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Pistons sign free agent Billups

AUBURN HILLS, Mich., July 17 (UPI) -- The Detroit Pistons on Wednesday signed well-traveled guard Chauncey Billups, who averaged 11.9 points and a career-high 5.5 assists for the Minnesota Timberwolves last season, to a multi-year contract.

Coming off their first division title in 12 years, the Pistons are one of the few teams with room under the salary cap. Like every team, they also have a mid-level exception, which is estimated at $4.7 million.

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Teams have been able to negotiate with free agents since July 1 and the 25-year-old Billups, moving to his sixth team in six years, was a hot commodity coming off the best season of his five-year career.

Minnesota general manager Kevin McHale is seeking to re-sign restricted free agent center Rasho Nesterovic after he decided not to make a long-term commitment to Billups.

Billups played in all 82 games for Minnesota and replaced injured starter Terrell Brandon at point guard midway through the 2001-02 season. His stock rose when he averaged 22 points in three playoff games.

Despite winning 50 games last season, the Pistons lacked consistency at point guard, where they used a tandem of Chucky Atkins and Damon Jones. They also struggled on offense in the playoffs, scoring 85 points or less in eight of 10 games.

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Billups helps on both counts. The 6-3 combo guard has averaged 11.3 points and 4.2 assists in 297 career games, primarily as a reserve. He appears ready to assume a starter's role that everyone expected of him when he left Colorado after his sophomore season to enter the 1997 draft.

Boston drafted Billups third overall but traded him to Toronto midway through his rookie season. He was dealt to Denver in the offseason and spent 1 1/2 seasons with the Nuggets before being traded to Orlando, for whom he never played. He became a free agent after the 1999-2000 season and signed with Minnesota.

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