Chauncey Billups is not used to sitting out May. Out of the 11 times the Knicks point guard has been to the postseason, seven of those appearances extended at least into the latter part of this month. So it's rare to see the playoff veteran in Las Vegas this time of the year alongside his locally-based trainer, Joe Abunassar.
But Billups himself is not working out just yet. His left knee is still not 100 percent after it suffered a strain during Game 1 of the Knicks' first-round series against the Celtics. Instead, he's assisting Abunassar with four of his youngest clients: some of the top guard prospects in next month's draft, including Kawhi Leonard, Alec Burks, Josh Selby and Malcolm Lee. (In ESPN.com draft expert Chad Ford's latest mock draft, he has Selby going to the Knicks at pick No. 17.)
Yesterday, Billups took some time out of the players' morning session at Abunassar's Impact Basketball facility to speak with me about his mentorship role, draft memories, the labor negotiations, returning to the Knicks and his offseason plans.
How's it going out in Vegas?
Oh, it’s cool. It’s going cool.
It's probably better than all the rain we have out here.
It's still raining out there?
Every day. It's supposed to rain through next week. It's like being in the Amazon rainforest.
[laughs] That's crazy.
How are you enjoying the spring heat in the desert? What is it, like 100 degrees?
It's not that bad. It's actually only like in the 70s out here right now. But last week, it was in the 90s. But it's nicer than that s--- though.
How long are you spending out there?
I just kind of been in and out. I don't really come out here and spend a lot of consistent time until after I start training. But I've just been coming in to help Joe with a couple of his guys.
Do you help him out usually every summer?
Nah, this is the first time I did it, man. Most of the time, I'm still in the playoffs by now.
I know you're working with several guard prospects. What kinds of things are you teaching them?
A lot of times, these college guys are just really good players. The NBA game is totally different from college, as far as sets, pick-and-roll stuff. I'm trying to explain to them that some of those gaps, the openings that you see in college when you can get all the way to the basket, close up in the NBA. You gotta be a lot more efficient because guys are more athletic, guys are faster, and those gaps just close up faster. So you gotta be able to make quick reads, whether you're passing or making a play. I'm just trying to give them some of the mental aspects of the game that you don't get unless you're out there.
Do you extend your teachings to the film room?
Pretty much on the court. We stop and talk through a lot of different things. These guys are really good. All of them have a chance to be awesome, man, to be honest with you. Josh Selby I'm really impressed with. He's been awesome, man. All of those guys got a chance to be really good.
As they prepare to embark on the interview process, what advice do you give them about meeting with GMs and coaches?
I kind of give them just a little knowledge on just going in there and being able to say what you mean and have them hear what you say. When you talk to these people, don't be intimidated, look them in the eye, give them good handshakes when you meet them -- little things like that. It's just not about the interview process; it's about real life. The things that you do on a day-to-day basis are not just with GMs, not just when you're trying to impress somebody; this is the way that you should be at all times.
Looking back on your pre-draft process to actual draft day, what memories stick out for you?
Just nerves. When I first announced [I was entering the draft], I was projected between nine and 15, or something like that. The harder I worked, it was like I just kept climbing the ladder, climbing the ladder. The day the [ping-pong] balls drop, which feels like yesterday, you start to see what teams need. Then it kind of becomes a little more clearer of three or four teams that you might go to. Before I worked out for teams, I prepared for them for two and a half months, man. Then I had one workout and I invited all these teams. The different GMs and coaches stepped up and said, "Alright, we want to see him do this; we want to see him do that." And I had just an awesome workout because I was ready; I was prepared. And then from then on, it was just like go to the draft, I went and met with a couple of teams, but it was just like nerves, man. Hopefully I got to live my dream, but I was just so nervous; I didn't know what to do.
Sweaty palms, an extra towel with you on draft day?
[laughs] Of course, man.
During your time working with the prospects, has it made you thought, Maybe I should be a coach or GM evaluating talent after I'm done playing?
I mean, I already had that interest anyway. I just know I gotta great eye for talent and I think also I can develop talent. Just being in all the situations that I've been in, I kind of already have that a little bit. [This experience] just kind of validated it for me, like this is what I want to do. These young kids look up to me and I don't take that lightly. I'm actually honored for it and I don't take that lightly. I use that; I don't misuse it.
Out of the trainers you've worked with or heard about, what separates Joe's training styles and philosophies from the others? Obviously his client roster, headlined by Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh, Kevin Love and Danny Granger, speaks for itself.
Joe is so good because one, he takes time out to learn your specific game, and to learn your specific deficiencies. When you work out with him, it's not like everybody's going to do the same exact workout. Your workout is pretty much tailor-made for the things that you need in your game. There might be two or three guys that need the same thing, so ya'll might work out and do the same thing. And if it's only you that has to work on one particular thing, then you're going to do your own personal workout. I like that about Joe. The other thing that I like about Joe is he's big on nutrition and knowing how to eat and knowing how hard to work and what days to slow down. He's not just, "Alright, let's get on the court and let's grind for two hours." It's not like that; you're getting the whole package with Joe.
Do you ever have that temptation in New York City to get one of those hot dogs or pretzels on the street, though?
[laughs] Oh, no question. I have a lot of cheat days. I don't eat great all the time, but I know when it's time for me to buckle down, it's time for me to do what I do and keep my energy levels up. I know what to do, and that's through my experience with Joe.
What's the talk like out in Vegas with the labor negotiations going on? Is there some optimism?
I think you're going to hear stories back and forth, but it's been quiet out here. A lot of these young guys don't really know anything about that. They just hope there's not a lockout. They don't have a clue about none of this stuff yet.
I was talking to Nets point guard Deron Williams a couple of weeks ago, and he said he's already looking into playing overseas. Does a Plan B even register with you?
At this point, I'm just kind of taking it easy, man. I'm going to let this process evolve however it will, and hope for the best. I'm not really thinking about the lockout right now and I'm not thinking about if I'm going to play overseas or any of that kind of stuff. I'm just happy to be home [in Colorado], spending time with my family and enjoying the summer.
By the way, congrats on the Knicks picking up your option last month. What are your thoughts on coming back?
I'm just excited to be coming back and hopefully our team evolves into a championship-caliber team, depending on what other moves we make. I feel like we took a big step this year and upgraded the talent on the team. We have to start getting the proper pieces around and everybody locking in for a great cause.
Speaking of moves, what type of player do you think the Knicks should look at with their 17th pick in the draft? Does someone specifically come to mind?
There's a lot of guys that have been impressive, but I can't really say because there are a lot of guys that I haven't seen. But I'm sure we'll get a really good player at that position.
How are you feeling since hurting your left knee in the postseason?
I'm feeling better, but I'm not 100 percent yet. I'm getting there, but I can't get on the court and really like grind, grind. I'm still not ready to do that yet, but I'm getting better though.
When do you think you'll be able to hit the court more aggressively and start scrimmaging?
I don't know, man. I'm going to come back up to New York in the next couple of weeks and have a repeat MRI with the doctors and make sure it's healing properly.
What are your plans for the summer? Taking any crazy adventure trips?
[laughs] Nah, I'm taking it easy, man.
Will you be working out with Amare and Carmelo at all?
Maybe later in the summer, but everybody's just kind of enjoying themselves right now.
Have you gotten a chance to watch the playoffs?
The Bulls' defense really impressed me in Game 1.
Oh, man. I'm telling you, defense wins, brotha.
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