“He was just like, ‘There is a legitimate chance of you making this roster, but you’ve got to want it,’” Villanueva said. “I like that. I love that. He wasn’t giving it to me. I have to earn it. That’s what I want. I want to earn things here.”
The 6-foot-11, 232-pound Villanueva, whose once promising career fizzled the last few seasons while he fought injuries with the Detroit Pistons, could fill a void as a stretch power forward off the bench for the Mavs.
There is no doubt that the 30-year-old Villanueva could provide some scoring bunch off the bench. He’s healthy, in good shape and shooting the ball like the guy who averaged double figures in his first six seasons in the league.
The Mavs got a glimpse of that in Tuesday’s preseason opener, when Villanueva scored 13 points in 14 minutes during the loss to the Houston Rockets, hitting 4-of-8 shots from the floor and 3-of-6 from 3-point range.
“He can score and he can shoot it,” Carlisle said. “That’s his skill and that’s his gift. I’d like to see him do a better job defensively, particularly in the post, where he got hurt. And I think he’s capable of doing that.”
It was definitely a tough night defensively for Villanueva, who was limited to 14 minutes because he fouled out. Houston 7-footer Donatas Motiejunas (18 points, 7-of-11 shooting) did much of his damage against Villanueva, repeatedly getting great position on the block and dropping jump hooks over him.
Villanueva, whose contract includes no guaranteed money, gets another shot to impress the Mavs’ brass in Friday night’s preseason game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He must perform well enough to convince Carlisle and owner Mark Cuban to keep him over a player whose salary is guaranteed.
“We’re just going to pick the best players,” Cuban said. “I don’t care what the contract is. I’d be happy to do it. I don’t care.”
Could Villanueva help the Mavs more than fourth-string point guard Gal Mekel or fourth-string center Bernard James or developmental shooting guard Ricky Ledo? Those are the players he’s competing against for a roster spot.
“I feel good about it, but I’m not really too focused on that,” Villanueva said. “I’m just focused on doing what I need to do, what coach needs me to do.”
The message from Carlisle to Villanueva is clear: Man up on defense if you want to be a Maverick.