Pistons veteran guard Chauncey Billups, playing against the Timberwolves in December, says his sights are set on a post-retirement front-office career. (Clarence Tabb Jr. / Detroit News)
Auburn Hills — Pistons guard Chauncey Billups often hears he can become the next great NBA coach. He is flattered, but Billups said he has his eye on the front office after he retires from the league.
“Of course I have been thinking about my future the last five years,” Billups said. “I think a lot of people think that would be the natural progression because of what I do on the court. But if I had my desire I want to be in the front office and put the team together and be behind the scenes rather than being on the court every day.”
So why is Billups viewed as a future coach? He is a mentor to young players.
Brandon Jennings is a young guard still finding his way in the league. He was being mentored by his coach, Maurice Cheeks. But Cheeks was fired Sunday morning, and now Jennings is turning more to Billups for mentoring.
“Chauncey Billups is still here,” Jennings said. “He is a guy I talk to all the time. I am still having fun and instead of taking things so personal I am thinking about so much other stuff. I am having fun. I am just hooping.”
It is one of the things Billups taught Jennings. Basketball is a serious business, but if you are not in the business of having fun, you will fail. Often Jennings looked into the stands at fans who said things he did not like. You could tell he was angry but tried to hold everything inside.
Billups is now 37 years old and is a 16-year veteran who has been an All- Star five times and played in 146 playoff games. But once upon a time he was a wide-eyed rookie with a bad reputation of being a ball hog. He needed to learn the league, learn to distribute and learn to run a team. Dee Brown and Dana Barros took him under their wings when the Boston Celtics selected him third in the 1997 draft.
He grew from that experience, but the real crash course on how to run a team came from Larry Brown during the 2004 NBA Championship season. Brown rode Billups hard and the grind sometimes got to Billups.
He admitted to the media he did not like Brown all the time. But the two men hugged when Billups was named MVP of the 2004 NBA Finals.
“More than anything I wanted to be great so I wanted to hear it all,” Billups said. “It was not easy to play for him at times. I wanted to be a great player and I knew he could help me become a great player. I knew that I had to throw my hands up. What now? What next? It was hard, though.”
Billups does not use the hard approach for Jennings. He knows he is still recovering from the Cheeks firing.
A softer touch is needed. And Billups makes a point to approach Jennings when he has words of wisdom.
“I really enjoy working with Brandon and trying to teach him to take the reins and taking responsibility for being a leader,” Billups said. “I know he is a little disappointed Mo had to leave. Mo gave him a lot of confidence and responsibility. Now I told him his responsibility does not change. You have to lean on things he taught you.”
Jennings understands he needs a mentor. He and Cheeks often got together for two-hour film sessions, even on off days. Jennings would often play games and thought he was doing the right thing. But Cheeks pointed out things that he missed. A light bulb began to go on and Jennings believes it made him a better player.
He, by the way, is playing his best ball. He is averaging 27.3 points and 9.0 assists during the Pistons three-game winning streak.
Cheeks is gone but Billups is still around. Billups passed along advice from Dee Brown and Harris from nearly two decades ago to Jennings.
“The main thing they told me and it was kind of a saying: Worry more about representing the name on the back of your jersey than the name on front,” Billups said. “The front can always change, but as a player your reputation and how you act that is going to follow you. You cannot compromise that.”
Billups believes he could coach in this league. But he is interested in becoming the next Joe Dumars and not Larry Brown.
“I know the egos and how the personalities mix,” Billups said. “I know if somebody is in or just wants to be a star and get paid. I know a lot of these things. I just think I know what it takes to win.”