Detroit — In his first season as a head coach, Chauncey Billups has had a good indoctrination with the Portland Trail Blazers.
After a stint in television broadcasting, the Pistons icon made the transition to coaching as an assistant with the Los Angeles Clippers last season. Moving to the first chair this season has been tough, as the Blazers are moving toward a rebuild, moving C.J. McCollum and falling out of playoff contention.
Monday night marked Billups’ first trip back to Detroit as a head coach, and the team where he made his mark as a player still has a special place for him, as he got a nice reception during pregame introductions.
“It’s always so much fun to come back here. I have so many lifelong relationships here,” Billups said. “True story: When the schedule came out, this was the first thing I looked at, to see when I would be coaching in Detroit and secondly, I looked at Denver. It’s crazy.
“I was like, ‘Man, we’ve got a back-to-back and I won’t be able to really see all the people I would like to see, but these are the best years of my life that I spent here in the city, with this organization — obviously, not only on the floor, off the floor too.”
Billups, 45, played with the Pistons from 2002-09 and finished his playing career with the Pistons for a 19-game stint in the 2013-14 season. He was the Finals MVP on the 2003-04 championship team.
More than that, Billups planted roots during his time in Detroit and all the memories that he’s created, not only with his teammates, but with the fan base and the community have resonated with him through the years.
“My youngest daughter was born here. My other two were pretty much raised here, a big chunk of their childhood,” Billups said. “So, it’s always just so many great memories in this town, in this city, and I know this is not the Palace of Auburn Hills, but it is the same organization, the same franchise, and many of the same people.
“So, I’m always just so humbled and so happy to be able to come back.”
The Pistons are out of playoff contention and they’re just playing out the string of games over the final three weeks. There is some purpose, though, in getting some reps for some of the young players and seeing what they can do in certain situations.
That’s certainly the case for Killian Hayes, who has had an uneven season, mostly beset by nagging injuries, including the head contusion that held him out of the past two games.
“These games are for Killian. It was disappointing, you can’t help getting hurt, but it was disappointing that he was out because these games are for him,” coach Dwane Casey said. “The young man missed most of last year, and these are development days and come this time next year, it’s not going to be that. It’s going to be about making plays, who’s playing the best and not giving developmental time so to speak.
“So, that’s why these games are important. I’ve seen the leaps and bounds of (guys like Saben Lee and Isaiah Livers) growing, and this is a time to do that with the lack of a lot of repercussions, so to speak. So, you can make a mistake and learn from it, where this time next year, you can make a mistake and it could cost you a game. So, that’s why these minutes that Killian gets are very, very important.”
Livers continues to be impressive in his stint to end the season, as a do-it-all wing. He’s played mostly at the forward positions, but at 6-foot-8, he could see some time at shooting guard as well.
Casey likes Livers’ versatility and says that he can play many different positions.
“Not only does he have the physical tools, but he has the IQ to understand (knowing your personnel) better than anybody we have. He understands what they can do and can’t do and he knows how close he can get as a defender,” Casey said. “So, he can guard (point guard through power forward), and when he switches off on the center, you don’t feel too bad because he is going to work his behind off to get around in front.
“So, the young man has a bright future in this league for a long time, knock on wood, because he brings all the intangibles, as well as his three-point shooting and his ability to defend all four positions.”