Chauncey Billups wasn't trying to be prophetic earlier this month when he said, "What used to be the Clippers is no longer the Clippers." Sadly, those words have taken on a new meaning after the rejuvenated franchise lost Billups for the season Monday when the veteran guard ruptured his left Achilles' tendon against the Orlando Magic.
How much will the Clippers miss Billups' leadership, on-court savvy and clutch plays? Times NBA reporter Ben Bolch counts the ways and assesses who must step up to fill the void:
Ballhandling: Though he wasn't his team's primary ballhandler when he played alongside point guard Chris Paul, Billups often set up teammates with nice passes and helped the Clippers fulfill their Lob City nickname. He had an impressive assist-to-turnover ratio of better than 2 to 1. The Clippers' depth at point guard should help mitigate Billups' absence in this area. Mo Williams, who became a backup after the acquisitions of Paul and Billups, shifts into a more high-profile role. Randy Foye will also spend more time on the court and second-year guard Eric Bledsoe should also finally get some minutes after returning from knee surgery.
Leadership: Billups' value vastly exceeded the 14.9 points, 4.0 assists and 2.5 rebounds he averaged per game. This became immediately apparent watching Paul tear up when discussing the loss of his teammate. Billups was as much of a force in the locker room as on the court, mentoring younger players and providing a steady voice of reason in rocky times. Paul must assume this role, becoming not only the team's top player but also its vocal ambassador.
Scoring: Billups was the Clippers' third-leading scorer and tallied double figures in points in 15 of his 20 games, including a 32-point outburst against the Denver Nuggets. Replacing those points will be a team effort, but this could present an opportunity for center DeAndre Jordan to nudge his scoring average into double digits for the first time. Williams and Foye also must increase their scoring output.
Clutch plays: Mr. Big Shot showed up against Dallas last month, making a three-point basket from the right wing with one second left to give the Clippers a 91-89 victory over the Mavericks. But Billups did more than make shots in the clutch. He took a key charge against Denver's Nene during a recent victory over the Nuggets, reinforcing his reputation as a player who's at his best in big moments. With Billups sidelined, Paul and Blake Griffin become the team's go-to players when a winning shot or a crucial play is needed.
Playoff experience: As much as it hurts now, the loss of Billups could be an especially big ouch come May. Billups won an NBA title with Detroit in 2004, earning most-valuable-player honors in the Finals, and has played in 140 playoff games. The rest of the Clippers' roster combined has participated in 231 playoff games, with a hearty chunk of that experience arriving with the recently signed Kenyon Martin (89 games). For the Clippers to win only the franchise's second playoff series since moving to Los Angeles from San Diego in 1984, Griffin, Jordan and Foye won't be able to play like the postseason novices they are.