When Chauncey Billups was watching the NBA Finals earlier this month, he might as well have been checking out a 2004 highlight video.
Team beats talent. That’s how many dubbed Dallas’ win over star-studded Miami and how many saw Detroit’s 2004 Finals triumph over the Lakers, who featured Hall of Fame-bound Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton.
“Yeah, I do,’’ said Billups, a New York point guard, said about whether the Mavericks’ win reminded him of the underdog Pistons beating the Lakers, with Billups being named Finals MVP. “I definitely do.’’
It was a year ago July 10 New Orleans guard Chris Paul made a toast at Carmelo Anthony’s wedding that Amare Stoudemire, Anthony and Paul eventually should join forces in a northern version of Miami’s titanic trio of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Stoudemire had just joined the Knicks and Anthony would show up seven months later in a trade from Denver that included Billups.
If you ask Billups, though, he’s a lot more enamored with how the Mavericks have been doing things even if their marquee wasn’t as crowded with big names as the Heat’s.
“I think that in any situation you got to get a team,’’ Billups said in a wide-ranging interview at his basketball camp in suburban Denver. “It’s not about names, how many people on your team can make the All-Star Game. It’s not about that at all. It’s about putting the right pieces together. You got to have a cohesive unit. You got to have guys that know to play off of one another, guys that are going to be unselfish on both ends of the floor. Those are things that win championships, and we’ve seen that clear as day in the Finals.’’
Billups should know. His Pistons won the title with just one All-Star, the same number the Mavericks had last season to three for Miami. And Detroit’s All-Star, defensive stalwart Ben Wallace, was hardly the same caliber as Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki.
“It’s not about that,’’ Billups said of collecting big names on a team. “We got two of the biggest names in basketball already (in Anthony and Stoudemire). It’s not about that. It’s about getting somebody that can play with the talent that you have… You look at the Mavericks, and they just share the basketball every time down the floor… Dirk is one of the best the game has ever seen. But he couldn’t do it by himself… So it’s all about the team.’’
If you think Billups is talking like a general manager, well, that’s eventually what he wouldn’t mind becoming. But Billups, 35 in September, looks to still have several seasons left as a player.
The Knicks are looking for a new general manager. It was mutually agreed upon that Donnie Walsh, 70, won’t stay on when his contract expires at the end of June. Glen Grunwald will serve as interim general manager.
“I was a little surprised,’’ Billups said. “I thought Donnie would come back. I don’t know the ins and outs of the situation. But I enjoyed Donnie. Donnie’s great. He’s a basketball guy. He knows the game, knows talent. It was really good working for him.’’
Billups didn’t get into specifics. But he said the Knicks, who went 14-14 after the blockbuster Feb. 22 trade with the Nuggets to finish 42-40 and then were swept 4-0 by Boston in the first round of the playoffs, face a pivotal offseason.
“We need a lot,’’ said Billups, a five-time All-Star who averaged 16.8 points and 5.4 assists last season. “We got (six) free agents…. We need a lot of stuff. That’s why the front office gets paid the big bucks. It’s their job to do it. It’s our job to execute.’’
At least the Knicks still have Billups around to help with the execution. Shortly after the season, his $14.2 million contract option for next season was picked up. He could have been bought out for $3.7 million.
“I didn’t know, but I wasn’t antsy,’’ Billups said of not being sure whether the Knicks would pick up the option by the deadline of five days after the Game 4 loss to Boston. “I liked for them to. But, if they don’t, I’m going to play at a high level somewhere and land on my feet.’’
Billups knows all about that. In his 14 NBA seasons, he’s been with seven teams, including two stops in Denver.
Billups, who calls playing in New York “absolutely awesome,” said it’s “all up in the air’’ what might happen when he becomes a free agent next summer. Until then, Billups will be renting while playing for the Knicks.
Actually, he rents by the day.
Billups lived in a hotel in White Plains, N.Y., near the Knicks’ practice facility, from when he was traded last February through the season. He plans to continue to rack up hotel points next season, whenever it might begin following a likely lockout.
“I live here,’’ Billups, a Denver native, said of the Mile High City. “I ain’t leaving here. This is my town no matter who I’m playing for… Why would I do that (establish a less temporary residence in the New York area)? I live here. I don’t need that. I got a house here. I’m by myself. Why would I buy something (in the New York area)?’’
Does Billups’ love for Denver mean he would be open to a third stint with the Nuggets? He played for them from 1998-2000 and from November 2008 until being shipped to the Knicks.
Billups wouldn’t rule out one day returning as a player, saying, “When I’m a free agent, I’m going to look at everybody.’’ Billups, who had talked before he was traded about eventually serving in Denver’s front office, also wouldn’t rule that out.
“You never know,’’ he said. “That’s the one thing that you always know in this game is you never know.’’
Billups insists he has no bad feelings toward the Nuggets for dealing him. When shown a picture of Denver rookie Jordan Hamilton holding up his new No. 1 jersey, the digit that used to belong to Billups, the veteran laughed and said, “They could have given that away the night of the trade.’’
“I’m not mad at (the Nuggets) at all,’’ Billups said. “It is what it is. It’s a business. I thought I was going to finish my career in Detroit (before the 2008 trade to Denver). I thought I was going to finish my career (in Denver). It didn’t happen. I don’t know where I’m going to finish my career.’’
Billups figures to get a big round of applause whenever he makes his first trip back to the Pepsi Center. But Billups insists it won’t be like his March 2009 Detroit homecoming.
“It will be cool,’’ Billups said. “It won’t be emotional for me. It won’t be like when I went back to Detroit. I had so many great years in Detroit. Six years, won a championship. Three years I was (with the Nuggets). Had some good, fun years. But it won’t be a big deal at all. I wasn’t (in Denver) long enough. It won’t be a big deal at all. But with Melo, it will be… I’m just going to sit back and chill and watch that.’’
Billups, who figures to receive plenty of cheers when the Knicks play at Denver, said he hopes the fans won’t boo Anthony, who played his first 7 ½ seasons with the Nuggets. But that’s not likely to happen considering Anthony, unlike Billups, wanted to be dealt.
Billups enjoys playing with Anthony, and wouldn’t mind that experience carrying over at least through next summer. Anthony, a 2008 Olympic gold medalist, is considered close to a lock for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. Billups also wants to be on the team, although he knows there will be some “tough decisions’’ for roster spots.
“I’m committed for sure, 100 percent,’’ said Billups, a starter for last summer’s World Championship gold-medal outfit in Turkey. “(Team USA officials) know that. That’s a dream of mine to be able to play in the Olympics.’’
It remains to be seen what NBA team Billups might be representing by the time the London Olympics arrive. He could have a few more stops left in his career. Billups is in no hurry to retire, saying he plans to play at least a couple of more seasons.
Will he last as long as Dallas point guard Jason Kidd, 38, who has said he would like to play until he’s 40?
“I’m pretty sure I could,’’ Billups said. “I don’t know if I will want to. I’ll be able to do what I do for a long time. Because I’m going to beat you really with being smart, outsmarting guys, the same way Jason is out there playing… This league is getting younger all the time. As we’ve seen in the playoffs, in a lot of different situations, it’s tough to win when you’re young. You just don’t have the experience.’’
The experience of the veteran-laden Mavericks certainly was evident in the Finals. So was the triumph of team over talent.