Chauncey Billups is back on the Clippers bench.
The savvy veteran sits next to the coaches, watching his teammates with the sharp eye of a player who has been in the league for 14 seasons.
When a man is subbed out, he often pulls him aside and offers words of advice. He has told Chris Paul to be more aggressive. He has advised Randy Foye on when to shoot.
His suggestions seem to be working.
Wednesday marked the fifth game that Billups has attended since suffering a season-ending Achilles’ injury early February. With Billups in his new seat, the Clippers are 5-0.
The players don’t think that’s a coincidence.
“I told Chaunce he gotta stop being selfish again and come on the road with us too,” Chris Paul said. “It’s no secret, we are undefeated when he’s there.”
The Clippers had lost three of their last four home games before Billups returned to the team on March 17 against Houston. With Billups in attendance, the Clippers beat the Rockets, 95-91. Since then, they’ve won each of their home games -- Detroit, Memphis, New Orleans and Phoenix.
Clippers assistant coach Robert Pack said that Billups is an incredible asset because his words resonate with the players.
“Not that they’re not listening [to us], but it’s a teammate,” Pack said of the Billups. “It’s a guy who’s right there in the trenches with them and even though he’s hurt right now, they started the season, they played with him, they battled with him, and him just giving little words of wisdom is definitely well-received.”
Billups, a five-time All-Star who won an NBA championship with Detroit in 2004, commands respect among the players and notices things that others may miss.
When the Clippers played Detroit on March 18, Billups chimed in when he saw that the Pistons were giving Foye too much space on the offensive end.
“He was like, ‘Hey, when that ball comes to you, you have to let it go,’” Foye recalled Billups telling him. “Then I remember hitting two big threes in a row.”
“I wasn’t as conscious as he was of how open I was. He saw something from the side, he mentioned it to me, and I executed.”
Billups, who is currently rehabilitating his Achilles’ for two hours each day, said that helping his teammates from the bench is “different.”
“I just do the best that I can,” he said. “It just hurts to not really be out there.”
Even though Billups is no longer physically on the court, where he was averaging 15 points and four assists before his injury, his imprint continues to be painted all over it.
That’s because he has the admiration of Paul, who has referred to him in the past as a brother figure.
“They sit in the locker room talking to each other, lockers right next to each other, before the game, halftime,” Pack said. “I think that’s a big plus for Chris. ... They have their own thing. That’s like having two quarterbacks out there, two top quarterbacks putting their heads together about things.”
Paul even suggested to Billups that he start taking a Greyhound bus to away games, so Billups could travel with the team without worrying about his Achilles’ swelling.
For Paul, Billups’ presence on the sideline helps patch the gaping hole he left on the court.
“We talk just like he’s still playing,” Paul said.