Chauncey Billups Finds Out Nuggets Primed to Rebuild, Er, Reinvent
DENVER -- Rebuilding. Reinventing. Call it what you want.
But guard Chauncey Billups didn't know his Denver Nuggets were a good bet to be doing that until he found himself linked recently to a since-dead possible trade in which he would have gone to New Jersey along with teammate Carmelo Anthony.
"Yeah, pretty much,'' Billups said Thursday when asked if that was the first indication he got that the Nuggets look to be entering a rebuilding mode.
The Nuggets appear primed to enter a such a mode if they deal Anthony before the Feb. 24 trade deadline, which is expected. It's only semantics that Nuggets coach George Karl said he prefers to call it "reinventing.''
If the Nuggets trade Anthony, and Billups remains on the team the rest of the season, don't be surprised if Billups finds his contract for $14.2 million for 2011-12 bought out after the season for $3.7 million. Denver is leaning that way.
Also, forward Kenyon Martin and guard J.R. Smith will be free agents this summer and center Nene can become a free agent by opting out of his contract. Can you say rebuilding?
Oops. Make that reinventing.
"I refuse to accept that we are rebuilding,'' Karl said. "What's rebuilding? ... I still refuse to think that we're going to rebuild. I think we're going to reinvent if we do anything. Reinvent is sustaining a winning team. Can we win enough to make the playoffs in the Western Conference (after Anthony and other top players might be gone)? I don't know. But I think we'll sustain.''
Karl did not think the Nuggets would enter such a mode until it became apparent that Anthony likely was out the door.
"The only thing that I can honestly say startled the situation was with 'Melo,'' Karl said.
Regardless, Karl, who is in the final year of his contract and is negotiating a three-year extension, told FanHouse last week he plans to return to Denver next season even if the Nuggets are doing this reinventing. And sources said the Nuggets want Karl back.
But Billups said it's too early to give up on Denver this season. The Nuggets on Friday play host to the two-time defending champion Lakers, whom they threw a scare into before losing 4-2 in the 2009 Western Conference finals.
"I actually do,'' Billups said of the Nuggets, who are 24-17 at the season's midpoint, still having what it takes to make a strong run. "We can make a run when healthy, with all of these guys around, with George healthy (after battling throat cancer last season), I do. I feel like we can make a run at it. But it has to be kind of distraction-free. I don't know you get there.''
That's the hard part. The Nuggets have faced the distraction of Anthony trade rumors all season. On Wednesday, New Jersey owner Mikhail Prokhorovv announced the Nets no longer would pursue Anthony. But it's expected there will plenty more distractions about Anthony, who has yet to sign a three-year, $64.47 million contract extension and is likely to be dealt by the Feb. 24 deadline.
"I hope (what) happens is just the mountain of information that's being flooded and written about on a daily basis, I'm hoping it subsides a bit,'' said Karl, who said he's never experienced anything in his NBA career for so long like the trade rumors that have surrounded Anthony since last summer.
It really started to get intense two weeks ago, which is when Billups learned he was in the mix to possibly be traded. He knows it's still possible.
"It is what it is. It's a business,'' said Billups, an All-Star the past five seasons. "It's not like the trade got called off because Denver said, 'We're out.' ... It really wasn't at their discretion... It's a business. Nobody's untradeable. Nobody is untouchable.''
Sources have said Anthony, who likely would have had to sign an extension for the Nets to trade for him, didn't want to go to New Jersey. So it's understandable the trade fell through.
Still, Denver's front office of president Josh Kroenke and vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri has taken plenty of heat. Karl came to the defense of the two Thursday.
"I went to the dentist (Thursday) morning and I was listening to (radio talk-show host) Jim Rome. He was going off on the Nuggets on how we screwed up the trade. I have no feeling that that's the truth," Karl said. "I think Masai and Josh are great. I think they're very professional. I think they got a lot of character and substance. ''
Billups also came to the defense of Kroenke and Ujiri. He said he's had several conversations with them since his name came up as possibly being traded to New Jersey, but he wouldn't divulge details.
"I honesty think that Josh and Masai have done good,'' Billups said of the two who took over their positions last August after the Nuggets had cleaned out the previous front office. "They've been put in a tough situation. I really empathize with them because they took over a tough job at a tough time. I'm fine with them. I'm fine with both those guys.''
Billups has said he wants to one day work in Denver's front office. As for his playing career, there are signs he'll be gone from the Nuggets by this summer, if not before.