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NBA PM: Chauncey Billups Weighing Options

Chauncey Billups has been courted as a player, executive, coach and broadcaster. He says he’s not sure what he’ll do next.

Alex Kennedy

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Chauncey Billups may not be done playing in the NBA. Even though the veteran point guard is 37 years old and has been in the league for 17 seasons, he may continue his playing career in the 2014-15 season.

While it’s true that Billups has a number of coaching, front office and media opportunities available to him, he hasn’t decided if he wants to retire and walk away from the game just yet. He’s currently weighing his options and trying to decide what’s next for him.

“Obviously, I have several options; I have some front office opportunities, some coaching opportunities, some media opportunities and also some playing opportunities,” Billups told Basketball Insiders. “There’s a lot going on right now.”

Playing is certainly still an option for Billups, who recently became an unrestricted free agent when the Detroit Pistons decided not to pick up their $2.5 million team option on his contract. Billups is currently training with Joe Abunassar at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas, preparing himself in the event that he continues playing. He believes he can still help a team; however, Billups made it clear that he’ll only resume his career if the right situation presents itself. In other words, he’ll only delay his retirement if a championship-caliber team comes calling and requires his services.

“As far as me playing, I feel really good right now for the first time in a long time – in two or three years,” Billups said. “I know that in the right situation, I can really help a team win. But it would take the right situation. I’m not going to play just to play. I have nothing left to prove and I’ve accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish playing basketball, so it would take the right situation for me to play.

“Of course, winning [is the biggest factor]. I’ve always considered myself to be a winner. I want to play for something; I don’t just want to play, I want to play to win. That’s the number one criteria – a team that has championship aspirations. And not just a team that’s saying it, but a team that could possibly do it. As far as my role on the team, I’m going to be 38 years old, so I’m not going to say I need to be a starter or I need to play this amount of minutes or anything. Those are things you kind of carve your way through as camp and the season go on. We would work our way through that and I certainly have no demands on that. I just know that with my health and what I can do, I’ll be able to carve my niche and help, that’s for sure.”

Billups has been training with Abunassar for his entire career, and the Impact Basketball trainer says that the point guard is in terrific shape and looking fantastic in workouts.

“This is the best I’ve seen him since his string of years where he was a perennial All-Star,” Abunassar said. “He looks very good. … He started training really when he got healthy at Detroit. We had an approach at the end of the season that whether he played at all this year, he was going to get himself ready to go and back in shape once his knee healed after the little scope procedure. So really since March he’s been working hard and then when the summer started, he didn’t stop. He’s brought himself down five or six pounds already, which is tremendous for the end of June and early July. One of our philosophies this summer was for him to play a lot, just simplify because he hasn’t played a lot in recent seasons. So while he’s been at home in Denver, he plays up at Colorado with the college kids and he’s been playing a lot and working out a lot. We had our plan started back in March and he’s been carrying it through. This is early for him to be training because a lot of the years he played in the Conference Finals and he needed some time off in the summer, but this year we were able to start earlier. He looks really good. He was beating up on the young guys yesterday, which is great for us and great for him. He’s enjoying that. He looks good, so we’re in a great rhythm right now.”

Billups says that he feels incredible, which is the most important thing to him whether he’s playing in the NBA or not. He tore his left Achilles tendon in 2012 and had a knee injury that required a minor surgery last season, but he’s completely healthy now and feeling better than he has in a long time. The fact that Billups has played so few minutes over the last few seasons could extend his career, since he has been able to rest his body and not endure much wear-and-tear recently.

“The last time that I felt this good was before the Achilles injury, so it’s obviously been awhile,” Billups said. “I feel really good. I had a little knee issue last year, but I got that cleaned up. That was really bugging me for awhile, but that’s behind me now. I really haven’t played in awhile – two or three years – I haven’t played a lot and in my eyes that’s a positive because I feel fresh and I feel good. If I play, that’s fine. If I don’t, that’s fine too. I’m just glad that I feel really good. That’s the most important thing – my health and just feeling good.”

“He had a couple of years due to injury that he didn’t play a lot of minutes, which I think helps him,” Abunassar said. “It’s like buying a car and then you let it sit for a while; it’s still a new car. You didn’t drive it for two years, you’re not eating it up. I think it’s very similar to that. I think it that helps him a lot that he hasn’t had much wear-and-tear the last two years, and he’s got a lot of freshness in his legs right now because of that.”

There are a number of talented teams that could use a reserve point guard, such as the Miami HEAT with Mario Chalmers hitting free agency, the Oklahoma City Thunder with Derek Fisher retiring, the San Antonio Spurs with Patty Mills hitting free agency, the Chicago Bulls with D.J. Augustin hitting free agency and the Brooklyn Nets with Shaun Livingston leaving as a free agent.

Abunassar is confident that Billups can still help a team, if continuing his playing career is something that he wants to do.

“I think people talk about his leadership and everything off of the floor and what he does for a locker room, but I’ll tell you what, he can play and I think he can provide unbelievably good minutes at a high level for somebody,” Abunassar said. “I’ve been with him for his whole career so as I see all of these young guards and these new guards and then I watch him play for five minutes, I’m thinking, ‘My god, this is a whole ‘nother level.’ To put a guy like that on your roster when you’re trying to get over the hump, I think he provides a tremendous amount of help.

“One thing about Chauncey is he’s not just a leader vocally, he’s a leader on the floor because he has the ball in his hands. Even yesterday, he was scrimmaging with Austin Daye and some of the younger guys, and whenever he plays in our gym he changes the whole scope of the offense. He changes the whole scope of who’s rotating, he’s moving guys and running things. His passing and his timing is just at such a different level than any of the young guys that we work with. It’s really special. I think he provides leadership and I think he provides a great player. He hasn’t played the last couple of years, so people think of Chauncey in a suit a lot and talk about how he’s a great leader. We know that he can coach, that he can be a front office guy and that he can do broadcasting or whatever he wants – luckily he’s in a position where he has all of that available to him – but I just think he’s still a very good basketball player.”

Whenever Billups’ playing career does come to an end, he feels that he’ll either work in a front office or in a broadcast booth. He has been offered coaching opportunities (reportedly as an assistant coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves under Flip Saunders), but he’s not sure that coaching is for him.

“I think it’ll be one of two things, it’s either front office or TV,” Billups said when asked about his post-playing career. “I love broadcasting; I’ve done a little bit of it and I really, really enjoyed that. And if I stayed in the game, I always felt like my best role would be in a front office. I know a lot of people think of me and coaching, and I’m sure that I could coach and at some point probably be a pretty good coach, but we’ll just have to see. Every option is open.”

A number of teams have expressed interest in Billups and he’s keeping his options open, but it remains to be seen what’s next for the five-time All-Star.

Check out Basketball Insiders’ Free Agency Diary

For all of the latest NBA news and rumors related to free agency, be sure to keep checking Basketball Insiders’ free agency diary. We’re updating it whenever a rumor or report surfaces, and it should be your free agency headquarters.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension

Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.

Bobby Krivitsky

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Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.

In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.

At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.

The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.

There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots. 

A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks. 

Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.

More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter. 

But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic? 

It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.

Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.

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NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track

D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.

Drew Maresca

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D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.

Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.

Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.

The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.

COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.

The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.

Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).

Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?

Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.

Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.

Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.

On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.

Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).

But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.

At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.

And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.

To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.

So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.

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NBA AM: Is This It for Indiana?

Following their major drop-off, Matt John explains why the Pacers trying to get back to where they were may not be the best decision.

Matt John

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Remember when, following the maligned trade of Paul George, the sky was the limit for the Indiana Pacers? The 2017-18 Pacers were one of the best stories in the NBA that season because they made their opponents work for their victories, and they put on a spectacle every night.

It’s hard to believe that all transpired three whole years ago. When Cleveland eliminated Indiana in a very tight first-round series, I asked if having the exciting season that they did – when many thought it would turn out the opposite – was going to benefit them in the long run. Three years later, this happens.

We were getting plenty of smoke about the Pacers’ drama behind-the-scenes beforehand, and now, we have seen the fire firsthand. More and more reports indicate that the crap has hit the fan. Indiana has seemingly already had enough of Nate Bjorkgren in only his first year as his coach. When you see the results they’ve had this season compared to the last three, it’s not hard to see why.

The Pacers have routinely found themselves in the 4-5 playoff matchup for the last three years. Sadly, despite their fight – and, to be fair, they had pretty awful injury luck the past two postseasons – they haven’t been able to get over the hump in the first round. They may not have been in the elite tier, but they weren’t slouches either. So, seeing them not only fail to take the next step but look more and more likely for the play-in is as discouraging as it gets. Especially after they started the season 6-2.

If these reports about the tensions between the players and Bjorkgren are real, then this has already become a lost season for the Pacers. It’s too late in the season to make any major personnel changes. At this point, their best route is just to cut their losses and wait until this summer to think over what the next move is.

In that case, let’s take a deep breath. This has been a weird season for everyone. Every aspect minus the playoffs has been shorter than usual since last October. Everything was shortened from the offseason to the regular season. Oh, and COVID-19 has played a role as the season has turned out, although COVID-19 has probably been the least of Indy’s problems. Let’s think about what next season would look like for Indiana.

TJ Warren comes back with a clean bill of health. Caris Levert gets more acquainted with the team and how they run. Who knows? Maybe they finally resolve the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis situation once and for all. A new coach can come aboard to steady the ship, and it already looks like they have an idea for who that’s going to be

Should they run it back, there’s a solid chance they can get back to where they were before. But that’s sort of the problem to begin with. Even if this recent Pacers’ season turns out to be just a negative outlier, their ceiling isn’t all too high anyway. A team that consists of Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Caris Levert as their core four is a solid playoff team. Having Turner, Doug McDermott, TJ McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, and the Holiday brothers rounds out a solid playoff team. Anyone who takes a good look at this roster knows that this roster is a good one. It’s not great though.

Just to be clear, Indiana has plenty of ingredients for a championship team. They just don’t have the main one: The franchise player. Once upon a time, it looked like that may have been Oladipo, but a cruel twist of fate took that all away. This isn’t a shot at any of the quality players they have on their roster, but think of it this way.

For the next couple of years, they’re going to go up against Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. All of whom are on the same team. For potentially even longer, they’ll be going up against the likes of Giannis Antetoukounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Jayson Tatum. With the roster they have, they could make a series interesting against any one of those teams. However, it’s a rule of thumb in the NBA that the team with the best player usually wins the series. Not to mention, they’d have to beat most of the teams those players play for to go on a substantial playoff run. That’s a pretty tall order.

There’s no joy in talking about the Pacers like this because they have built this overachieving underdog from nothing more than shrewd executive work. They turned a disgruntled and expiring Paul George into Oladipo and Sabonis. Both of whom have since become two-time all-stars (and counting). They then managed to turn an expiring and hobbled Oladipo – who had no plans to return to Indiana – into the electric Levert. They also pretty much stole Brogdon and Warren away while paying very little for either of them.

That is fantastic work. The only hangup is that, as of now, it just doesn’t seem like it will be enough. But, doubt and skepticism are things Indiana’s had thrown their way consistently since 2017. Many thought their approach to trading Paul George would blow up in their face, and since then, they’ve done everything in their power to make everyone eat their words.

Kevin Pritchard’s got his work cut out for him this summer. This season will hopefully turn out to be nothing more than performance ruined by both the wrong coaching hire and an unusual season that produced negatively skewed results. But at this point, Pritchard’s upcoming course of action this summer shouldn’t be about getting his team back to where they were, but deciding whether he can get them a step or two further than that by adding more to what they have or starting over completely.

Indiana’s had a rough go of it in this COVID-shortened season, but their disappointing play may have little to no bearing on where they go from here.

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