Clips claim Chauncey Billups off waivers
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The league's 30 teams were notified shortly after 6 p.m. ET on Monday that the Clippers had lodged the winning waiver bid for Billups, who was released Friday by the New York Knicks through the amnesty clause in the NBA's new labor agreement.
One source with knowledge of the deal told ESPN.com that the Clippers' winning bid to land Billups in the waiver auction was just over $2 million, meaning that the Knicks will still have to pay out the remaining balance of nearly $12 million from Billups' $14.2 million salary this season.
Had no team claimed him, Billups would have become an unrestricted free agent, sure to attract the interest of contenders such as the Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers. ESPN.com reported earlier Monday that Dwight Howard also planned to lobby Billups to come to Orlando if he decided to stay with the Magic.
But the Clippers ignored the recent threats by Billups and agent Andy Miller that the 35-year-old would retire if he was claimed by a team he didn't want to join, giving their roster a veteran boost along with the recent signing of Caron Butler to a three-year deal worth $24 million.
"Chauncey is a warrior. He's a player. This is a similar situation -- we had this in the best year we had here -- with Sam Cassell. He got traded away from a place he was really comfortable in," Clippers general manager Neil Olshey said. "All we said was, 'Come in with an open mind. Give us a chance. Look at our culture, look at who we were.' The next year Sam becomes the Messiah, got us to the second round of the playoffs, signed a two-year deal for $14 million dollars and finished his career. It's not unlike that.
"There's going to be some work to do. I think Chauncey would've liked to control the process, but unfortunately we have to do what's best for our team. I think once he gets here and sees the resources we have, meets the guys and sees what kind of team we have, hopefully we can do the same thing with him as we were able to do with Sam and Marcus Camby."
Olshey, in a sitdown with local reporters shortly before the Billups news became public, explained that L.A. intended to use its remaining salary-cap space before matching the Golden State Warriors' four-year, $43 million offer sheet to restricted free agent DeAndre Jordan.
The Clippers then went out and did exactly what Olshey hinted at, claiming Billups and then matching the offer to Jordan. NBA rules dictate that the Clippers can't trade Billups this season after claiming him, so he can only play for L.A. if he plays in the NBA season unless he is released.
"There are some sequential transactions that have to happen first," Olshey said when asked whether the team would match Jordan's offer sheet. "We've still got $3.5 million in cap room and before we give up that flexibility we have to exhaust every opportunity that we have to use the remaining cap room we have.
"But I would expect DeAndre to be here smiling and being goofy and doing skits with Blake at some point at media day (Tuesday)."
The Charlotte Bobcats and New Jersey Nets were among the teams that flirted with making bids, along with the Clippers, despite Billups' threats of retirement if he was not allowed to pass through waivers and become an unrestricted free agent.
"If I get claimed by a team I don't want to play for, I would absolutely consider retirement," Billups said Saturday to ESPNNewYork.com's Ian O'Connor. "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 have to be a decision I make."
The Knicks released Billups on Friday through the amnesty clause, needing to shed his $14.2 million expiring salary from the books to have sufficient salary-cap space to complete the sign-and-trade acquisition of Tyson Chandler. The reality is that a failure to join his new team, once claimed, would have jeopardized Billups' ability to collect the $14.2 million, which he remains entitled to from the Knicks even after they let him go.
"This is a different vehicle to acquire a player," Olshey said. "We're the first ones to do it (winning an amnesty auction) and I think there's a little uncertainty with everybody on how the process is going to work. All I know is this is another great addition to our roster. He's a perfect complement to how we play, he's a classy guy who's a veteran and a leader. He shoots the ball, he's won championships. He's going to be a great fit with our guys."
Miller said his client raised the possibility of retirement after news broke that the Knicks were close to an agreement with Chandler. Billups also didn't want to leave Denver last February when he was shipped to New York in the Carmelo Anthony trade.
"Chauncey's pissed off, but he's not pissed at the Knicks," Miller said. "He understands it's a business and they have to do what they have to do.
"But he's in a very frustrated state of mind because this has happened to him twice now. The way the league is structured, if you're a hot name and teams have interest in you, you have the ability to manufacture mass hysteria, and guys like Chauncey who put in years of high-level leadership, production, and service get lost."
Miller said numerous teams have expressed interest in Billups but that the five-time All-Star, as of the weekend, had not yet begun to sift through the options.
"It would be a complete waste of time right now," Miller said, "because it's been a very trying time for Chauncey.
"He enjoyed the city life in New York and had no gripes about his time there. But if he's picked up in a situation he doesn't want, maybe he retires, or he retires for one year, I don't know. If he can't choose his destiny and he's only there for 66 games, I think he'd much rather stay at home until the season is over."
Said Heat forward Chris Bosh about how much Miami wanted the 2004 NBA Finals MVP: "Yes, I would like to see Chauncey. Any player with his talent, leadership, his capability on the court. He's Mr. Big Shot. He has that name for a reason.
"I remember watching him with the Pistons back when they won it all. I think he fits here. With that said, we can't get too ahead of ourselves. We have to move on with what we have, and if that happens, that would be great. If it doesn't, we still expect to be a good team."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne and ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh contributed to this report.
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