AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — For many Detroit Pistons fans, the team’s decline can be traced to that November day in 2008, when they traded Chauncey Billups.
Team president Joe Dumars certainly regrets that move, but Billups’ return to the Palace this season is about more than just nostalgia.
“Although this is a great feel-good moment, to bring Chauncey back, he and I discussed the fact that this is not just about feel-good,” Dumars said. “This is about his ability to impact the game for us on the court.”
The Pistons brought the 36-year-old Billups back on a two-year deal for $2.5 million a year. The first season is guaranteed. The 6-foot-3 guard played 22 games for the Los Angeles Clippers in 2012-13, a season after tearing his left Achilles tendon. As his playing days wind down, he can provide Detroit with a pass-first point guard who is a 39 percent shooter from 3-point range in his career.
He’ll also be asked to mentor 21-year-old Brandon Knight, another of the team’s options at point guard.
“I feel like I’ve still got some good years of basketball left,” Billups said while being formally reintroduced at a news conference Tuesday. “I’ve said it, time and time again, that I always wanted to be remembered as a Piston.”
Billups helped Detroit to the 2004 NBA title, winning MVP honors in the Finals. The Pistons dealt him to Denver on Nov. 3, 2008, in a deal that brought Allen Iverson to Detroit. The Pistons are almost 100 games under .500 since making the unpopular and unsuccessful move. They traded Billups in part to speed the development of Rodney Stuckey and to clear salary cap space.
“You know every decision is going to be debated from the time you make it, and you live with that, but very few of them do you simply wish that — ‘I wish I had that one back,'” Dumars said. “I’ve said that to him — do it all over again, absolutely not. Wouldn’t have ever made that move with him. Whatever you do in these seats, you have to own it, good and bad.”
Stuckey is still with the team, but he hasn’t been consistently dependable, and Knight’s future at point guard isn’t certain either. Detroit has two promising big men in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Billups says Drummond — who is coming off a strong rookie season — will give up his No. 1 jersey so Billups can wear it.
The Pistons, 148-244 since trading Billups, are in a four-year postseason drought, and attendance at the Palace has sagged.
“This city and this organization is huge, and rich in basketball tradition,” Billups said. “Even with me being away on the other teams that I’ve been on the last few years, I hate to see the Palace look the way it looks during games, with nobody watching.”
The Pistons entered this offseason with plenty of cap space, and they’ve added free agent forward Josh Smith and Italian star Luigi Datome. Dumars is still open to trades, but he says he’s pleased with the roster already assembled for next season.
As for Billups, he returns to a franchise that looks much different than the one he left. He’s realistic about that.
“I think respectability is the word for me,” Billups said. “I don’t know that we can get, in two years, back to what it was when I left. But just make the playoffs, I think, is a goal that we’ve got to have from Day One.”
This is a return Billups embraces, but it’s not just about coming back to a comfortable place.
“I’m really not good with losing and mediocrity,” Billups said. “I come here, and I’m not just coming to mentor and coach. I’m coming to play, and I’m coming to try to win. I’m looking forward to it.”
– By NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
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