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Dickstein: Billups was Melo deal's linchpin

Chauncey Billups was waived via the amnesty provision

Chauncey Billups was waived via the amnesty provision to make room for Tyson Chandler. (Undated file photo) Photo Credit: Getty Images

Basketball people already knew it. Now the rest of New York does. If the Melo megatrade makes the Knicks contenders this season, it will be due to 34-year-old Chauncey Billups, the point guard with the moxie to harness the team’s star-studded power.

Acquired with Carmelo Anthony from Denver in last week’s 13-player trade, Billups guided the Knicks to their biggest win in years on Sunday, a 91-86 triumph at Miami. Mr. Big Shot’s go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:01 remaining came as the Heat denied passing lanes to Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. He faked to Anthony, then rose up over Dwyane Wade.

“What he has, I don’t think you coach it,” said Billups’s former college coach, Joe Harrington, during a telephone interview Monday. “That’s part of his being — to understand what to do at a certain time.”

Boosting his natural grasp of basketball is a desire to learn, Harrington said: “He drained my mind because he wanted to know all I knew about basketball. He was forever asking questions.”

The job of replacing Raymond Felton here was not foreseen by a Denver guy who wants to work with the Nuggets after he retires. But it may be a fitting career capstone for the MVP of the 2004 NBA Finals, who is averaging 21 points, 6 assists and 4.3 rebounds in three games since joining the Knicks.

“What a great setup for him. It’s just beautiful,” said Harrington, 65, who recruited Billups to Colorado in 1995. “If that’s the last team he plays with, what a great way to finish up his basketball career. ... It’s center stage, and that’s what he’s all about.”

Max J. Dickstein (mdickstein [at] am-ny [dot] com) is amNewYork’s sports editor. Follow him @amNYsports.

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