Billups' balloon losing air by the game

Originally Published: May 29, 2007
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

CLEVELAND -- Mr. Big Shot is blowing his money.

You wanna look at the Eastern Conference finals from a different perspective? Like a dollars and cents angle? Then look no further than the player wearing the Detroit Pistons' No. 1, a player who was being talked about as a "max" salary candidate when this series began, but a player whose value would seemingly be on the decline with each passing game.

He's Chauncey Billups, aka "Mr. Big Shot."

Through the first three games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Billups has more turnovers (17) than assists (14) and is shooting only 12-for-27 from the field, having scored 13 points in each of the first three games.

"I think he's not being as aggressive in situations as he needs to be. And a lot of times when he's like that, it carries over as far as the rest of the team. We don't maybe get into sets quite as quick and we're not as crisp, and we've got to get back to doing that," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said.

Billups tried Monday to shrug off questions about his drop-off in production as the Cavaliers and Pistons had an off day to prepare for tonight's Game 4, but there's no mistaking the fact that his impending free agency (Billups is widely expected to opt out of his current contract, which is due to pay him about $6.8 next season) and the amount of money he's going to get on his next deal are being impacted by the way he's performing in this series.

As a free agent with 10 years of experience, Billups will be eligible to sign a contract with a starting salary equal to 35 percent of the salary cap. So if the cap comes in at $56 million, Billups would be eligible to make a salary of $18.4 million next season if the Pistons felt he was a "max" player -- although that is probably not the case, the events of this series notwithstanding.

A more reasonable number would be a starting salary somewhere in the $11-13 million range, putting Billups on par with some of the highest-paid point guards in the NBA, though not in the top echelon.

(Jason Kidd, for instance, will earn $19.7 million next season; Stephon Marbury will earn $19.2; Mike Bibby will make $13.5; Steve Nash is due $11.4 million.)

Pistons president Joe Dumars has been saying all year how the team will do what it takes to re-sign Billups, although he was saying similar things a year ago in regard to Ben Wallace. When Wallace hit the market, the Chicago Bulls came in with an offer that included a starting salary of $16 million, a stratosphere into which the Pistons were not willing to venture.

The only teams likely to have enough cap space, and thus the capability to force the Pistons' hand on Billups are the Milwaukee Bucks and the Charlotte Bobcats. But the Bucks seem most inclined to first take a run at re-signing Mo Williams, and the Bobcats are set for the future at the point with Raymond Felton.

So Billups could be hurting for leverage when July 1 rolls around, which means the Pistons will make him an offer based mostly on performance -- and fiscal prudence.

And if there was an argument for Billups' being paid something closer to the maximum, that argument is being weakened in this series.

"I'm not confused or concerned," Billups said Monday. "You know, like I said, I could be taking care of the ball a little better. I had five turnovers yesterday via my travels, you know what I'm saying -- not throwaways, travels -- but I'm not concerned at all."

Billups has had some trouble adjusting to the Cavaliers' traps in the half court, although he'll probably see a new look Tuesday night with Cavs point guard Larry Hughes not expected to play because of a torn plantar fascia on his left foot. Cleveland coach Mike Brown was expected to start Eric Snow or Daniel Gibson in Hughes' place.

Also, Billups isn't the only Pistons guard experiencing some difficulties in this series.

After scoring 24 points in 11-for-21 shooting in Game 1, Richard Hamilton went 5-for-14 for 13 points and 2-for-8 for seven points in Games 2 and 3.

"They're the main part of our team. That's how this team was built," Saunders said. "When you have two guys that they average roughly 40 points a game between them, and they go into a game and they get half that, it puts your team very much at a disadvantage. So they've got to bring it, as does everybody else."

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.

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