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Villanueva's back, but has to prove he belongs

The Sports Xchange
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Charlie Villanueva can't complain about having to earn a rotation spot. He's just glad he's back in uniform.

Villanueva was activated Friday for the first time since Jan. 6. His season was sidetracked by bone spurs and tendonitis in his right ankle.

"It was tough, not knowing when it was going to get better, when I was going to play again," he said. "It got to the point where I couldn't endure the pain. I thought that was the end for me as far as this season."

Through a variety of treatments from highly regarded trainer Arnie Kander, Villanueva managed to avoid surgery. He says he's pain free now.

"It's been a long road for me," he said. "I'm just glad to be active and be out there. I feel like I've been practicing pretty well. When the opportunity comes, I have to make the most of it."

During training camp, Villanueva was competing for the starting power forward spot with Jonas Jerebko, who was returning from an Achilles' tendon tear. He had to serve a three-game NBA suspension at the start of the season, then started missing practice time with the ankle injury. He played just six minutes before his extended stint in street clothes.

As the season has unfolded, Jason Maxiell emerged as the starter with Jerebko providing quality minutes as the first frontcourt player off the bench. That duo combined for 29 points in the Pistons' 86-85 victory over Atlanta Friday while Villanueva never left the bench.

Villanueva has two years remaining on the 5-year, $35 million contract he signed during the summer of 2009. He's a prime candidate to get cut loose during the offseason via the amnesty clause, which the Pistons have yet to exercise. They held onto their one-time amnesty provision by buying out Richard Hamilton's contract at the start of training camp.

Villanueva has less than two months to prove to coach Lawrence Frank and the front office that he's worth keeping around next season but he may not get many chances.

"You just have to earn your way back," said Frank, whose team plays a home game against Toronto Saturday. "It's not his fault he got injured but it's also not the other guys' fault that they have played well. He's missed a big, big chunk of time and that's the reality."

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