny Turiaf logging 20 minutes and copping only five rebounds at the 5-spot, they might not have realized the true necessity of Billups in the acquisition.

Billups' blueprint of accountability on Wednesday -- 21 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds and 12-for-12 from the line despite his own bad shooting night from the floor (4-for-12) -- is exactly what the people in all five boroughs needed to witness to get past the myth that the so-called-by-Stoudemire "1, 1A punch" is enough.

It isn't. Not with the 1A-1B-1C punch in Miami, and the 1A-1B-1C-1D punch in Boston, and what looks like a Pacquiao of punches in Chicago led by the perceived front-runner for the MVP.

The man who many think just came along for the ride in this trade is the one the Knicks really need to Trevor Bayne their playoff race.


It's wrong, this deal that brought him here. Billups did not ask to be in New York. More importantly, he did not ask to leave Denver. He's from there, wanted "there" to be the final stop of the tour called his career. So the leaving-Denver part will be the hardest, and not just for him.

"I think there's many people, including myself, that will be sad for Chauncey," Nuggets coach George Karl said after the trade became official. "I know he loves Denver, and we love him."

The game had a different plan. Chauncey didn't ask to be a part of Carmelo's dream, but he is. Collateral damage.

You ask how could a player of so much value, one who is respected by organizations and loved by fans, be on his sixth team and involved in his seventh trade? Simple: This is a business of numbers, not a game of points. Once again, Billups got caught up in something bigger than he is. Something out of his control. But this time, if the Knicks play this out intelligently, this trade could be about much more than just Melo.

[+] EnlargeCarmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIBillups, meeting the media with Carmelo Anthony before their first game with the Knicks, always has had the right anwers.

Collateral inheritance.

"Chauncey will go down as one of the [game's] greatest winners," Karl said. "His record of eight conference finals is incredible. That's who he is. That's what he stands for."

The question is, do the Knicks and the media in New York realize that? Do they know what he stands for yet? Are they so blinded by the promise of the joined forces of The Beast (Stoudemire) and The Bully (Anthony) that they are missing the "1B" part to this puzzle?

For the short time that he may be with the Knicks, it will be Billups who makes the giving up of "too much" for Melo justifiable. Nothing against Raymond Felton (traded to Denver as part of the deal) or any other high-profile point guard whom Knicks owner James Dolan might want to bring in beginning in 2012, which is when $14 million of Billups' salary can come off the books. But when you are trying to win -- when you are trying to be a part of the latest NBA trend of stacking squads -- there's something to be said about a Hall of Fame-caliber vet who has Finals MVP experience (2004 with the Pistons) being at the helm of a squad that has no Finals experience.

Even if it's for fewer than 50 games. The Knicks had better recognize that.

It's not necessarily Anthony who will make the Knicks into the team no one wants to meet in the first (or second) round of the playoffs, regardless of what it does during the rest of the regular season. (Remember how many games it took the Heat to finally jell?) It's deeper than that.

It's about the guy who has the ability to do for Mike D'Antoni what Steve Nash once did for him in Phoenix. To do what no other point guard in the NBA could do for Larry Brown in Detroit. To be the East Coast Derek Fisher.

Although people seem to think Billups should be worried about going up against a Derrick Rose or a Rajon Rondo in a seven-game series, maybe he's Rorschach. Maybe they should be concerned about going up against him.


"I have to learn the tendencies of seven new players … and the coaching staff," Billups said at the news conference during his introduction in New York. Then he said what all of Gotham needed to be reminded of: "I've done this before."

And it is in the very essence of those four little words where the true value of Chauncey Billups is found. It's not a "been there, done that" thing with him. It's more nurtured, more cerebral, less disengaged.

[+] EnlargeChauncey Billups
AP Photo/ Michael ConroyNow somebody on the Knicks knows what it feels like to kiss a Finals MVP trophy.

From now until the Knicks' season ends, it'll be his presence more than his play that will shape what this team will become. Making the players around him better is just a part of what Billups has to do; he also has to make the people against whom the Knicks are playing worse.

He has to force all other teams into believing -- and knowing -- that the Knicks now have an inspired leader who could have been created by Frank Miller. One who provides "defensive stability," as Earl Monroe said Billups would do during the Knicks/Bucks broadcast. One who reminds us of Walt Frazier, which is the verbatim answer ("Walt Frazier") given by Frazier himself when he was asked by Mike Breen to name the first thing he thinks about when he thinks of Billups.

"He know[s] what it takes to win championships," Anthony said about Billups as he sat right next to him. "He know[s] how to win basketball games."

It's the calmness in Billups' voice when he talks, the calmness with which he will play through this recent madness that has taken over basketball's mecca. Billups was born for this New York moment.

That is why he is here. That is why this all happened the way that it did.

Billups was born to be the guy who will someday make professional basketball in NYC and MSG make sense again. To make this insanity sane.

To restore order. To restore relevance. To restore belief.

He told us: He's done this before.

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.

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