Here is the 2008-2009 preseason definition of the Denver Nuggets, straight from Webster's Mythical Dictionary of NBA Franchises: an individually talented, athletically superior, run-and-gun team that is missing a bona fide floor general capable of making big shots, controlling the tempo and taking over a game in the fourth quarter.
Now, here is the definition of Chauncey Billups from the same fictional book: a bona fide floor general capable of making big shots, controlling the tempo and taking over a game in the fourth quarter.
Round peg, meet round hole.
One of the game's most poised playmakers, Billups has excelled in his role as Denver's on-court traffic cop since arriving last month in a trade for Allen Iverson. With the veteran point guard enjoying free rein under coach George Karl -- "This is the most freedom I've had in my career," the 32-year-old Billups said -- the Nuggets are 12-3 with their new lineup.
"I watched this team a lot the last couple of years," said Billups, a Denver native who played collegiately at Colorado. "This is my hometown team, so of course I took an interest in them. What I saw was a team that struggled in the fourth quarter. They looked messed up out there.
"Those kind of [struggles] are not going to happen with me out there. I won't let that happen."
Billups has shown his new teammates how easily he can shift from facilitator to scorer. In a 106-105 victory against the Clippers last week, he scored only seven points but chipped in 11 assists. Then, with Carmelo Anthony sidelined by an elbow injury for the second half of Sunday's win against the Rockets, Billups scored 24 of his 28 points in the final two quarters. Overall, he is averaging 18.9 points and 7.2 assists with Denver.
Billups said that in the days after his arrival, several Nuggets players told him he was "exactly what they need."
"It felt good to hear that," he said. "There is a lot of talent on this team. We just have to find a way to put it all together."
Billups also represents a philosophical shift by the Nuggets' front office. Denver was in full cost-cutting mode in the offseason, dealing starting center Marcus Camby to the Clippers for two second-round draft picks. But the acquisition of Billups has quieted any talk of a roster overhaul. In fact, some NBA front-office sources believe that Denver may look to be buyers before February's trade deadline.
"They could be a dangerous playoff team," a Western Conference scout said of the Nuggets, who have five consecutive first-round losses. "They have to find a way to avoid the Lakers, New Orleans and San Antonio in the first round. If they can do that, I can see them winning a series. And from there, who knows?"
That's fine with Billups, who reached the conference finals in each of his six full seasons with the Pistons.
"I came here to win," he said. "And that's the feeling I got from everybody, from management to the coaches to the players. We want to win a championship here."
Corey Maggette has proved to be a prolific scorer throughout his 10-year career. What he hasn't proved to be, however, is much else. Golden State's third-leading scorer this season (19.7 points), Maggette has become the Bay Area's black hole. Check out his stats for the last five games:
Five games, five Golden State losses and a more than 2:1 turnover-to-assist ratio. Maggette's selfish play hasn't gone unnoticed by other players. According to sources, after the final buzzer against Boston, Celtics forward Kevin Garnett turned to Maggette and shouted, "Way to get your numbers."
"He just puts his head down and goes to the basket," an Eastern Conference scout said. "He doesn't even look to pass."
Word from team sources is that the Warriors are already regretting signing Maggette to a five-year, $50 million deal last offseason. When Monta Ellis returns to the lineup early next year, Golden State will have to figure out how to spread the wealth among three players (Ellis, Jamal Crawford and Maggette) who aren't very good at spreading it.
Sick of hearing about Stephon Marbury? You are not alone. Before every game, Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni and team president Donnie Walsh face a round of questions about the point guard. The latest batch of interviews, which came before Tuesday night's loss to Portland, didn't reveal any breaking news.
Marbury, who had an abrupt, 15-minute meeting with Walsh on Monday, has been told to stay away from the team until further notice. The two sides are still miles apart on a potential buyout. Marbury, who acts as his own agent, is willing to give up only $1 million of the $21.9 million he is owed this season, and the Knicks prefer to pay him about $15 million. Marbury and Walsh are unlikely to have any further face-to-face conversations. According to Walsh, though, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"Everyone has a telephone," Walsh said. "That's probably a better way to do it."
Here's my take on Greg Oden, who struggled in scoring two points with seven rebounds in 19 minutes at New York on Tuesday: It's going to be a while before we see a dominant player. Oden's game is rusty (he missed two dunks against the Knicks and shot 1-of-5 from the field) and his conditioning is suspect (he was grabbing his knees a few minutes into the fourth quarter).
There is no questioning the 7-footer's potential as an impact defensive player. In the second quarter, Oden had a textbook block of David Lee's shot in which he stayed at home on a pump fake and swatted it with just enough force that he was able to corral the miss himself. But any suggestion that Oden is a contender for Rookie of the Year is foolish. His technique can be sloppy: Against the Knicks, Oden frequently defended with his hands down and struggled to box out the smaller Lee.
There are no concerns about Oden's health, according to Portland coach Nate McMillan, who said he is not cautious about using him. But it will take some time for Oden to regain the form that made him the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft.
"I'm still developing, still learning," said Oden, who missed last season with a knee injury. "I'm getting in basketball shape."