Chauncey Not Getting It Done

November 10, 1997
This is an NBA movie. It's called "Three Men and a Basketball" and it's a true story. It is a Rick Pitino Production, written, directed and produced by the Celtics coach. We can tell you the plot in one line: Three point guards are auditioning to be the point guard who gets the bulk of the minutes in Pitino's rotation.

You need to know this: Playing point guard for Pitino is not easy. If you're a shortstop and happen to play for a manager who was a shortstop, you'll probably be criticized more often than the left fielder. Same with Pitino. The coach was a terrific, coach-on-the-floor point guard in high school and college. He knew where he and everyone else was supposed to be on the court. As he sits in and stands next to his sideline director's chair, he demands similar omniscience from his point men.

Which brings us to our leading actor. Or the man we all thought would be the leading man. His name is Chauncey Billups. He was the No. 3 overall pick in last summer's draft, which means he was taken in the same position as Michael Jordan and Grant Hill.

Billups has been a star all his life. He never has had to sit for an entire half, as he did last Wednesday against the Heat. He never has heard a coach say that another point guard was the best on the team, as Pitino said about Tyus Edney - twice - last weekend. Billups is 21 years old, extremely intelligent, and a good player. Other teams like him. The Celtics say they like him, too. But you have a question for the director. Why not feature Billups and live with the errors?

He tells you that Billups needs to do things more quickly. He needs to "get us into something" faster than he does. Billups understands how Pitino feels. Everyone does. He's a vocal director who doesn't give out praise easily because, "if you do, I think players can see right through it."

So Billups was part of Pitino's mix for only 22 of a possible 48 minutes Saturday night in Milwaukee. Those are scant minutes for a man selected so high in the draft. But that's 22 minutes more than another local actor, Dana Barros.

Barros could be a key actor in films by Bill Duke or Martin Scorsese. He's a blue-collar veteran who is usually overlooked. Here's why: he stands 5 feet 11 inches. The average actor/player stands 6 feet 6 inches. Barros has said many times he is in the league because he is a great shooter. It is difficult to score in the land of giants, but Barros has been able to do the job for nine seasons.

Now there is a problem. Barros will have to be more of a point guard than a shooter in Pitino's system. He will have to play more defense than he did in Seattle, Philadelphia, and, for the previous two seasons, Boston. It is no secret that Pitino has tried to move Barros's contract (which is on the Celtics' books until 2001). For now Barros stays. And sits. For the first time since he's been in Boston and available to play, the veteran did not play. He sat the entire 48 minutes against the Bucks.

Once again, you ask the director why. You can tell he doesn't want to talk about it. He even says it.

"Talk to me about the guys who I did go to," Pitino said. "Now, if you didn't like Tyus's play, I'll comment on that. I played Tyus. I can't play three point guards in a game. So I played Tyus. I felt all along that Tyus has been our best point guard. I've said it all along."

Edney is the third actor in this tale. He is 5-10 and faster than anyone on the team. He huffs and puffs when he pushes the ball up the court, making the same sounds as a sparring boxer. He is responsible for one of the greatest shots in NCAA tournament history, taking the ball the length of the court and scoring at the buzzer to knock off Missouri in 1995. His UCLA team went on to win the championship.

Edney played his first game of the season against the Bucks. He spent five games on the injured list with an ankle sprain that would only be an ankle sprain in the movies. At different times, Pitino has thought of dealing each of his point men. Who knows now? Edney played 26 minutes against the Bucks and was impressive, going for 11 points and 10 assists in a 9-point loss. On one play, he jumped and got a tip over guys nearly a foot taller. The only complaint he received was from rival actor Terrell Brandon.

"I told Tyus to cut his fingernails," Brandon joked. "I've got cuts all over my body. He was all over me."

The director raved, too.

"In the NBA, the shot clock winds down," he said. "It's not a time for a lot of things. You've got to get your shot off and create. And that's what Tyus can do more than anybody else. He gets to the rim. For a guy who is 5-10, he finishes very well."

So, do we have our ending? Will Edney be the man we see on our screens? Will his name be near the top when credits roll?

"I don't think there's really a need to start him," the director said. "Because I think he's going to give you a spark. I've always felt that starting was a little overrated."

That means "Three Men and a Basketball" remains a work-in-progress. At least until one of the actors changes cities. That film may arrive later this month.

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