Ten months ago, it was Carmelo Anthony who spurred the relocation by forcing the into a blockbuster deal that sent Anthony and Billups to the . Now it is Chris Paul, the disenchanted star, who is reportedly agitating for a trade to New York, at Billups’s expense.
Although a deal is only a remote possibility, it would surely involve Billups, who plays the same position (point guard) and who is one of the Knicks’ few valued assets.
“It wouldn’t make me happy,” Billups said Friday in a phone interview from his Denver home. “Because for me, at this juncture in my career, I just want to win.”
At 35, with six teams and five trades on his résumé, Billups is a certified authority on change, especially the unplanned kind. He is not the sort to overreact to frothy rumors. But he has understandable concerns.
Billups fervently hoped to finish his career with his hometown Nuggets, then move into a front-office role there. He wanted to spend more time with his three girls, ages 14, 11 and 5. The plan was wrecked in February by Anthony’s trade demand. But Billups steadied himself, accepted new realities and instantly became the Knicks’ most important voice. He committed himself fully to the Knicks’ drive for respectability.
With Billups, Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks have the core of a solid playoff team, if not quite a title contender. They badly need upgrades at center and shooting guard and throughout the bench.
But Billups, who helped to lead the Detroit Pistons to the 2004 championship, sees potential in the team and is not ready to walk away. He certainly does not relish the idea of playing the mentor role on a struggling young team, not after the sacrifices he has already made.
“I want to win another championship,” he said. “I think we got some good pieces in New York. I felt like we were making that move to be possibly one of those top teams. I don’t want to play for no team that’s rebuilding.”
The Knicks were swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs last April, after Billups (knee) and Stoudemire (back) were lost to injuries. Billups said he is fully recovered, and probably much fresher after a 149-day lockout that delayed training camps by two months.
“For me, I enjoyed it, man,” Billups said. “I didn’t enjoy the stress behind it, but I enjoyed the actual time. It allowed me to spend time with my family. For a veteran like myself, you always enjoy the extra time, the rest on your body.”
Billups was closer than most to the tense negotiations between the owners and players. He sat in on bargaining sessions in February and June and attended two critical player meetings in November — including the Nov. 14 meeting when players elected to dissolve the union and sue the league in federal court. According to Billups, every player in the room was ready to lose the season, if necessary.
Twelve days later, the players and owners reached an agreement, ending the standoff.
“I felt like it was a great move,” Billups said. “For the first time, I believe we were on offense. And I think that everybody rallied around that.”
Critics, including some players and powerful agents, contend the union should have disbanded and filed the lawsuit sooner, as early as July. By the time the union made that move, six weeks of games had been canceled.
There are whispers within the agent ranks that those same critics want to oust Billy Hunter, the union’s executive director. Billups, one of the league’s most respected veterans, disagreed.
“I think that Billy has done a good job in these negotiations,” he said. “I think that he tried his best with what he was up against” — including a bad economy and a strident group of owners bent on overhauling the league’s financial system. “No matter what deal we struck, and at what juncture we struck it, everybody is not going to be happy.”
In the deal reached last weekend, the players agreed to a $300 million reduction in annual salaries, shorter contracts and a number of new restrictions on payrolls. On the final night, however, the owners made the biggest concessions, giving players more flexibility in the free-agent rules.
“I’m satisfied with the deal,” Billups said. “We made a lot of concessions throughout the process, which we knew we would have to make, just considering the climate of the world, really.”
Billups will join his teammates in New York for informal workouts next week, then open his 15th N.B.A. training camp on Friday. League business will reopen that same day, with the Knicks shopping for better role players and, perhaps, a new star point guard.
“It’s not going to change my feelings toward the way I prepare,” Billups said, “or my readiness to rock and roll.”