27 June 2007

The Orlando Magic Free-Agency Countdown, Part Three: Chauncey Billups

As the July 1 start of NBA's free-agency period comes closer, 3QC is taking a look at the free agents who may be able to help the Magic the most by counting down from the 5th-best option to the best option. Today's post concerns the player who should be the Magic's third resort: Chauncey Billups.

One could argue that Chauncey Billups is the fifth-most-hated NBA personality to Magic fans, ranking just after Shaquille O'Neal, Tracy McGrady, John Weisbrod, and Brian Hill. Billups has torched the Magic throughout his career, and especially in the playoffs. For whatever reason, he has it out for us, and he lets it show on the basketball court.

Yet it shouldn't come as a surprise that most Magic fans would welcome Chauncey back to Orlando*. He's a two-time All-Star and an NBA Finals MVP. He's also a big, physical point guard with great passing skills. Oh, and his nickname is "Mr. Big Shot," because he's as clutch as they come. The Magic, a team that looked confused during close games last season due in large part to their lack of a "go-to guy", would certainly welcome Billups' cajones in the clutch.

"Everybody on their feet. Perhaps the final possession of OT. Billups and Duhon... Duhon back out there... Chauncey rises ... GOT IT! 8.2 to go! He does it for the ten-billionth time with the game on the line! Unbelievable! This guy is fearless!"
Efficiency is also a plus with Billups. He posted 3.6 assists per turnover last season, which is above average, especially for a guy who has the ball all the time. And it's been repeated a thousand times by now, but it's still important: the Magic were second-to-last in turnovers per game last season. Contrast that with the Pistons, who were first. Taking Billups and his basketball IQ from Detroit and putting it on our team would certainly ease the disparity between the two teams. His free-throw shooting is also impressive, which makes him even more valuable down the stretch. When the Magic are leading with just a few minutes to play and the other team is forced to foul, Billups would be able to single-handedly close-out games. Hell, he did this number on us at the end of Game 4 in last season's playoffs.

Chauncey Billups celebrates with the NBA Finals MVP trophy after winning the 2003/2004 NBA title with the Detroit Pistons. His experience and passing skills would make him a good fit in Orlando.

Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein, Getty Images

However, there are a few downsides to Billups, at least as far as the Magic are concerned. He doesn't address the Magic's biggest need: perimeter scoring. Sure, he averaged 17 points per game last season for Detroit, but that was a decline from his 18.5 average the season before. One reason he was able to even score that much is because the Pistons started three great back-to-the-basket players in the frontcourt: Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, and Chris Webber. If any of those players were double-teamed, Billups could get a wide-open look. The only Magic player who commands a double-team is Dwight Howard, and he's turnover-prone; he can't be counted on to swing the ball back out to Billups for the wide-open three. As such, his scoring figures to drop in Orlando.

For one thing, he's no spring chicken: he'll be 31 by the time the season starts, which gives the Magic only a few years to develop their young talent into a title-contending team. Speaking metaphorically, why hire the ace pilot if you haven't finished building his plane yet?

The Orlando Sentinel reported yesterday that the Magic expect Billups to re-sign with Detroit, but they will "gauge his interest" in playing here. I applaud Otis Smith and his staff for taking this step, as it's another indication that the team is committed to winning**. However, the Magic have to ask themselves just when they want to win. Billups would certainly upgrade the team in the short-term, but he is not a long-term solution. The Magic could win 45+ games next season with Billups at the helm, but I wouldn't be surprised if that number dwindled as he aged. I know Magic fans want to win right away, but I prefer delayed gratification; that is, I prefer that we sign a younger guy who may not make us better immediately, but who could slowly make us great over the course of the next several seasons until we become legitimate title contenders.

I'd be more than happy to see Chauncey play for the Magic next season. I just wish he had more years left in him.

Monday: Part One in 3QC's Free Agency Countdown: Vince Carter.
Yesterday: Part Two in 3QC's Free Agency Countdown: Mo Williams.
Tomorrow: Part Four in 3QC's Free Agency Countdown.

*I say "back to" instead of just "to" because he was on the Magic's roster for part of the 1999/2000 season. He, along with Ron Mercer and Johnny Taylor, were acquired from Denver in exchange for Tariq Abdul-Wahad, Chris Gatling, and a draft pick. Billups spent his entire Magic career on the injured list and only appeared in-uniform once: for the team photo, which was taken at the end of the season. In August of 2000, the Magic renounced Billups' rights to make salary cap room to sign -- are you ready for this? -- Grant Hill.

If the Billy Donovan Saga proved anything, it's that Otis is not afraid of going after the big names; he wants to win at any cost.

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