There is a permanently planted chip on the shoulder of Chauncey Billups, and it only grows in size as time goes on.
Billups is a guy who always has something to prove. Initially it was showing Boston they were wrong for trading him in his rookie year. Then it was proving he was a natural point guard. Even when Billups reached the highest peak by winning a title in Detroit and a Finals MVP, he still wasn’t done. He had to set out to prove it wasn’t all a fluke.
When Billups finally earned the respect he so desperately craved and the moniker “Mr. Big Shot,” he looked to justify his reputation by shooting a ridiculous amount of potential game-winning shots. Never mind that he went 3-for-27 in those situations over the last five years — his name was his name. Fading away from taking a big shot would be an admittance that he didn’t deserve his reputation. Those three makes were drastically more important than the 24 misses. Billups has always drawn his motivation from his perceived worth, and it’s a sword that cuts both ways.
When New York kicked him to the curb for Tyson Chandler this offseason, making him the league’s most notable Amnesty Cut to date, you saw the pride of Billups unleashed. He made wild threats to any team that claimed him, saying that, “A leader can be as disruptive as he can be productive…This is about me now.”
Billups simply could not accept anyone but himself wielding the power that decided his fate. He had earned the right to choose exactly where he wanted to be, even if the rules said otherwise.
Maybe it was clever posturing to scare off the Sacramentos of the world, but it felt real. When the Clippers were awarded their $2,000,032 claim for Billups, many feared for the worst. Here was the league’s most notorious losing franchise, with the league’s most tarnished reputation, picking up a player on his last legs heavily invested in protecting his legacy.
Without Chris Paul, it’s likely a nightmare scenario. But once Paul became a Clipper, Billups backed off his harsh threats and changed his tune — sort of. Billups refers to Paul as “his little brother,” and routinely makes comments about how nice it is to have two great point guards on the roster. Billups’ comments almost seem to indicate that Paul is playing with him, and not the other way around.
And that leads us to the current situation. The chip on Billups shoulder has grown into a tumor. He has to prove New York wrong for closing the curtains on his career. He has to prove he’s worth more than just two million dollars — three million below the average NBA player’s salary. He has to show that he’s not washed up, that age hasn’t caught up to him. Perhaps most damning, he has to do all of that while playing in the shadow cast by the league’s greatest point guard.
When Billups takes the court, he’s not just fighting against players 10 years younger than him — he’s fighting the sun from setting on his career. That’s something that even Billups, as great as he was, can’t do.
But for better or worse, he’s trying. Even though he’s shooting just 33 percent from the field so far this season, Billups is firing up shots same as before. He’s regressed heavily by virtually every statistical measure this season, becoming more average than his name would believe to you be. His PER rating of 15.1 this season is barely above league average. His true shooting percentage, usually a category Billups is a league leader in, is at 52.1 percent, a hair below the league average of 52.2 percent.
This puts the Clippers in a peculiar situation. Billups has the market cornered on being the Clippers only “slasher” on the roster and is the only wing player really capable of drawing fouls. With that said, Mo Williams has proven himself the superior offensive player so far this season, and will likely look better with the rest of the starting unit at the end of games. And therein lies the issue. Can Del Negro bench “Mr. Big Shot” down the stretch of game with any sort of frequency and expect that to go over well? Can you directly make light of the fact that Billups last claim to stardom (his “clutch” shooting) is no longer worthy?
The value of Billups has changed. His playoff experience, ability to draw fouls, spot-up 3-point shooting, and typically safe decision-making is what the Clippers actually value. The pull-up jumpers early in the clock and the hero shots he was once renowned for hold very little value to this team.
Is Billups, in his 15th year, willing to accept his actual value and declining role? Or will the pride that once fueled him to greatness cloud his eyes from the truth?