By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Oct 19 2010 1:33AM
The Pistons are a team heavy at the extremes, with highly paid veterans who were around for the franchise's fading glory years on one side and a bunch of eager youngsters hoping to create new traditions on the other.
Charlie Villanueva, meanwhile, is somewhere in the middle -- he's 26 and entering the prime of his NBA life. But this is no Goldilocks tale -- instead of being just right, Villanueva was mostly wrong in 2009-10, his first season with Detroit.
The team sputtered (27-55). There were setbacks, injuries and other disappointments. And teammate Ben Gordon -- the other half of team president Joe Dumars' free-agent splurge in July 2009 -- wasn't part of the Pistons' solution any more than his taller teammate. But Villanueva took more heat because power forwards are supposed to play stronger, tougher and more tenaciously than the 6-foot-11 UConn product ever has. Especially in Detroit.
Villanueva? He remained the smooth, skilled guy tilted toward offense, same as usual. Defensively, he bore no resemblance to Detroit predecessors who earned a ring in 2004 or a couple of them two decades earlier. And at today's prices -- five years, $35 million -- Villanueva didn't even seem to be working that hard.
Which of course he wasn't when he got into coach John Kuester's doghouse and spent long stretches spectating.
"Throughout my whole career, last year was actually the worst year of my career," Villanueva said during Pistons' media day. "Joe Dumars, the whole Pistons organization, made a commitment to me for five years. And last year was a disappointing one, for me and the team. I just wanted to show everyone that I'm committed to improving, committed to learning from what happened last year."
Villanueva wasn't alone. Other Dumars projects, such as point guard Rodney Stuckey and big man Jason Maxiell, have plateaued somewhere south of the expectations created for them. Proud contributors such as Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince remain on the roster long after their value to a rebuilding team has dwindled (even as their paychecks have not).
Detroit couldn't get out of center Kwame Brown the potential other teams keep searching for in Pistons 2003 Draft bust Darko Milicic. Gordon made no impact after arriving from Chicago, where his streakiness at least meshed a couple of times with playoff adrenaline. When Jonas Jerebko -- a real find in the frontcourt as a rookie last season (9.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg) -- ruptured his Achilles in the team's preseason opener, the spotlight and collective "Uh oh!" focused on Villanueva again.
If there's one guy who shouldn't be getting minutes by default, it might be him. Villanueva adjusted to Detroit about as well as a Toyota foreman might, and his production tailspinned. After averaging career-bests of 16.2 ppg and 6.7 rpg with Milwaukee in 2008-09, his slumped to 11.9 and 4.7 in only three fewer minutes per game. The drop in playing time was his doing, too, both from a variety of injuries and from the lack of confidence Villanueva inspired in Kuester.
A team that had plenty of scorers and sorely needed some grit inside got, instead, a power forward putting up 282 three-pointers (he hit 99) who worked the glass like a shooting guard. He started just 16 times, which is a good place for Villanueva to begin his basketball makeover.
"That's my mentality -- to be a starter," Villanueva told Pistons.com in August. "But at the same time, I don't want it to be given to me. I want to earn it. I believe I can be a starter in this league. I've done it before."
With Jerebko going down, though, and with Maxiell in his forever niche now as a second-stringer, it's not as if Villanueva has had to go Tim Duncan this preseason to land longer minutes. But he stuck around Detroit for much of the offseason to work on his strength, conditioning and game with noted Pistons staffer Arnie Kander. He seemed to rein in some of his ubiquitous Tweeting and apparently has done enough to be noticed in a positive light.
"Charlie's had a wonderful preseason and he brings a lot to the plate, both starting and coming off the bench," Kuester said recently. "He's done a real nice job in the preseason and he's really focused on what we're trying to do defensively."
Said Villanueva: "Not being with Arnie [after] I signed the deal last summer [hurt]. The workouts we do are totally different but at the same time effective. ... Some of my struggles last year, it came from everybody being new to me. New coaching staff, new teammates and Arnie being different in what he does. Having a year under my belt makes a big difference."
Waiting a year for the results the Pistons wanted makes Villanueva a big key. Or question mark. His choice.
DEFENSE-FIRST CAN GET IT DONE:
Sure, the Pistons had defense as job No. 1 over the past decade. But that's not an easy sell to players who aren't prone to play it.
ENOUGH WITH THE INJURIES:
Last season's (Prince, Hamilton) was bad enough. Pistons sure didn't need Jerebko, White going down in October.
NEXT PHASE OF REBUILDING FAILS:
Like the NHL Red Wings, the Pistons have tried to change on the fly. But postseason is not a priority and striving to get in would muddle plan.
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LAST YEAR: 27-55, 5th in Central
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2009-10 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2009-10 Stats|
RICHARD HAMILTON, GUARD
18.1 PPG | 40.9 FG% | 46 GAMES
Rip never is out of shape but he is getting older (32), was hurt last year and is owed $38 million by end of 2012-13. Good luck trading that.
RODNEY STUCKEY, GUARD
16.6 PPG | 4.4 APG | 2.2 SPG
One of these years, it would be nice to see Stuckey do enough playmaking to average at least five assists. He has fallen behind schedule.
CHARLIE VILLANUEVA, FORWARD
11.9 PPG | 4.7 RPG | 23.7 MPG
Pistons fans didn't appreciate his part-time contributions and spotty defense. If not for Jonas Jerebko's Achilles injury, he'd be reserve.
TAYSHAUN PRINCE, FORWARD
13.5 PPG | 5.1 RPG | 3.3 APG
Iron man finally missed time last year too. Prince is one of those guys whose value is much higher on a contender than a rebuilder.
BEN WALLACE, CENTER
5.5 PPG | 8.7 RPG | 1.2 BPG
Veteran big man had his highest rebounding stats since 2007-08 and was seventh in league in offensive rebounds.
|Will Bynum||6-0||185||G||Best "pure" point guard on Detroit's roster.|
|Austin Daye||6-11||200||F||Length combined with outside shooting range.|
|Ben Gordon||6-3||200||G||Microwaveable scorer but big price tag, limited D.|
ADDED: Greg Monroe, Terrico White, Ben Wallace, Tracy McGrady
LOST: Kwame Brown
JOE DUMARS, PISTONS PRESIDENT
Pouncing on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva in the summer of 2009 didn't just use up Detroit's cap space, it sent the Pistons in an unexpected direction, away from their roots in defense and team-first guys. Rodney Stuckey's slowed development, on top of the Darko Milicic project, also has drained Dumars' goodwill account.
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