Was Chauncey Billups observing some kind of moratorium in regards to talking about The Trade? Or have I just been so focused on Detroit's side of the deal that I've missed all of his previous interviews? I ask because before today I'd yet to come across any substantial comments about the deal since his initial press conference, and then today there's not one, not two but three different interviews with him in various publications across the country.
Marc Spears of the Boston Globe, who was the first to report the Nuggets and Pistons were even talking, has a solid (if predictably Celtics-centric) piece, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer has a rather superficial Q&A that's full of PC canned answers.
Ordinarily, I'd probably excerpt a few choice quotes from those articles and call it a post, but not today. No, Billups saved the good stuff for the local guys, opening up to Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press in a way that will likely put a knot in the stomach of every Pistons fan who reads his column, starting with the opening paragraph:
Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton were crying. There they were, two NBA All-Stars, in Billups’ room in the Hilton City Center in Charlotte … crying. And laughing. And crying again.
The Pistons had just traded Billups to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson. Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince had gotten word that morning, when Billups did not attend the team’s shootaround. They got back to the hotel and pounded on Billups’ door.
Billups was on the phone with his wife, Piper. He told her he’d call her back later. It turned out to be much later.
"It was the hardest two or three hours that I’ve had in a long, long time in my life," Billups said. "We just couldn’t believe that it’s over. It’s over. That’s the thing that’s so tough about trades. No matter what happens, it’s over. So those two or three hours were crazy."
Remember how surprised you were to see Allen Iverson holding up Billups' old jersey number? Imagine how Billups felt:
"I will admit, that shocked me," he said. "It’s kind of surreal when you first get traded. But when I saw that No. 1 on TV with a different name, that’s when I said, ‘It’s official.’ "
(To be completely honest, I don't think enough was made about that -- Billups deserves to have that jersey retired, and the classy move would have been for the Pistons to inform AI the number wasn't available. And as shocked as everyone was to see him choose that number, I'm not sure anyone's bothered to ask him why he picked. But I digress ...)
Peppered throughout the column are interesting tidbits that were suspected but never officially confirmed. For instance ... Billups revealed that Joe Dumars told him this summer he tried to trade Billups and Tayshaun Prince for Carmelo Anthony, but the Nuggets refused. And apparently the Nuggets offered Iverson for Billups at least once earlier in the summer but Dumars declined.
If this trade was on the table earlier in the summer, why wait until two games into the season to pull the trigger? Only Dumars knows for sure, but I will say this: there wasn't as much excitement as usual for the first two games at the Palace -- despite the official numbers, the games were not sold out, or if they were, there were thousands of paying customers who simply decided not to attend.
There are plenty of reasons to think this trade makes sense (if you remember, I came around) both for the present and future, but all along a tiny bit of me wondered if Dumars decided to pull the trigger only after realizing the fans were so bored with the current team they couldn't even be bothered to pack the Palace on opening night. I'm sure the economy has played a huge role in declining ticket sales, and it's not like having AI in town will suddenly revive the auto industry or stop homes from being foreclosed upon, but for those of us that do have a little disposable income, there's a lot more novelty in seeing a flashy new superstar wearing red, white and blue than the same act that's been around five years.
Speaking of timing, remember how Rip Hamilton's three-year extension was announced the evening after the trade?
"If Rip would have knew that this deal was going on, I just don’t know that he would have signed that extension," Billups said. "It was kind of funny to me that they announced this trade the same day that he signed. I really don’t know. … It just seemed weird to me. He signed that extension three days before the trade. … I think it might have been a little different if all this was exposed early."
In hindsight, perhaps Rip's decision not to talk to the press for several days after the trade was rooted in frustration with the front office for not being open as much as it was sadness in losing a teammate. Billups spoke about how badly he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Dumars and Dave Bing by investing in Detroit but admitted he probably wouldn't have re-signed with the Pistons two summers ago had he known he'd be dealt after one season.
Billups also discussed the Flip Saunders era. He didn't throw his former coach under the bus but did admit that several of his teammates had grown frustrated -- so frustrated, in fact, that it may have cost this team another ring:
"’Sheed was just vocal and visual about his (frustration)," Billups said. "I can’t say it was all Rasheed or it was only Rasheed. But even with that, I just still feel like that should have never come into play. I feel like no matter what the coach is doing, how you feel or whatever, you can’t cheat your teammates and not give maximum effort because you’re mad at the coach.
"I think that cost us at least one championship."
Hearing that stings -- and to be perfectly honest, it makes you wonder if the wrong guy got shipped out of town. Billups is hardly absolved -- he was team captain, it was on him to keep his teammates on the same page -- but perhaps he felt uncomfortable coming to Saunders' defense considering his career benefited the most from Flip's presence. (Rasheed and Ben were already All-Stars before Flip arrived, and while Rip wasn't, he was already the team's leading scorer. Chauncey, though, went from being mentioned as a steady point guard to one of the best in the game, and in the 64-win season of 2005-06, a dark horse MVP candidate.)
I could go on, but I've pilfered enough -- just read the whole thing, and rest assured I've left enough material unmentioned to still make it interesting. This trade will go down as one of the biggest in Detroit sports history regardless of how long Iverson stays around, and it's not often we get such an intimate peek into how these things go down.