In what seems like an upset considering how little he’s factored into the team’s rotation over the last three seasons, and how much of a lightning rod he is for fan criticism, Charlie Villanueva is about to complete his entire five-year deal with the Pistons. In my column for the Detroit Free Press today, I look at why that may have happened. Namely, for all of his on-court faults, Villanueva has never seemed like a bad locker room guy or bad teammate:
If there’s one thing we should all know from watching the NBA, it’s that no contract, no matter how undesirable the player attached to it might seem, is untradeable. Villanueva has very clearly underperformed, but the Pistons also could’ve cut ties with him if it became imperative to do so. They could’ve sought a trade that sent him to another team for little in return (and since his contract wasn’t as big an albatross as Ben Gordon’s, they might not have even needed to include a future potential lottery pick as a sweetener). They could’ve used the amnesty clause in any of the last three offseasons to remove the remaining years and dollars on his deal from their salary cap and him from their roster. They could’ve even released him or worked out a buyout at any point this season since they obviously had no plans to use him in their rotation.
For whatever reason, none of that happened. That’s at least in part a testament to the fact that for all of the frustrations that Villanueva surely has about his tenure with the Pistons, and the team surely has with the fact that he didn’t perform as expected, he was never a malcontent. He was one of six players to not participate in the team’s boycott of a shootaround in Philadelphia over unhappiness with then-coach John Kuester in 2011, even though perhaps no player under Kuester had more grounds for complaint about his up and down role than Villanueva. He’s always appeared to be a positive teammate, cheering on others in spots that he surely wanted even though some of those players getting regular minutes (looking at you Jason Maxiell) were not exactly productive themselves. Despite that “soft” label, he’s shown moments of toughness in his Detroit tenure — in 2010, when he was a rotation player in a frontcourt lacking depth, he played through both plantar fasciitis and a broken nose. He never publicly vented frustrations (other than those aforementioned and relatively mild tweets) or made it clear he wanted to be elsewhere.
The Pistons obviously thought they were getting far more than those positives listed above. Admittedly, I’m grasping at straws a bit to describe them as ‘positives’ rather than ‘neutrals.’ But they still merit a mention when evaluating Villanueva’s five-year Pistons legacy.
I hope Villanueva gets another chance with a different team next season, and maybe without the pressure of trying to live up to a huge contract, the expectations for what he’s capable of producing will be more reasonable.