One reason is that he was going to be a free agent and they probably weren’t going to keep him anyway: once your best player forces a trade, you’re going to start from scratch and you’re not going to keep a 34-year-old point guard. And NBA rules require that when two teams make a trade, the salaries going each way have to be close (so you can’t save money by trading one guy making $20 million a year for a guy making $2 million a year). Including Billups in the trade may have made that easier.
The full trade looks like this (via Basketball reference):
The Knicks got Carmelo Anthony, Billups, Renaldo Balkman, Anthony Carter and Shelden Williams from Denver, and Corey Brewer from Minnesota.
The Nuggets got Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, cash, a 2012 2nd round draft pick, a 2013 2nd round draft pick and a 2014 1st round draft pick.
The Timberwolves got Kosta Koufos and a 2015 2nd round draft pick from Denver, and Eddy Curry, Anthony Randolph and cash from the Knicks.
Because then you lose your best player and get nothing in return. If you’re losing your best player, you want to get something back. And while I’m sure they wanted to keep Billups from an emotional standpoint, I don’t think they really cared that much. Hometown players get traded all the time, and it’s not something that was going to kill this deal.
It’s not fun in the short-term, Billups still had 65% more Offensive Win Shares than Lawson, with equivalent D. But Ty Lawson is the PG of the future for the Nuggets, and the Nuggets sans Melo aren’t doing much in the playoffs anyway, so why not trade Billups and his $12M salary, and help Lawson continue to develop? I am very surprised at Lawson’s B-Reference DRating of 112 for a guy who’s 5-11, probably because I’m still scarred by the Aaron Brooks Experience ™. Lawson’s usage this year has gone up by 20%, while mostly maintaining his stats/36 min, so why not see if he can increase his load? If he can’t, then Ray Felton is a perfectly serviceable 1 for half of Billups’s money.
True, you’d much rather have the 4(!) firsts from Jersey, plus Favors, but you can’t have everything, where would you put it?
They don’t care if they’re good right now, though. Logic dictated they needed to trade Carmelo, and even if they’d found a way to keep Billups out of that trade, making the playoffs would have been hard. Billups wasn’t part of their long term plans no matter what. The more important thing for them is to start putting together a new team that is less expensive and not Carmelo-centric.
What they are saying is that everyone felt bad about Chauncey having to be part of the trade. Players, management, coaches, fans - they all knew for a year that Carmelo was leaving but it was only in the last few weeks that Billups got thrown into the deal.
Billups didn’t want to leave and people feel bad because they genuinely like the guy. He was born and raised in Denver, won a state title in high school, went to a bad U of Colorado when he had offers from all the top schools in the country and led them to the NCAA tournament for the first time in decades. He wanted to retire as a Denver Nugget.
It’s the personal stuff that people feel bad about, not the basketball side. From an objective basketball perspective, it is a great thing for the Nuggets as mentioned above. Getting rid of a 34 year old point guard with a big contract when you have a young replacement on the bench (plus Raymond Felton) is a great thing.