Fighting Time

Knee surgery interrupts Mr. Big Shot’s season as he mulls his future

Chauncey Billups
A decision on whether to keep playing NBA basketball isn’t far off for Chauncey Billups.
Rocky Widner (NBAE/Getty)

Three of the teammates Chauncey Billups considered brothers no longer play in the NBA. He knows he’ll be joining Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton soon enough. But he’s not ready to concede just yet that the clean-up surgery on his left knee last week was enough by itself to chase him into retirement.

“My gas light is on, but I don’t know if I have 15 miles left or 30,” he said. “The light is on, though.”

That troublesome left knee – first diagnosed as tendinitis back in November, when he played only six minutes before limping to the bench at Golden State in the season’s seventh game – finally demanded a more permanent resolution than the rest and rehabilitation they’d attempted to prevent an extended absence. The procedure last week smoothed the rough edges in Billups’ cartilage that were causing pain and inflammation.

“It was something that’s really been pretty much bothering me since November when I went out in that first Golden State game,” Billups said after Monday night’s rematch, a 104-96 Warriors win. “I did every single thing I could to try to get it right, but it would get right and then have a setback. It was just a tough grind, so I went in and they just cleaned it up and (it’s) feeling better.”

Neither his season nor his team’s has gone the way Billups envisioned when he signed to return to the Pistons last July. And those two facts aren’t unrelated. Billups has been limited to 19 games and shooting percentages of .304 overall and .292 from the 3-point line, both career lows. The original prognosis after last week’s surgery was a two- to three-week period of rehabilitation and then a re-evaluation to see if a return this season was possible.

“I would hope so, but just have to see,” Billups said. “I’m not going to rush back. I do want to just get it better, so in a perfect world, yeah.”

And what of next season, when the Pistons, as reported, hold a team option on the final year of the two-year agreement the sides struck last summer?

“It all just kind of depends on how this feels and how things are with the knee,” he said. “If the knee is fine, then sure, absolutely I would like to come back. And if it’s not, I don’t want to come back and do this. It’s tough to do this, especially (when) we’re not a winning team at this stage. I feel like if my knee was fine all year, we probably wouldn’t be in this position. We probably would be a little higher up in the standings, I would think, for what I could bring to the team as far as leadership on the court.

“But it is what it is. Father Time is undefeated.”

Billups has remained an active and willing mentor to the team’s core of guards, everyone from Will Bynum – other than Billups, the only 30-year-old on Detroit’s roster – to younger veterans like Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Jennings to rookies Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Peyton Siva.

“I’m just trying to tell them to just stick together,” he said. “There are going to be a lot of ups and downs all the time in the NBA. And you’ve got to be able to fight through it. Even when you’re down, you’ve got to find a way to pull together. We have some talent in this locker room, but we don’t have the kind of talent that one guy can pull us out of it. So if we all together can try to pull together and bond together, then we’ll have a shot.”