Nuggets fans, up until the trade actually went through, counted on the notion that Denver was losing the scoring ability of Anthony but it would be OK, because we still had Chauncey Billups on the floor.
So when the trade was finally announced late last month, it came as an utter disappointment to find that “Mr. Big Shot” had been caught up in the trade and was packing his bags for New York, right along with Melo.
If watching Denver’s best player head to New York wasn’t enough, we had to watch both of Denver’s best players take off. The move by the Nuggets to send Billups to finally make the Melo trade a reality hit everyone who appreciated Colorado’s own hometown hero.
It hit everyone hard, but nobody harder than Billups himself. He said himself several times that he had no intention of finishing his career anywhere else. Chauncey’s heart was in Denver. There were even hints floating around the Pepsi Center that he would take a job with the Nuggets organization after his playing career ended in Denver. Now that he has been traded, I am not sure that’s even a possibility.
While Chauncey’s tenure in may be short term until the end of this season, Chauncey’s brother, Rodney Billups, who is director of operations for the University of Colorado men’s basketball program, told The Denver Post this week that Chauncey may never again look for an opportunity to return to Denver.
“Chauncey’s loyalty was with the Nuggets,” Rodney Billups said. “The last couple weeks and the last couple months, he has expressed several times how he wanted to stay. And their loyalty wasn’t the same. So I can’t see Chauncey taking less money to come back and play for guys that weren’t loyal to him.”
Now a lot of people will put the blame solely on the Nuggets executives for even thinking of including Chauncey in the deal. But they knew they had to get something grand in return for Carmelo, and to get all of those draft picks, they had to put Chauncey on the trading block. They had to risk losing the loyal Billups for fresh legs in upcoming drafts. It’s a gamble. Only time will tell if trading him was worth all the heartache.
While Chauncey left for New York quietly, he sure served Denver owners a double portion of heartache when he lived up to his nickname Mr. Big Shot in a Knicks uniform last Sunday in an impressive win over LeBron James and the Miami Heat. While it was Amar’e Stoudemire’s blocked shot that gave the Knicks the win as time ran out, it was a Billups three-point shot with just over a minute left that have the Knicks the lead they needed to win the game. It was fun to watch Billups hit that shot. It hurt a bit, as well.
Not everything is doom and gloom in Denver right now. It is nice having Carmelo Anthony’s bad blood out of Denver. And while Chauncey’s leadership is going to be missed on the court, the Nuggets are playing well with their new, younger team.
In the four games after Carmelo and Chauncey left town, the Nuggets have beefed up their defensive play and won three out those four games. The first of those wins came against Boston, which is one of the (if not the) strongest teams in the NBA right now.
Coach George Karl admits that the team isn’t scoring as efficiently as it did two weeks ago, but its defense is playing stronger. The win against over Atlanta on Monday brought the Nuggets into a fifth-place tie with New Orleans in the Western Conference.
Who knows, maybe the Carmelo-Billups departure will change the dynamics of the Nuggets for the better, even in the short term. Maybe players like J.R. Smith or even Kenyon Martin can seize this opportunity to become a real team leader. Maybe it’s their time to shine as a good guy for a change?
Just kidding. As long as Smith keeps draining the three-pointers and Martin continues to thug it up down in the paint, the Nuggets will be able to hold their ground…maybe well enough to make it into the playoffs. A Nuggets championship without Billups and Melo? That would be truly bittersweet.