Clippers counting on Billups’ championship savvy

The concept of playing for the Los Angeles Clippers and working

with old friends Chris Paul and Mo Williams is starting to grow on

Chauncey Billups, who up until now was slow in embracing his new


Billups spoke publicly for the first time since joining the

rebuilt Clippers, who were handling the 14-year veteran with kid

gloves until the initial shock and disappointment wore off

following his sudden departure from the New York Knicks.

”I’ve been through a lot, trust me. It’s been a long year,

man,” the five-time All-Star said Friday at the Clippers’ Playa

Vista training facility. ”But I’m here to do what I do: try to

make this team a better team and win in the process, and just be

the player and person that I’ve been throughout my entire


Billups was one of three players acquired this week in an

unprecedented flurry of roster revamping by the team’s front office

– including the acquisition of Paul in a multiplayer deal with the

New Orleans Hornets, and the signing of well-traveled free agent

Caron Butler, who won a championship last season with the Dallas


The Clippers won a waiver auction to get Billups, who was MVP of

the 2004 NBA finals when the Detroit Pistons beat the Lakers.

”There couldn’t be a classier guy in this business than

Chauncey,” said Neil Olshey, the Clippers’ general manager and

president of basketball operations. ”It hasn’t been the easiest 18

months for him – not in terms of basketball, but in terms of

basically how the process has been for him in different locations.

But he’s the ultimate pro, and he’s been phenomenal through this


The 35-year-old point guard became available when the Knicks

waived him under the NBA’s new amnesty provision – saving

themselves a cool $14.2 million and enabling them to afford free

agent Tyson Chandler and the four-year, $56 million sign-and-trade

contract he inked with Dallas before going to New York in a

three-way trade with Washington last Saturday.

Billups was hoping to clear waivers after the Knicks cut him

loose – which would have made him an unrestricted free agent. He

hinted at retirement if he was taken by a club that didn’t appeal

to him, but according to published reports, he and agent Andy

Miller were warned by the league that he would be in breach of his

contract had he not reported to whichever club picked him up.

”Going through the lockout – and then being waived – was

something I never thought was going to happen in that situation,”

Billups said. ”I had hoped that maybe through that process I could

have controlled my own destiny. But it didn’t happen, and I was

disappointed that it didn’t happen.

”I contemplated retiring, but I’m lucky it was the Clippers

that took me. They’re not the Clippers of old. They want to win and

they want to do it right. I wanted to be in a winning situation,

and I want to go out of this game gracefully – whenever that is.

That’s what I’m all about. I’m all about winning. I’m not thinking

about retiring now. That’s over with. I’m good now. I’m good to go.

I’m a Clipper and I’m happy to be here. It could have been much


Coach Vinny Del Negro acknowledged that convincing Billups the

perennially underachieving Clippers were a great fit for him was

somewhat of a tough sell. But his transition no doubt will be

easier to digest with the addition of Paul, whose arrival already

has enabled the Clippers to sell out their season ticket


”I’m a big Chauncey Billups fan,” Del Negro said. ”I have

tremendous respect for Chauncey. He’s always played the game the

right way. He’s been a winner and he’s been a champion. He’s had to

deal with a lot of things thrown at him in the last year or so,

with different teams and things, and it’s a little unsettling for

him. So I completely understand his feelings.”

Billups, who was selected third overall in the 1997 draft by the

Boston Celtics, will be playing for his ninth NBA club and fourth

in the last five seasons. One of them was the Denver Nuggets, who

dealt him to New York with Carmelo Anthony as part of a three-team,

13-player megatrade with Minnesota in February.

”I had a good time in New York,” Billups said. ”They have a

great fan base there, and playing in the Garden was great. But

other than that, it wasn’t that difficult to leave the Knicks. It

was just the frustrations of being waived. As a player who’s

accomplished the things I’ve accomplished, you never think about

being waived or cut.”

Del Negro will start Billups in the backcourt with Paul and

bring Williams in off the bench.

”I’m a point guard. And in my eyes, we’re probably going to be

starting two point guards – not a point guard and a shooting

guard,” Billups said. ”I’m a lead guard and a playmaker, and so

is Chris. So we’re going to cause a lot of teams a lot of