Huskies Connect in Detroit
“It’s great having someone that I’ve known for so many years and finally be reunited with him on another team,” said Gordon, who spoke to the media shortly after signing his new five-year deal. “It’s a great feeling.”
Gordon and Villanueva were integral parts of the University of Connecticut team that won the 2004 NCAA championship; less than three months later the Pistons captured their third NBA title. Gordon recognized similarities between the ’04 champions and the squad Joe Dumars has started to assemble with him as a cornerstone.
“I think they’re making a lot of changes obviously, still have a few pieces from the championship team, but there’s definitely some new blood,” he said. “We’re hungry. Everyone’s coming in with a chip on their shoulder. I think we’ll fit in well.”
Gordon said his friendship with Villanueva goes back to their teens when they competed in the same tournaments in New York, occasionally as teammates. He also said he helped woo Villanueva to UConn. From the sound of it, Gordon must have let him win some games during his recruiting visit.
Yet Gordon downplayed his phone call to Villanueva prior to July 1, when free agents could begin negotiating with teams. “Once I saw that Milwaukee didn’t extend an offer to him, a qualifying offer, I called him and just wanted to ask him what teams he may have been interested in,” Gordon said. “That was pretty much it. I just wanted to see where his mind was at and what he thought of his free agency.”
Villanueva, however, left the conversation with a much more specific vision of the future. He also spoke with reporters Tuesday.
“Actually, Ben called me and we started talking about it,” Villanueva said. “And then it was like, why not? The last time we matched up [and] we played together, we won the championship. So take it for whatever’s its worth.”
Success has been scarce in the NBA for Villanueva, who won 34 games with the Bucks this past season - the most of his four-year career. He spent his rookie campaign with the Raptors prior to spending the past three seasons in Milwaukee. He has lost 213 games while winning just 115 - a career NBA winning percentage of .350. Villanueva stressed the impact that had on his decision to sign with the Pistons.
“The ultimate goal is to win a championship, that’s what we’re striving for, and I’ve never been to the playoffs. I do not know how that feels,” he said. “This is my going to be fifth year so I’ve never been to the playoffs and I’m tired of losing, man. I’m tried of losing and I think I have a good chance here in Detroit to win some ball games.”
Too Many Two Guards?
“I think we can play together,” Gordon said. “I have no problem handling the basketball and creating plays for my teammates. I think that’s a part of my game people haven’t seen yet because I’ve pretty much been the two guard full-time in Chicago.”
In addition to 18.5 points, Gordon has averaged 3.0 assists per game over his career. He averaged 20.7 points and 3.4 assists in 2008-09, when he started 76 games.
Gordon said he’s gotten to know his UConn predecessor at charity events hosted by Huskies head coach Jim Calhoun, and that he has a good relationship with Hamilton. Nonetheless, Gordon wasn’t ready to cede a starting spot on his first day. “We haven’t suited up yet, so nothing’s written in stone,” he said.
While many observers would be quick to draw parallels between this scenario and the lineup controversy the Pistons had last season with Allen Iverson, Gordon has something Iverson does not: a proven track record off the bench.
In 2004-05, Gordon was the first rookie ever to be named NBA Sixth Man of the Year, averaging 15.5 points in just 24.4 minutes. He has essentially split his career between the starting lineup and the bench, starting 204 of 398 regular-season games.
“I’m a ball player. At the end of the day, it’s all about the team. I’ve always been like that,” Gordon said. “I’m not one of these guys that gets caught up on, ‘Is my name being called at the beginning of the game?’ As long as I’m out there at the end and I’m helping my team win, that’s what counts.”
First Class Treatment
Gordon and Villanueva both cited their initial meeting with Joe Dumars as a convincing factor.
“I knew this was somewhere I wanted to be right away,” Gordon said. “Joe’s all about winning a championship and everything he’s done in the past and everything he continues to do in the future is geared toward trying to get a ring. That’s definitely one of my ultimate goals.”
Villanueva opened his remarks by saying, “First off I want to thank Joe Dumars for the opportunity. It’s definitely a privilege and an honor to play for the Detroit Pistons. Once I heard about the interest I knew this was the place for me.”
In Villanueva’s case, the reputation of the Pistons front office preceded them. He spent this past season under Bucks GM John Hammond, Dumars’ longtime chief lieutenant. Hammond made the difficult decision not to offer Villanueva a contract in order to sign the Bucks’ other restricted free agent, point guard Ramon Sessions.
“John Hammond was straight-up with me, he was honest with me, and John Hammond came from Detroit,” Villanueva said, “so that just shows you that Joe Dumars has done a great job.”
Both newcomers said current Pistons Jason Maxiell and Rodney Stuckey have reached out in some fashion to welcome them.