Monthly Archives: January 2012

For Chauncey Billups, it’s all good again

Chauncey Billups’ return home was everything he hoped — and maybe one veteran move more.

When he was introduced as a member of the visiting Los Angeles Clippers’ starting lineup Sunday night, the full house at the Pepsi Center gave him a standing ovation. Even Tim Tebow showed up to watch, sitting courtside.

(During a timeout, Rocky, the Nuggets’ mascot, got Tebow to sign a football. Then he punted it into the stands. Rocky, not Tebow. Let’s just say Britton Colquitt has nothing to worry about.)

Billups is no longer bitter about the trade that uprooted him from his family and home town 11 months ago, but he did have a little something to say about it, pouring in a game-high 32 points, flushing six of 12 three-pointers and drawing a foul in the final 18 seconds that would have been funny if it hadn’t been so damaging to the Nuggets.

The result — a victory for his new team over his old one and happy goodbyes to the 30 family and friends he estimated were on hand.

“Everybody knows how I feel about Denver and these fans and the people here,” he said in the visitors’ locker room afterward. “It feels good to get that reciprocated and know that they feel the same way about you.”

Billups has come to terms with once again being a pawn in the NBA’s byzantine player movement rules, but he wasn’t so sanguine when he got thrown into the Nuggets’ Melodrama and shipped to New York with Carmelo Anthony even though, unlike Melo, he had no interest in leaving.

“I was just frustrated having to be caught up in that,” he said. “It really wasn’t my fight, although I had to go down. So that was frustrating, knowing that it’s going to be what it’s going to be but not because of anything I did. I’ve accomplished a lot in my career and I’ve done a lot. Being thrown into deals is for some people that haven’t accomplished what I’ve accomplished. So that was the frustration that I had from it, but it is what it is.”

I asked if it occurred to him it was the second time his hometown team threw him into a trade for salary cap purposes, a previous Nuggets regime having thrown him into the Ron Mercer trade to Orlando 12 years ago.

“Did it occur to me?” he asked incredulously. “Of course, man! Of course. It sucks, you know what I’m saying? But it’s kind of how this business goes. But everybody’s all good now. The Nuggets are good, I’m good. Everything happens how it’s supposed to.”

That wasn’t the last indignity of 2011. When the lockout ended, the Knicks released Billups under an amnesty provision that allowed them to wipe his $14 million salary off their payroll, leaving enough room under the salary cap to acquire center Tyson Chandler.

In a particularly demeaning feature of the amnesty provision, teams putting in waiver claims had to bid the salary they were willing to pay — that is, the part of the guaranteed $14 million they would take off the Knicks’ hands. The Clippers won the auction with a bid reportedly just over $2 million.

Billups lobbied publicly for teams not to claim him so he could become a free agent and choose a destination himself.

“If I get claimed by a team I don’t want to play for, I would absolutely consider retirement,” he told ESPN in early December. “The game’s been really good to me and I don’t want anyone to feel bad for me. I’ve made a lot of money and I’ve saved most of it. I don’t need the money now. I want to be able to play for something, a championship, and I want to be able to have my own destiny in my hands. If I don’t, then retiring might be a decision I make.”

Undaunted, the Clippers claimed him off waivers. Their second-year coach, Vinny Del Negro, went about trying to sell Billups on joining an improving young team that had last season’s rookie of the year, Blake Griffin, and was in the process of trading for four-time all-star Chris Paul.

“I talked to Chauncey a lot about it,” Del Negro said. “I just told him how I work and how we do things and the outside perception of the organization is not the actual thing that goes on inside our practice facility and inside our organization. I told him, ‘Once you get a feel for it, I think you’ll respect that.’

“I just told him honestly what I thought he could bring and I think it just took him a little bit of time to kind of realize that those weren’t just words, it was actually the fact. He’s such a pro and he knows how valuable he is to our team. After he got acclimated to everything going on, I think he’s in a good place now and we need him to play well and he knows that. And he’s going to be a big part of our continued growth and hopefully our success this year.”

He certainly was Sunday.

“I think we saw Chauncey do a similar thing to Detroit when we went back to Detroit,” Nuggets coach George Karl said afterward, referring to Billups’ way of reminding former employers that he remembers their letting him go. “When he gets in that zone . . . .”

So the conversations with Del Negro helped change Billups’ mind about retirement.

“He empathized with me a little bit and felt bad about the position that I was in because guys like myself don’t deserve to be in those positions,” Billups said. “He just told me how it really was. Like, how he coaches, what’s expected, what it’s going to be, how he thinks myself and Chris can play together and be effective. And it’s been good.”

At 35, Billups is no longer thinking about retirement. He’s back to wanting to play as long as he’s able to have nights like Sunday, his 42nd career game of 30 or more points.

“I feel like I’ve got some good years left in me,” he said. “As long as I can stay healthy and can be effective out there, I’ll keep going, man. I’ll keep going.”

With 18 seconds left in Sunday night’s game and the Clippers clinging to a two-point lead, the Nuggets fed the ball to Nene near the paint. Because of a defensive switch, the 6-foot-3-inch Billups found himself guarding the 6-11 Brazilian power forward. He tried to front Nene to prevent him from getting the ball. There was a little contact. Billups went flying, as if he’d been shot. A referee dutifully called Nene for an offensive foul. Karl went ballistic.

“We knew we was switching and I figured at some point I’d probably be on him,” Billups explained. “They wanted to exploit the mismatch, which they went to, Nene versus me. I was just kind of fronting him and as soon as he grabbed me and pushed me, I’m gone.”

“He must have hit you really hard,” I said.

“Yeah,” Billups said, not quite able to suppress a smile. “I mean, my back is hurting, everything. I need a chiropractor, man.”

The Clippers are Billups’ eighth NBA team if you count the Nuggets only once but also count the Magic, for which he never played a game. Thursday, when the Clippers and Nuggets play a rematch in L.A., will be his 1,000th career game. He and the Nuggets’ Andre Miller, who will hit the milestone in the same game assuming both play the intervening games this week, will become the 107th and 108th players in NBA history to do so.

“It’s crazy,” Billups said. “When I was growing up, I just wished that I played one NBA game and had that jersey and take a picture of it so I could just tell people I played in the NBA. That’s the blessing that I’ve had. One thousand. Hopefully, I make it there. One thousand. Unbelievable. It’s humbling, man.”

Both times they traded him, the Nuggets had their reasons. Mostly financial, both times. But whenever people start railing about the lack of loyalty in the modern pro athlete, think about Chauncey Billups. Denver has not produced a better basketball player. He wanted to be here. The hometown team sent him away not once, but twice. It was just business.

The Clippers are now 11-6, in first place in the NBA’s Pacific Division. The king of Park Hill may get the last laugh yet.

O’Dowd: Rockies got rid of guys who didn’t ‘get it’

Coming off last season’s deeply disappointing 73-89 record and fourth-place finish, the Rockies turned their roster upside down this winter.

It didn’t feel like an overhaul because the moves came piecemeal, stretched out over the offseason. But the purpose wasn’t piecemeal. The purpose was to change a culture in the clubhouse that Rockies brass believed had been undermined by self-interest since the team’s last playoff appearance in 2009.

Four of the eight everyday starters have changed. A new pitching rotation will be culled from nearly a dozen candidates. But there’s a common theme to the changes.

“We’ve got some great guys and I think they have a chance to be tremendous leaders,” general manager Dan O’Dowd told us on the Dave Logan Show the other day. “I don’t think it’s on any one person. But I think the group of them overall needs to step up and take accountability for our clubhouse.

“We got rid of a lot of players we just feel like weren’t going to get that. Not all of them we got rid of for that reason, but a lot of players we got rid of for that reason. We moved them on to other places that hopefully will help them in their career and give them a fresh start, but (we) just didn’t feel like they were ever going to get that part of it.”

Five of the nine players in the starting lineup for last season’s April 1 opener will not be wearing Rockies uniforms for this season’s opener: starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, catcher Chris Iannetta, second baseman Jose Lopez, third baseman Ty Wigginton and right fielder Seth Smith.

Ian Stewart, for years the team’s third baseman of the future, is gone. So is closer Huston Street.

“I think we took a step back at the end of the year and realized, OK, where are we at and where are we trying to get to and do the players we currently have, are they going to get us there?” O’Dowd said.

“Quite honestly, I just feel like we needed to address our culture more than anything. We certainly need to address our talent, but I think talent becomes secondary if your culture is not where it needs to be. I think we had too many players, not naming anybody, that were more worried about collecting service time than actually worried about winning and playing the game the right way.

“So our focus going into the winter was to create flexibility and then to try to add the type of individuals that No. 1, we think are good players, but No. 2, they get it, as it relates to the underlying philosophy that you’ve got to be a little bit other-focused within your clubhouse day-in and day-out to be able to maximize whatever talent you do have. And we had a tough time with that last year.”

In place of Iannetta behind the plate is veteran Ramon Hernandez, 35. In place of Lopez, who was released shortly after being acquired last season, is veteran Marco Scutaro, 36. In place of the failed combination of Stewart and Wigginton at third is veteran Casey Blake, with young Nolan Arenado now in the role of third baseman of the future. In place of Smith is veteran Michael Cuddyer, 32.

The common denominator, as you might have noticed, is “veteran.” These are experienced players in their 30s. Rockies brass hopes they will do the little things that help teams win, even if they don’t show up in the box score.

“I think it’s kind of who you are as a person,” O’Dowd said. “In Cuddyer’s case, I don’t think it’s about Michael. I think Michael is a good player, but I also think Michael really wants to win and he understands the best way to win is not only him being a good player, but him being the kind of teammate that gets the most out of everybody else there by holding to a level, a standard, on how we should play the game and how we should be accountable to one another in all aspects of being a team — on the plane, on the bus, in the hotel, in the clubhouse and on the field.

“And taking ownership of one another to be able to do that. We’ve worked real hard to bring in players that can help us do that, but you heal from the inside out. We had a miserable year last year on our record, but I don’t think it was a good year in how we went about doing what we did, either.”

In Blake, 38, the Rocks hope they have a bridge to the 20-year-old Arenado, who had a sensational Arizona Fall League, but would be attempting a gargantuan jump from Class A to the major leagues if he were to win the third base job out of spring training.

“We just want to get an average Casey Blake year,” O’Dowd said. “We did not guarantee Casey’s contract. We didn’t do that, one, from a health standpoint, and No. 2, with Nolan, he’s put us in an interesting position. I think talent-wise, he probably could handle the jump. I think the question is maturity-wise if he can handle the jump. I think that’s what the concern is. We’re going to take a good long look at that, but we’re not going to push Nolan if the maturity level is not there because I don’t feel that’s fair to him. He’s going to be playing catchup for a long time if we do that to him.

“There weren’t many third basemen on the market. We had our eye on Casey all along because we think he’s a pro’s pro. He’s probably a 100-game to 110-game guy, max. At some point in time, Nolan could even factor into that picture. But we look at the versatility that (Blake) brings between the two corner positions. We think he’s a professional hitter and he’s just another guy that gets it as it relates to his responsibility with creating the kind of culture a championship team should be all about every day.”

As he rebuilds the starting rotation in the wake of trading Jimenez last season, O’Dowd assembled a passel of arms to provide competition when pitchers and catchers report to Scottsdale next month. Half the spots on the team’s 40-man roster are occupied by pitchers.

Among the candidates for the starting rotation are Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Hammel, Drew Pomeranz, Juan Nicasio, Alex White, Esmil Rogers and offseason acquisitions Tyler Chatwood, Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman. Jorge De La Rosa is expected back from last year’s Tommy John surgery by late May or early June.

“When you look at putting the rotation together, I think we’re going to look at it a little differently this year,” O’Dowd said.

“Some of those starters could very easily end up being additions to our bullpen and either starting for us at some point in time during the course of the season when we think it’s necessary to give people rest, picking up the dead innings and bringing them along that way, or some of them may even gravitate towards the back end of the bullpen. So of all those guys, eight of them could end up on our staff in some way, shape or form.”

With young stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to build around, veterans Todd Helton and Jason Giambi providing continuity and Pomeranz, the jewel of the Jimenez trade, penciled in to replace Ubaldo as the staff leader, the Rocks have a decent foundation. But they have replaced many of the other pieces.

A year ago, the club over-promised and under-delivered. Having subtracted a number of young players trying to make names for themselves and replaced them with veterans who have long since finished that process, the club hopes to do the opposite this year.

“The underlying principle of every team is being able to get out the most of the entire team with everybody having an accountability factor in the process of doing that, and not just showing up every day and worrying about your particular space and your particular responsibility, which they do need to do, but also worrying about being part of the process with the team,” O’Dowd said.

“We had that in ’07, we had that in ’09. I think winning created that within our culture. I think we have it a little backwards. I think our culture probably needs to create more of that.”

Broncos on cusp of new record

It was 363 days ago that I first talked with Dennis Allen, who had agreed a couple of days before — a year ago today — to become the Broncos’ sixth defensive coordinator in six years.

“As a matter of fact, I’m sitting here in my old office right now, packing all my stuff up and trying to get everything ready to get shipped out to Denver,” Allen said that day from his office at the New Orleans Saints complex, where he had been secondary coach.

When I asked him if he intended to break the Broncos’ streak of a new defensive coordinator every year, he laughed.

“Well, absolutely,” he said, “because my math says if it keeps up I’m only going to be there for a year.”

This could only happen, we figured, if Allen, like his five predecessors — Larry Coyer, Jim Bates, Bob Slowik, Mike Nolan and Don Martindale — was fired. Or, in the case of Nolan and Josh McDaniels, “agreed to part ways.” Neither of us imagined at the time that Allen, then 38, would be hired as a head coach after just one year as a coordinator.

But that’s looking like the way to bet. ESPN is reporting that the Raiders have told other candidates for their head coaching vacancy that they’ve found their man. Allen is reportedly in negotiations on a contract to succeed Hue Jackson as head coach of the Broncos’ AFC West rivals.

If it happens, the Broncos will become the first team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to employ seven defensive coordinators in seven years. The 1982-87 Bills and 1999-2004 Redskins each had six coordinators in six seasons, a mark matched by the Broncos with the hiring of Allen last year.

As odd as it may seem for a one-year coordinator to get a head coaching gig, it’s happened to Broncos head coach John Fox before. In fact, you’ll forgive Fox if he’s getting a sense of deja vu.

A decade ago, when he took over as head coach of the Carolina Panthers, Fox hired Jack Del Rio, then the linebackers coach for the Baltimore Ravens, as his first defensive coordinator. Like Allen, Del Rio had not been a coordinator before.

And, like Allen, he was hired away to become a head coach, in Jacksonville, after just one season as a coordinator. Fox responded by promoting his defensive line coach, Mike Trgovac, to coordinator. Trgovac remained in the job for six years before being replaced by Ron Meeks, who had been defensive coordinator for the Colts before joining Fox’s Carolina staff.

So if you’re looking for potential candidates to replace Allen, here are a couple of names to keep in mind:

— Richard Smith, Broncos linebackers coach. Smith has worked for Fox the last three seasons — two in Carolina, one in Denver — coaching the linebackers. But he also has experience as a defensive coordinator — with the Dolphins in 2005 and the Texans from 2006-08. He would provide continuity, having worked under Allen this past season.

— Jack Del Rio, currently unemployed. There has been speculation that Del Rio, fired as Jacksonville’s head coach in November, might turn up in Los Angeles after he and his son, top Florida prep quarterback Luke Del Rio, were reported to be visiting Southern California high schools recently.

There are, of course, plenty of other possibilities, including Meeks, now the Panthers’ secondary coach, or any number of defensive position coaches on other staffs whom, like Allen, Fox might have admired from afar.

Fox and the rest of the Broncos’ coaches are in Mobile, Ala., this week at the Senior Bowl, the closest thing the NFL has to an annual coaching convention. It’s an excellent place for Fox to network with potential replacements for Allen.

Allen did a good job lifting the Broncos’ defense off the NFL floor in his first season. After finishing 32nd, or last, in both points allowed and yards allowed a year ago under Martindale, Allen lifted the unit to 24th in scoring defense and 20th in total defense this season.

After finishing last in the league in quarterback sacks with 23 in 2010, the Broncos moved up to a tie for 10th with 41 in 2011. Much of the credit for the improvement goes to rookie linebacker Von Miller, the second overall pick in the draft, who led the club with 11.5, but Allen also deserves credit for the unpredictable pass rush packages he brought with him from New Orleans, where he worked under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

The last time the Raiders hired a Broncos assistant to be their head coach, his name was Mike Shanahan, and we all know how that worked out. Like Shanahan then, Allen is an up-and-comer with a bright future in the league. And without the late Al Davis around to meddle, he might actually get an honest chance to flourish in Oakland.

Assuming he gets the job, the Broncos will go where no team has gone before by hiring their seventh defensive coordinator in as many years. With any luck, this will be the one who breaks the streak.

A new canvas

Welcome to the new home of my writing. After 36 years in the newspaper business, I’ve finally joined the 21st century and gone electronic. Whether you followed my columns in the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post or you’re a new reader, please feel free to bookmark this page and check in for my latest posts.

I expect to encompass a variety of forms here — interviews, analysis, argument, news, notes and, with any luck, a little humor. Some of it is likely to build off interviews and conversations Dave Logan and I conduct on 850KOA’s afternoon drive show weekdays from 3-7 mountain time. If you’re not within range of the terrestrial signal, you can tune in through iHeart radio or stream us live on

At the bottom of each post you’ll find a comments link which will take you to the 850KOA Facebook page. Please feel free to offer your thoughts. I’ll be linking each post on Twitter (, Google+ and my personal Facebook page. You can always reach me by email at as well.

Feedback is always welcome. And off we go . . .

Dave Krieger