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Charlie Villanueva
After a disappointing first season in Detroit, Charlie Villanueva aims to make amends.
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Villanueva vows to make up for poor debut in Detroit

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."

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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.

 
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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

AT A GLANCE

LAST YEAR: 27-55, 5th in Central

FINISH: Missed playoffs

2009-10 Regular Season Standings

2009-10 TEAM LEADERS

Richard Hamilton

18.1 PPG

Ben Wallace

8.7 RPG

Rodney Stuckey

4.8 APG

2009-10 STATISTICS

  OFFENSE DEFENSE
PPG 94.0 99.1
RPG 40.2 39.4
APG 19.4 23.1
FG % 0.445 0.480
3PT % 0.314 0.375
FT % 0.728 0.767
  Complete 2009-10 Stats 
STARTING FIVE

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.

RESERVES
NAMEHTWTPOSCOMMENT
Will Bynum6-0185GBest "pure" point guard on Detroit's roster.
Austin Daye6-11200FLength combined with outside shooting range.
Ben Gordon6-3200GMicrowaveable scorer but big price tag, limited D.
 Complete Roster 
OFFSEASON MOVES

ADDED: Greg Monroe, Terrico White, Ben Wallace, Tracy McGrady

LOST:  Kwame Brown

MAN ON THE SPOT

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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