Chauncey Billups suffers torn Achilles
"I feel sick for him," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said Tuesday when reached on his cell phone by ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne. "He's such a pro. After the game last night it was bittersweet. Everyone was just quiet in the locker room, quiet on the plane. People know how much Chauncey means to us -- his character, his leadership. Not only his ability to play at a high level, but his character and the intangibles he brings. That's why we brought him here. I just feel sick for him."
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Billups suffered the injury with 5:59 left in the fourth quarter of the Clippers' 107-102 overtime victory over the Orlando Magic on Monday. An MRI on the tendon Tuesday in Cleveland revealed the severity of the injury.
Hours after the MRI exam revealed the tear, the 35-year-old Billups told ESPN.com's Chris Broussard that he has no plans to retire.
"I'm most definitely not retiring,'' Billups said in a telephone interview from a hotel in Cleveland, where the Clippers will play the Cavaliers on Wednesday night. "The way my career has gone and the body of work I've put in, I definitely want to walk out on both feet. I don't want to go out like this.''
Billups will return to Los Angeles on Thursday for further evaluation. His agent, Andy Miller, said Billups will meet with several of the top specialists before undergoing surgery next week. Billups believes he can return to top form within six months, which would make him healthy in time for training camp next season.
"With my work ethic, I'm going to get back to 100 percent,'' Billups said. "I've still got some good years left to play.''
Midway through the fourth quarter against Orlando, Billups fell to the ground untouched after he tried to change direction following a missed 3-point attempt. Unable to put any pressure on the foot, he was helped off the court by his teammates.
"It's a tough one," Del Negro said. "He was just getting everything figured out. He was playing great. He'd just hit three 3s in a row, then he turns the wrong way running back down the court.
"It's tough, but we're going to do whatever we can as a team and organization to move forward."
The Clippers' locker room after the game was somber and Clippers guard Chris Paul was emotional as he talked about the importance of Billups to the team.
"He's the best guard I've ever started with in the backcourt since I've been in the NBA," Paul said. "I trust him with anything, and that's not just on the court. We need him, no question."
Billups was claimed off waivers by the Clippers on Dec. 12, two days before Paul was traded to the Clippers, helping to reshape the image of the Clippers over a 48-hour time span this offseason.
The New York Knicks waived Billups on Dec. 11 under the NBA's new amnesty clause. Billups was under contract for $14.2 million. The Clippers' winning bid to land Billups in the waiver auction was just over $2 million, meaning that the Knicks still have to pay out the remaining balance of nearly $12 million from Billups' salary this season.
"Going out like I did (is tough),'' Billups said. "I felt like we were coming together and becoming a cohesive unit. I know they've got to move on and try to replace me to continue on that path, but I enjoyed my time there. Once I have my surgery, I plan on being around the team and still helping develop some of the young boys and being a presence.''
Billups, who averaged 14.9 points and 4.0 assists in 20 starts for the Clippers this season, missed two games with a strained right groin earlier this season. Randy Foye is expected to take Billups' place in the starting lineup with Mo Williams, who is averaging 14.8 points and 3.8 assists, continuing to come off the bench in his current sixth man role.
Foye has already started six games this season while filling in for both Billups and Paul and is averaging 7.2 points and 2.1 assists in 20 minutes per game.
"It's something where we have to get everybody's mindset back up, but it's a tough blow for us no question," Del Negro said. "We don't have a choice but to move on and figure out how to win tomorrow. You just have to do what you can, understand this is the situation and the adversity that you have to deal with. No one is going to feel sorry for us."
Billups, a 15-year veteran who has played on seven teams, had his greatest success during six seasons with the Detroit Pistons from 2002 to 2008 where he won the 2004 NBA Finals MVP and led the Pistons to back-to-back Finals and six straight conference finals appearances. If the injury does end Billups' career, it would be eerily similar to the way another great Pistons guard ended his career. Isiah Thomas' 13-year career came to an end when he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury against the Magic 18 years ago.
Before his injury, Billups helped recruit former teammate forward Kenyon Martin to sign with the Clippers. Martin could make his debut for the Clippers on Wednesday after joining the team in Orlando.
The Clippers could also be in the market for another former Billups teammate to fill his void as the Clippers are one of several teams in the market to sign veteran swingman J.R. Smith. Smith is currently leading the Chinese Basketball Association in scoring (35.4 points per game) and would be eligible to sign with an NBA team once his Zhejiang club finishes its season and he is cleared by FIBA this month.
On Tuesday, the Clippers waived forward Solomon Jones, bringing their roster down to 14 and creating some flexibility if the Clippers do decide to sign another player.
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne, ESPN.com's Chris Broussard and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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