Billups is Disappointing

November 9, 1997
Here's something for Celtics loyalists to ponder: Which will come first, a fan wearing a Raef LaFrentz jersey to the FleetCenter, or Rick Pitino petitioning FIBA to allow his team to participate in the next 22-and-under world championships?

It was, in a roundabout way, refreshing to hear the Ricktator admit that it isn't going to happen this year. Then again, he never did say what "it" was. Maybe he was talking about cheerleaders, dancing girls, and music during the games. Somehow, we don't think so.

What he was saying, we think, is that you probably can feel safe about making other plans for May. Although he probably came to this conclusion well before last Wednesday, he may have had loftier hopes during the summer. After seeing his boys in the flesh against real NBA players, he may have had an awakening. 

The teams that win in the NBA do so with talent and experience. The Celtics have precious little of either. They're young; they've got potential. That's about it. So Pitino loaded up on young-uns who, by definition, have potential, and hoped to get a pearl or two from the oysters.

Which brings us to Chauncey Billups.

The Celtics say he's not on the block, which technically may be true, but, as the saying goes, make them an offer. Pitino is clearly disappointed in Billups, so much so that he took the rook out of last Wednesday's game before the start of the second half. He feels Dana Barros, who also is struggling, is better at point guard right now.

Has Pitino already given up on the No. 3 pick in the draft? If he has, fine, then he should make the decision and cut his losses. If he hasn't, then he should give Billups the playing time to mature and develop.

"Right now, my take on the situation is that Chauncey is unbelievably gun-shy and tentative," reported Billups's agent, Eric Fleisher. "But the whole team is playing that way. It's an adjustment and it's going to take time, and Chauncey understands that. Hopefully, there's time."

Was it a mistake to draft Billups? No. He was on everyone's list as one of the top four or five players available. Unless Pitino wanted to re-sign David Wesley, which he apparently never even considered, taking Billups was a defensible decision.

Should Pitino have known whether Billups could play the way he wanted him to play? He at least should have had a clue. We kept hearing that there wasn't a great need for scouts this spring because Pitino knew all the college players. But how well did he really know Billups? We know Billups didn't play the Pitino system at Colorado. What made Pitino think he could play it in Boston?

"I don't know if he's suited for this system or not," said Fleisher. "I do know that he's certainly not comfortable. But Stephon Marbury didn't set the world on fire last year either in his first few games. Chauncey is a very talented player. But it's not an easy transition for him."

Pitino, at least for public consumption, is unfazed.

"Chauncey's going to be fine," Pitino said. "We just need to bring him along a little slower. He needs to be more intense on defense and to learn more about basketball at this level."

Fine. Let him learn it playing against NBA point guards. Let him take his lumps and grow. It took Gary Payton four years to establish himself as one of the better two-way point guards in the game. He didn't get there by watching; he got there by playing.

Pitino is correct that it's going to take time. A look at the Eastern Conference and offseason moves are all one needs to understand why the Celtics are going to take a lot of hits this year.

But the fans would like to see signs of hope. They see Pitino as one. They see Antoine Walker as another. Beyond that, it's not clear. Is Travis Knight going to be a "great, great player," as Pitino says, or is he the next Brad Lohaus? Is Ron Mercer the next Steve Smith, or the next Calbert Cheaney? And what about Billups? He was supposed to be a sign, too.

After last Wednesday's game, Miami veteran Tim Hardaway sought out Billups to offer him some cheer. There was no common bond between the two other than their position.

"Chauncey Billups," said Hardaway, "is a guy who can play basketball. But he's a guy who can't play in that style. Half their team can't play in that style."

Delk gets dealt

Tony Delk, another ex-Kentuckian and Pitino favorite, is now in Golden State after falling off the tree in Charlotte. Coach Dave Cowens prefers Corey Beck (one of Nolan Richardson's favorites at Arkansas) for his defensive presence, and Delk was getting garbage minutes. Don't be surprised if the Hornets checked with the Celtics about the possibility of doing a Delk/Muggsy Bogues deal for Billups before pulling the trigger on the deal for B.J. Armstrong. Look for Golden State to release Bogues, which is the stated preference of his agent, David Falk. That would put the Warriors on the hook for only $ 800,000 next year and would enable Muggsy to make a deal with a contender, provided his knee is OK. Whether Golden State will keep Delk is another matter; it already has Bimbo Coles and Brian Shaw. Would the Celtics be interested? One thing we've seen already is that there is the Pitino View on NBA talent and the Conventional View. There are 28 general managers who would not have dealt Chris Mills for Walter McCarty (which is basically what the trade was) . . . Can Sacramento really be serious about trading Mitch Richmond to the Lakers for Eddie Jones and Sean Rooks? If it happens, Kings GM Geoff Petrie, who should know better, might qualify for a championship ring. Jones is a terrific prospect, but Rooks is a slug. If you're going to make that deal, you should extract more from Jerry West or tell him you're going elsewhere. And while you're at it, get him to swallow one of your many undesirables . . . The Knicks recorded back-to-back 30-point-plus victories this past week over the Celtics (102-70) and Suns (105-75.) No big deal. They had back-to-back 40-point wins in April 1994, beating the Sixers (130-82) and Bucks (125-85) on successive nights. More intriguing was that they actually won in Phoenix. They had lost all five games at America West Arena, eight straight overall, and hadn't beaten the Suns in Phoenix since the days of short pants and Stu Jackson. Even more weird, the Knicks avoided all the bad luck that seems to hit them there. In the past few years, there have been two incidents with Kevin Johnson (John Starks and Doc Rivers) and a little discussion between J.R. Reid and A.C. Green . . . The NBA Board of Governors meets tomorrow and Tuesday in New York. Although there has been plenty of talk about reopening the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the league will officially appoint a Labor Relations Committee to examine the situation. Most feel the owners will reopen, which could lead to a lockout next summer. There is another item on this week's agenda: David Stern's gag order. Any owner who comments on the situation will be subject to a heavy fine . . . The Bullets, er, Wizards, will move into their new arena for a Dec. 2 game against Seattle. The team is getting some unexpected big play from Terry Davis, the ex-Mav, ex-Heat forward who was in a serious car accident a few years back. The Wizards still don't know when Gheorghe Muresan will return. He's not ready to run yet (he apparently didn't understand that he was supposed to wear his shoe supports on and off the court), and when he does come back, he will need mucho time for extra conditioning.

Douglas finds a home

Fleisher reports that Sherman Douglas is content in New Jersey, his fourth team since July. "We sat down with the Nets for about seven hours and hashed out everything," Fleisher said. "What it came down to was that the most important thing for Sherman was to be in a position to play. He saw that in New Jersey, and he also has a certain comfort level with Don Casey. If he had stayed out and waited, who knows what might have come up? Maybe something. Maybe nothing. He couldn't afford to take that chance with it being the last year of his contract." The Nets got Douglas on the cheap, $ 272,500, nonguaranteed. Cleveland is paying his $ 4 million salary . . . Jamal Mashburn is making a case to become Most Improved Player, and the season is barely a week old. One reason is that he's in shape, and another is that he's had time to digest Pat Riley's regimen. "You learn a lot simply by going through a training camp with him," Mashburn said. "He's tough, no doubt about it, but you need that experience. It's vital. It was much easier for me this time around. Last year, I came in the middle of the season and I just tried to fit in and not disrupt anything." Mashburn's knee, which he injured in Dallas, is fine. "I didn't get the proper rehab in Dallas," he said. "They didn't know what it took. I was out for a long time, and I was the one who had to ask for rehab. It was weird. But it should never have come to that. I got lost in the shuffle, I guess, what with the ownership change and everything. But I still think it's odd. I mean, in college, I never had to ask." And he won't have to ask in Miami, either. Riley notes that Mashburn "is in the best shape of his life," having dropped 11 pounds and 5 percent of his body fat. Ever the driver, Riley would still like Mashburn to lose another seven pounds . . . Nets guard Sam Cassell was so upset with John Calipari over a team fine for tardiness that he threatened not to play Wednesday against Golden State. Alas, he did play. He not only started, he chalked up 19 points in the first half against the lifeless, joyless Warriors . . . It already seems like a long time ago, but can you recall that Walker had 31 against the Bulls on Opening Night? Well, it took the Celtics 24 games last year to have someone score more than 30, when Wesley lit up Charlotte for 34 . . . As if you needed more evidence that coaching is not a secure profession: Only six coaches have been with their current team for more than four years. Twelve coaches are either starting their first season with their current team or had fewer than 82 games with their team last year. Remember when the trend was to hire ex-players who could "relate" to today's athletes? Well, 12 of the 29 coaches did not play pro ball, including 1997 hirings Pitino, Brian Hill, P.J. Carlesimo, and Chuck Daly, and holdovers Bernie Bickerstaff and Gregg Popovich. The others are Mike Fratello, Bill Fitch, Del Harris, Flip Saunders, Calipari, and Jeff Van Gundy.

AND ANOTHER THING . . . Gee, he doesn't mean Larry Johnson, does he?

Nets coach John Calipari hopes to have some cap room next summer to sign free agents, but concedes he can't compete with the cross-river Knicks.

"The Knicks have ITT money," Cal said. "They have what I call 'stupid money.' They are going to spend $ 100 million and we're never going to do that in New Jersey. We have a limit on what we can do."

He still looks good in civvies

Referee Joey Crawford, who worked Wednesday's Boston-Miami game, did a double-take when he saw Roy Rogers on the Celtics' bench. In street clothes.

"You never played in Vancouver, either," Crawford cracked.

Rogers laughed. Actually, he played in all 82 games for the Grizzlies last season.

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