Auburn Hills — The man affectionately known as "Smooth," Chauncey Billups, walks into a weight room, hoping to get a quick lift in before a game as he's recovering from a nagging injury and spots another player already there, doing the same thing.
That other player was a man he shared a backcourt with for six years, Richard Hamilton. It wasn't an unfamiliar scene, except Hamilton was wearing a T-shirt that said "Bulls" on the front, and Billups donned one that said "Clippers."
In the bowels of Chicago's United Center, as the two went their separate ways, it was a reminder of where they weren't, opposed to where they were.
"I'm going to my locker room; he's about to go to his locker room," Billups said. "It's just crazy. "It's times, sometimes it feels real strange to me. We're both in different uniforms."
While Hamilton was bought out by the Pistons shortly after last year's lockout, being in different jerseys and changing addresses has been all too familiar for Billups.
In a career full of crossroads, having been traded a whopping five times, he faced another one last February when he tore his left Achilles tendon against Orlando, the same injury that ended Pistons legend Isiah Thomas' career — ironically against the same team, except Billups, then 35, was two years older than Thomas.
Hanging it up, though, never crept into Billups' mind.
"Not one time did I think about retiring, not once," Billups said. "That's just part of my background, it's how I'm built. I've heard the people talking, (saying) 'it ain't gonna work.' Don't get me wrong, it fueled me and helped my motivation but had nothing to do with me coming back. I have some good years left and that's what I'm gonna show."
Even though he won't play tonight for the Clippers (peroneal tendinitis) as they bring their nine-game winning streak to The Palace, he still hasn't forgotten about the place that turned him from a nomad to a household name, champion and MVP, and then back to a nomad of sorts.
It's hard to believe but it's been four years since he was traded from Detroit, in the beginning of the 2008-09 season for Allen Iverson.
Even though he's played for his hometown Nuggets, the New York Knicks and now, the Los Angeles Clippers in that short span, Billups still talks as if the Pistons hold the biggest piece of his basketball heart.
"Honestly in my heart, I still feel like if they didn't make that move and move me, we'd still be an elite team in the league," Billups said. "Of course you have to make some changes, (adding) the young guys."
Billups noted the young talent on the Pistons' roster at that time, namely Rodney Stuckey and Arron Afflalo, and his belief the Pistons' success hadn't yet run its complete course, despite losing in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in the previous three years.
"I still had some great, great years left," Billups said. "I never wanted to leave, even though I was home (Denver) and it was good to be home, I always wanted to be a Piston. I wanted to retire a Piston."
If it sounds like a conflicted man having trouble comprehending the "why" behind a move that's occurred so many times in his career, you're right.
"I'm still … Even though I'm over it, I still don't get it," said Billups with a slight chuckle. "It wasn't like I was 36 or 37 and I couldn't rock anymore. I was still rocking. I was still in my prime."
Trading Billups probably was the hardest thing Pistons president Joe Dumars had to do — and understandably, it fractured a relationship that felt more like mentor and mentee.
"It's always tough and always a strain when you first trade a guy," Dumars said. "But Chauncey and I had such a good relationship while he was here, we knew it wouldn't be strained forever."
The damage took a while to repair, despite Billups going back home for a second stint with the Nuggets, leading them to a conference finals appearance that spring.
"Me and Joe at one time were really tight. I can't honestly tell you it's like that," Billups said. "The trade, the way it was handled, led to the strain in the relationship. It's cool now, though. We've talked about it now."
"Joe and I, we're cool. We text from time to time. I had dinner with Jordan (Dumars, Joe's son) a couple months ago in L.A. We speak, we text."
Time had to heal an old wound, considering Billups long admired Dumars and wanted to follow in Dumars' footsteps as a player-turned-executive.
"He and I did have a long, long conversation," Dumars said. "It was good to have. From that point on, that's when we've gotten back to checking on each other and seeing how we were."