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Billups the key to cohesion

The New York Knicks might be the only team actually looking forward to practice sessions these days, but following Wednesday night’s win over the Milwaukee Bucks – sans any formal workout together – they were happy to begin working on cohesion.

The New York Knicks might be the only team actually looking forward to practice sessions these days, but following Wednesday night’s win over the Milwaukee Bucks – sans any formal workout together – they were happy to begin working on cohesion.

The debuts of Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups went off the way New York hoped but, to a man, all were more than happy to get a practice under their belts to iron out the kinks.

The feeling is that once the team gets a better understanding of each other and knows one another’s tendencies they can fully maximize their talents and become a viable conference threat. And for the time being that responsibility lies at the feet of Billups, who said he’s more than up for the challenge.

“The responsibility is really tough on me because I am the guy with the ball and making a lot of the decisions,” said Billups. “It’s tough because I have four, five, or six other guys to figure out their tendencies and where they like the ball and figure out what Mike [D’Antoni] likes as a coach. It’s tough but we don’t have much time. We have to get going fast. No excuse.”

Billups, a former NBA Finals MVP and winner of December’s Player of the Month award, said he doesn’t feel slighted that much when people tend to think of him as a throw-in. He said he’s confident in what he can offer the team but added it’ll be fun showing people that his game hasn’t fallen off one bit.

“It’s crazy man. Seems like people forget sometimes,” he smiled when asked about being an afterthought in the trade. “But don’t worry about it. I like that. I like being that guy. That’s how I thrive. I’ll show them. It’s cool.”

What’s really cool to Billups is how many weapons he’ll have at his disposal, as they seemed to gel nicely on Wednesday night. The veteran said just wait until guys find their niches on this team and added that the two superstars will help ease guys into their roles.

“Both of those guys are two of the top seven or eight players in the league. It’s hard playing against those guys,” he said of Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, adding a certain fourth-quarter running mate will also cause problems down the stretch. “I like Toney [Douglas]. He’s a high-energy guy. He shot the ball great [Wednesday] night. Hopefully he can continue to shoot the ball at that level. That’s just another option that we’d have.”

When asked if the Knicks can seriously contend right now, Billups wryly smiled and nodded.

“Absolutely, when you look at the talent and the youth and athleticism of what we have,” he said. “And what we can do this year – and not even this year – but going forward, why not.”

As most coaches tend to be, D’Antoni wanted to temper such bravado and take things at a more deliberate pace.

“Because of the energy at the Garden I knew they’d come out like that. But we have to be careful not to have a letdown when we get away from home,” D’Antoni said. “We can’t go too fast. We can’t do everything today. It’s going to take a little bit. The most important thing is to stay mentally fresh and physically fresh.”

Billups said he’s more worried about guys knowing sets rather than how fresh legs are. He noted that they’ll adjust to the tempo quickly.

“You have to assimilate some game type situations, especially how they like to play with the passing, the motion, handoffs, and backdoors,” Billups said, adding the hard session was needed. “It was good, just trying to get familiar. We talked about certain sets that they like to run and incorporate all the new guys. And defensively work on a couple schemes that we got mixed up on and trying to get better at.”

D’Antoni said he’s more than thrilled at having Billups be an extension of the coaching staff and said the point guard position is the one key to stabilizing a new roster.

“He’s the key to it and will take that responsibility [of a leader] in the locker room and on the floor dear to heart. He’ll get everyone on that page real soon,” said D’Antoni, adding Billups’s big-game experience and high basketball IQ will make up for guys learning on the fly. “It [basketball IQ] is very high and that comes with experience. Hopefully this all blends together quickly.”

Billups will also help guys’ egos and not allow individual games to clash, according to D’Antoni.

“We have guys that hopefully won’t step on each other’s toes and that’s what we’ll have to work out. But as long as they don’t want to step on each other’s toes it’ll work out,” he said. “It’s a little bit like Miami, once you put stars together the biggest thing is the willingness to work together…and Chauncey smoothes things.”

There were reports that Billups, a Denver native, wasn’t too keen on leaving his hometown team but in the end, he said the transition will be smooth because he has done this before. It should be noted he was also traded mid-season from Detroit to Denver back in 2008-09 season. He said the only stress for him is not basketball related.

“The only emotional thing for me was my family [and] leaving my little girls at home and my wife,” he said, adding plans change in professional sports. “That was the plan [to finish his career in Denver]. But as you know, plans don’t always go that way. The plan is no different now. I’m a Knick now and I’m happy to be a Knick. I’m looking forward to getting better with this team.”

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