By TOM WITHERS, Associated Press
CLEVELAND (AP) — Chauncey Billups will only watch as the Clippers continue their promising season without him.
This isn't going to be easy.
With his left leg encased in a plastic protective boot and a newly issued crutch standing nearby, Billups sprawled across a few seats Wednesday inside Quicken Loans Arena as his teammates went through their first pregame shootaround since their veteran guard and leader suffered a season-ending injury.
Billups tore his Achilles tendon, prematurely ending his first season with Los Angeles and 15th in the NBA.
He won't let it be his last.
"My career is definitely not over," the 35-year-old said. "I'm not going to crawl out of this league. I'm going to go out on my own two feet. I will be back."
Billups' season came to a stunning end in Orlando on Monday night, when he crumpled to the floor without being touched. After missing a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, Billups took one step toward the loose ball when his leg buckled. As play went the other way, Billups assessed his injury and knew right away something was terribly wrong.
"When I first went down, it felt like someone kind of kicked me," Billups said. "But when I tried to get back up and step on it, I didn't feel anything and I knew it was something I had never felt before and I knew it was bad."
Tests taken Tuesday at the Cleveland Clinic confirmed the Achilles tear, a serious injury requiring eight months of recovery time. Billups returned to Los Angeles on Wednesday. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said Billups will meet with a specialist before it's decided when he'll have surgery.
The loss of Billups is a significant blow to the rising Clippers, who have become one of the league's top attractions with All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and a solid supporting cast. A punching bag for decades, they have even threatened to steal home turf away from the Lakers in Los Angeles.
Billups had been a huge addition for the club, which claimed the five-time All-Star in December after he was waived by the New York Knicks under the league's new amnesty clause. He was averaging 14.9 points and four assists, modest numbers. But it was his impact in mentoring Paul and Griffin that made Billups invaluable.
"It's a big blow because of how much Chauncey means to the team: his leadership, his play, all that," said Del Negro. "But we're going to have to handle the adversity and I expect the guys to step up. We have to come together as a team and handle it. I feel bad for him. I thought he was just getting comfortable and his intangibles will be missed.
"But he's not going anywhere. He'll be missed, but he'll be around the team."
Del Negro said Randy Foye will take Billups' starting spot alongside Paul, the elite point guard who said the injury to his respected teammate has impacted him emotionally.
"Everybody has to step up," Paul said. "There's not one person that can fill a void that big. Everybody is going to have to do a little bit more and it definitely starts with me and Blake. It's tough. I've had a lot of time to think about it and talk to Chauncey. And if anybody can come back from this, it would be him."
Beyond cutting short what Billups believed was evolving into a "special season" for him and the Clippers, the injury also ended his dreams of playing in the Olympics
Billups was one of 20 players chosen as candidates to play on the U.S. team at the London Games. He'll be watching them this summer as well.
"That's one of my big, big disappointments as well," Billups said. "I should have been on the team that won it four years ago but I pulled out because of a family issue, my mother was sick. I never thought I would have another chance to do it and was in a position to do it and now this. So that's disappointing, man.
"But like I said, one thing you can't control is fate. I'm just going to keep moving right along and I'll be back."
Once he has surgery, Billups intends to help the Clippers any way he can. He has already spoken to the team about pushing through the adversity. He won't let them use his loss as an excuse.
"I'll be watching the games and texting them and coaching and helping them do what I think can be one special season," he said. "I think it can still happen."
Billups' contract with the Clippers only runs through this season. Mr. Big Shot wants another shot as long as they'll have him.
"I feel like I have some unfinished business here," he said. "I love the movement. I love what's going on. We had a really good thing going and I'd like to continue that."
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