Does Charlie Villanueva completely lack self-awareness? Has he changed? Or is he trying to play us?

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Charlie Villanueva had two tweets last night that left me shaking my head:

@DETPistons I heard the Press Conference with Joe Dumars earlier today went well, interesting. We need to REdevelop that Detroit toughness.

I embrace being a Detroit Pistons. And though we’ve had a share of bad luck, I’m determine things will change for better in 2010-11. RISE.

What does he think fans will think of those tweets? Does he not see the irony everyone else will?

The Pistons need to redevelop that Detroit toughness because of you.

Maybe that’s unfair. You were hurt most of the season and played through it. That’s tough. But you didn’t play tough. You were soft on defense, soft on the glass and soft on shot selection.

Maybe being hurt is a legitimate excuse, but most fans won’t see it that way. And isn’t a major point of your tweeting to stay connected with the fans? Well, those two tweets show a major disconnect.

It’s not luck

More than anything else, I have a big problem with Villanueva pinning Detroit’s problems on luck.

Of course, the Pistons suffered from more than their fair share of injuries. Of course, that hurt the team. Of course, that was unlucky.

But there was plenty more wrong than that and pinning the Pistons’ problems on luck isn’t going to fix their other other shortcomings. Bad luck is a scapegoat. It will sort it self out. The other problems are real, and those are where Villanueva’s focus should lie.

He’s made the right overtures before. From Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press in February:

It might have been a first for Charlie Villanueva.

After Friday morning’s shoot-around to prepare for the Nuggets, Villanueva said he is concentrating on defense and rebounding first, and isn’t worrying about whatever offense comes his way.

Villanueva has shown he knows how to say the right things (usually). But he hasn’t shown will act on them. The above proclamation ultimately rang hollow.

  • In 54 games before the statement: 16.1 shots and 7.2 rebounds per 36 minutes.
  • In 24 games after the statement: 16.1 shots and 6.9 rebounds per 36 minutes.

He didn’t change one bit. He was the same player before and after.

Villanueva can be a good rebounder and an adequate defender. The first step would be to stop shooting – not completely, but stop looking for shots and having plays called him. Villanueva expends way too much energy on offense.

But more than just a change in on-court philosophy is necessary.

Attitude adjustment

I think Villanueva carries himself like a star player. That’s not to say he’s not a hard worker or a good teammate, but he likes to do things his way. He shoots a lot and likes to be in front of the cameras. I think he wants to be the face of a franchise.

But he’s not a star player.

He’s on-again, off-again starter on a bad team. He’s never made the playoffs. His 13.1 career scoring average ranks 103rd among active players – behind such stalwarts as Kirk Hinrich, Al Thornton and Wilson Chandler.

I think Villanueva sees the nonchalance of the game’s premier players and emulates it. LeBron can dominate while clowning with his teammates. Dwight Howard can shut down opposing offenses while laughing all game. Dirk Nowitzki can drain jumpers while making it seem like he barely looks at the rim.

I think he’s picked up a little bit of the prima donna attitude, too, but I can live with that. Most professional athletes expect preferential treatment. But there’s a line, and it varies by player.

I found myself questioning Villanueva several times last year. Is he worth the headache? Does he provide on the court to justify his issues off it. Because that’s what it ultimately comes down to. That’s why so many teams will appease each of LeBron’s demands this summer and not think once about signing Stephon Marbury.

How to fix this

Villanueva has to realize he’s not a star. There’s a chance he could become one. It’s a small chance given his age and what he’s accomplished so far. But he won’t reach that level if he keeps his current mindset.

I don’t expect anything to change, though. Villanueva isn’t a bad guy – far from it, it seems. And if he reads this or any other article critical of him, he can point to a lot of reasons he should be proud of what he’s done.

He does great work in the community. He puts himself out there to fans, interacting with them in ways few professional athletes do. He won a national title at Connecticut. He’s a role model for young Hispanic basketball players. (By the way, a writing trick is to do lists like that in threes. But it was so easy to come up with four that I included them all, and I think that says something about Villanueva).

It’s completely fair for him to look at those and other accomplishments and say, “I’m on the right track.” If he continues on this course, that’s no real tragedy. He’s in the NBA and seems to enjoy it. Who am I to call him a failure? I don’t think it’s fair to expect greatness from every player. Do you do the best you can at your job, or do you peak near the level your boss expects of you to get by?

But if he really is serious about redeveloping that Detroit toughness, he can’t be satisfied. He needs to work harder. He needs dive for loose balls and risk looking foolish, even if the stars of the league would never do that.

And he needs to make tweets like last night’s more than lip service – because right now, that’s all they seem like to me.

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