The Many Crimes of Charlie Villanueva


Apr 3, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Detroit Pistons power forward Charlie Villanueva reacts to missing a shot during the fourth quarter of their 98-93 loss to the Boston Celtics in an NBA game at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to drop some cliched but completely unimpeachable knowledge on your big heads: Professional sports is unforgiving. A charming smile or an inspiring story and especially past glory means nothing if you don’t produce, right here and right now. You suddenly find yourself referred to as an “albatross” or compared unfavorably to the chance of a second round pick or a trade exception. Sports! Just as brutal as you dreamed it would be!

Charlie Villanueva has had a dickens of a time living up to the extremely modest amount of hype surrounding his decision to sign with the Detroit Pistons. What’s his role next season? Does he have a role? Is he just another albatross with an expiring contract or does he have something left in the tank? And is that not the most ridiculous framing possible? Charlie has as much left in the tank as he ever did, whatever this tank denotes (heart? drive? work ethic? three point accuracy?). It is a matter of whether Mo Cheeks and his motley crew of assistants deems him still part of The Plan. Josh Smith and Andre Drummond are The Plan. Greg Monroe and Brandon Jennings are part of The Plan. Throw Chauncey in there as well, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and perhaps even Luigi Datome. These “pieces” will be pushed together to form Detroit’s version of Voltron. And the young and cheap Kyle Singler, Tony Mitchell, and Peyton Siva also figure to have the opportunity to fight for their places in Tom Gores and Joe Dumars’ Great Restoration Initiative. That leaves a few guys kind of wondering how the hell do they manage to get in on the new and suddenly less depressing party. Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum, Jonas Jerebko and Charlie all exist in a no man’s land. It’s less dire than it sounds. Every team has something of a no man’s land, populated mostly by aging utility players, former stars, company men and vagabond types, role players through and through. Except the Pistons have deep connections to these suddenly fringe dudes. Rodney was the next great player, Will resurrected his career here, Jonas was an in-house phenomenon his rookie year and Charlie…well, Charlie is something else.

Charlie is the survivor from one of the most hated signings in Pistons history, the double whammy that also involved another achingly overrated player, Ben Gordon. Gordon’s long since been exiled (but at what a cost! Corey Maggette!) but Charlie perseveres, collecting DNPs only to follow bench performances with flashes of vintage Charlie V. magic (which to be fair, isn’t really all that magical). Charlie’s problem isn’t that he can’t play the game of basketball, it is that Charlie is kind of a ridiculous person. I’ve followed him on Twitter for years and wince pretty much every time he makes an update. When he tweets cheesy inspiring advice you know he’s talking to himself and it is kind of heartbreaking to see this rich person’s sincere social media appeals to a more just and kind and forgiving world. Whatever plans the numerous post Flip Saunders coaches had in mind, Charlie never seemed to be part of them. The old order was too entrenched for him to break into and then the young guns arrived and left Charlie in a permanent state of “What about me? Charlie Villanueva! The guy your franchise paid a ton of money for! You want me to compete for 9th Man of the Year every day and pretend to smile about it? Oh and also I have alopecia, which really sucks.”

Speaking of Twitter, who can forget that this was the guy who was banned from tweeting during games (albeit as a Buck)? This is the guy who has to endure alopecia related taunting from such stalwarts of the game as Kevin Garnett. This is the guy who was conned out of $250,000 in a Ponzi scheme. And then there was the domestic abuse arrest from a few years ago. This guy has had a life that really would be terrible if not for the fact he was making millions of dollars every year to hoist three pointers and chill on the bench.

Every year the  pundits debate what possible use a player of Charlie’s caliber and history is going to provide for the Pistons. The answer has to be blindingly obvious by now. Charlie and the Pistons never clicked. Square peg, round hole, bloated contract, game changing young big men…blame it on what you will, but the relationship was sour from the start, if not exactly toxic. Aside from some embarrassing moments and sadly predictable less than stellar production, Charlie Villanueva’s time as a Piston hasn’t been a disaster by any means. But his Pistons tenure has been an unnervingly mediocre experience, tainted of course by the contract and by the static status of Charlie just being a piece of collateral damage they’d rather sweep under the rug than proactively deal with. Andris Biedrins can be traded. Rashard Lewis can be traded. The broken down body of Gilbert Arenas can be traded. To move into this new era, jettisoning Charlie would be a mercy killing. Let him go score 20 points a game on the Bobcats or become a ten minute per night three point specialist on a contender. On Detroit he’s become next to useless. And it’s a terrible thing for a useful person to be next to useless. The Pistons can’t truly embrace the dawn of a new day or the hope of a better tomorrow until they just accept Charlie Villanueva will never be Ryan Anderson or Kevin Love. Even on a team in need of space spreading bigs, he still isn’t the answer. He’s had his chance, harsh as that is to say about a human playing a game.  It’s time to ship Charlie out for Charlie’s sake.

At least he ain’t Ben Gordon though. Woof.