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Retaining Billups the Right Move for the Knicks

Wednesday it was announced that the Knicks have picked up the option on point guard Chauncey Billups’ contract, and thus they will owe him $14.3 million for the 2011-12 season. For a guy who will turn 35 before the season starts (if there is a season), that is a boatload of money. However, picking up the option and bringing back Billups was the right move for the Knicks.

Billups wasn’t great in his stint with the Knicks, with injuries derailing his impact. He gave Knicks fans a glimpse of what he could be when he hit that dagger three pointer – the type of hoop that has earned him the nickname “Mr. Big Shot” – in the Knicks’ 91-86 defeat over the Miami Heat back on Feb. 27. But Billups soon suffered a deep thigh bruise thanks to Dwight Howard, which sidelined him for six games, and his subsequent knee injury in the playoffs was a big reason for the Knicks getting swept. Why pay a 35 year old point guard coming off injuries who doesn’t quite fit the coach’s system over $14 million? Flexibility.

Billups’ contract makes him a valuable trade asset, when the trade market next season could resemble what we saw this season. The Orlando Magic, New Orleans Hornets and New Jersey Nets may find themselves in the same spot with their future free agent stars that the Denver Nuggets were with Carmelo Anthony in 2011: trade or lose for nothing. Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams, all players that could make the Knicks a championship contender, could possibly be available in the trade market nearing next year’s trade deadline. Billups’ contract is something the Knicks can dangle in front of other GMs’ faces as a big-figure expiring contract.
The more likely scenario is that Billups’ plays out the season with the Knicks, which isn’t a bad thing, and his money will come off the Knicks’ cap right in time for another summer free agent frenzy.

From an on-court standpoint, bringing back Billups makes plenty of sense. Sure, he doesn’t mesh quite perfectly with Mike D’Antoni’s silly brand of basketball, but he’s a veteran who can help keep both Anthony and Amare Stoudemire involved. With a full training camp, the Knicks’ big three would presumably play a lot more fluid basketball than it did this season, when the three were thrusted together in the middle of the season. In his own words, Billups was correct when he noted that the Knicks need a veteran point guard when there are two big stars like Anthony and Stoudemire, and he’s right. All you have to do is look at the Miami Heat’s early season struggles, when Carlos Arroyo and Mario Chalmers were running the point for the SuperFriends.

The Knicks have plenty of other decisions to make regarding their roster and filling much needed vacancies. They need a center and a backup to Billups. Free agent to be Marc Gasol has impressed in the playoffs for the Memphis Grizzlies so far, so much so that he has probably earned himself a few extra million bucks in his next contract. He’s a solid player, but buyer beware. Remember what happened the last time the Knicks gave a center coming off a good playoff series a whole ton of cash? (I’m sorry, I never, ever wanted to hear the name Jerome James again either).

Bringing back Billups was a good start to a very important Knicks offseason.