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Archive → October, 2011

Chevette to Corvette No. 37: The 1981-82 Detroit Pistons


  • Actual record: 39-43
  • Pythagorean record: 39-43
  • Offensive Rating: 105.8 (17th of 23)
  • Defensive Rating: 106.6 (11th of 23)
  • Arena: Pontiac Silverdome
  • Head coach: Scotty Robertson


  • Points per game: John Long (21.9)
  • Rebounds per game: Bill Laimbeer (11.3)
  • Assists per game: Isiah Thomas (7.8)
  • Steals per game: Isiah Thomas (2.1)
  • Blocks per game: Terry Tyler (2.0)

Top player

Kelly Tripucka

The Pistons drafted two players in the first round of the 1981 draft: Isiah Thomas (No. 2) and Kelly Tripucka (No. 12). We all know Thomas had a better career, but Tripucka – who played four years at Notre Dame to Thomas’ two at Indiana – came in the league a bit more ready to contribute. Tripucka averaged 21.6 points per game on 50 percent shooting, and he rebounded and passed well enough.

Tripucka even finished 11th in MVP voting, six spots ahead of Thomas.

Key transaction

Drafted Isiah Thomas with No. 2 pick

Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

There were three players considered ahead of the field for that 1981 draft: Mark Aguirre, a born scorer who’d restored his long-dormant hometown DePaul program to national prominence; Buck Williams, an enforcer at power forward in an era when every NBA team was on the hunt for a bruising tough guy; and Isiah Thomas, the quicksilver sophomore point guard out of Chicago who’d just carried Bobby Knight to the second of his three NCAA titles at Indiana.

Bruce Newman of Sports Illustrated:

Dallas has the first pick in the draft and now seems likely to use it for Indiana Guard Isiah Thomas, rather than Aguirre. "To be honest with you," says Allen Stone, the Mays’ director of public relations, "we’re a little afraid of what we’ve heard about Aguirre’s attitude problems."


Isiah Thomas (G, 6’1", 180 pounds, Indiana) There’s an old NBA axiom that if good centers are hard to find, then good point guards are even harder. Thomas is more than a good point guard, he’s a great one. He’s one of those gifted playmakers who can dominate the entire flow of a game, a rarity for a small man in the NBA. He’s the first guard since Kansas City’s Phil Ford who seems capable of creating his team’s tempo, distributing the ball on the break, reading defenses and realizing who’s hot and making sure that player gets the ball. Moreover, Thomas is a much better shooter than Ford; in fact, he’s a better shooter than any point guard currently in the league.


Dallas had the first pick and obliged McCloskey by drafting Aguirre after Thomas, as he would tell me several years later, intentionally undermined his own chances to be the No. 1 pick with a lackluster predraft interview with Mavericks management. Among other things, when Mavs owner Donald Carter wanted Thomas to pose for Dallas media by wearing a cowboy hat, he refused.

I don’t exactly buy Thomas’ story. Of course, he’d want people to believe he could’ve been drafted No. 1 if he wanted to be.

Regardless of his reason, Thomas didn’t wear the cowboy hat, Dallas drafted Aguirre, and the Pistons got their man.

Trend watch

Fast track to success

The Pistons went from 16 to 21 to 39 wins, and their 18-win improvement from the year before matched a franchise high. The mark was more impressive than their previous 18-win improvement,* because the Pistons’ win increase between 1948-49 and 1949-50 was aided by the NBA adding eight games to the schedule.

*Detroit would later have two more 18-win jumps.

Why this season ranks No. 37

Not only did the Pistons draft Isiah Thomas (and Kelly Tripucka) this year, they traded for Bill Laimbeer and Vinnie Johnson this season. The Bad Boys core was beginning to take shape. Anthony Cotton of Sports Illustrated:

Thomas’s teammates will get used to him and vice versa, but Coach Scotty Robertson isn’t expecting that to happen overnight: "Last year my goal was to be competitive every night. This year I want a team that’s knocking on the door of a break-even season. I know people are going to say, ‘Gee, he isn’t even talking about the playoffs,’ but I’m a realist."

Robertson’s realism proved correct. The Pistons finished just a bit under .500 and missed the playoffs. That was still their best record in five years.

Long after Detroit’s season ended, Isiah Thomas went to Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Los Angeles. Anthony Cotton of Sports Illustrated:

For most of his life Isiah Thomas had dreamed of this moment—but the moment wasn’t his. Champagne and merriment flowed freely throughout the locker room of the Los Angeles Lakers last June as they celebrated their winning of the NBA championship, and Thomas took it in with the wide-eyed amazement of a child. Wordlessly he watched as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hoisted his son, Amir, in one arm and the championship trophy in the other and carried them around the room. And he spotted his friend Magic Johnson being mobbed by teammates, journalists and Hollywood stars. Traces of tears appeared in Thomas’ eyes. "Whatever it takes," he said, "I’m going to make sure this happens to me."


Jonas Jerebko practices hockey with the Red Wings

As the anchor said, “Has a pretty good shot, but we’re not sure about his skating.”

(hat tip: Steve Kays of MLive)

Chevette to Corvette No. 38: The 1975-76 Detroit Pistons


  • Actual record: 36-46
  • Pythagorean record: 38-44
  • Offensive Rating: 99.2 (4th of 18)
  • Defensive Rating: 100.2 (16th of 18)
  • Arena: Cobo Arena
  • Head coaches: Ray Scott (17-25), Herb Brown (19-21)


  • Beat the Milwaukee Bucks in first round, 2-1
  • Lost in Western Conference Semifinals to the Golden State Warriors, 4-2


  • Points per game: Bob Lanier (21.3)
  • Rebounds per game: Bob Lanier (11.7)
  • Assists per game: Kevin Porter (10.2)
  • Steals per game: Chris Ford (2.2)
  • Blocks per game: Bob Lanier (1.3)

Top player

Bob Lanier

Lanier had a down year by his standards. He scored his fewest points per game, aside from his rookie year, while with the Pistons. His rebounds per game were lowest since his rookie year. He also blocked the fewest shots per game while in Detroit.*

*Blocks weren’t kept his first three years in the NBA.

Ah, the mighty high bar Lanier set for himself. He was still pretty dominant,

Key transaction

Traded Dave Bing and a first-round pick to the Washington Bullets for Kevin Porter

Still smarting from his holdout the year before, Bing was traded for the younger Porter in the offseason. Bing was the better player – he finished sixth in MVP voting with the Bullets – but Porter was seven years younger and had led the league in assists the year before.

Trend watch

10th coach in 14 seasons

The Pistons started 10-5, but they went in a 7-20 rut, losing the last two games by 17 points each. Before their next game, the Pistons were practicing at Southfield High School when they fired Ray Scott. Greg Eno of Out of Bounds:

Scott was conducting practice — the Pistons were in a terrible slump at the time — and management strode onto the court, relieved Ray Scott of his silver whistle, and marched him off the court to give him the Ziggy — that Detroit word for a coach getting fired.

The Pistons hadn’t yet learned to act with class in 1976. They were still a bush league franchise, even though Bing and Scott and Lanier had combined to put pro basketball on the map in Detroit. So the firing of Scott — in front of his stunned players — in January 1976 was done with all the subtlety of July 4th fireworks.

Herb Brown, a Scott assistant and Larry Brown’s brother, took over.

Why this season ranks No. 38

Under Herb Brown, the Pistons went 19-21 and salvaged a lousy regular season by making the playoffs. There, they met the 38-44 Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. Curry Kirkpatrick of Sports Illustrated:

The Pistons and Bucks finished a combined eight games below .500 and have about as much right in this tournament as Walter Matthau’s Bad News Bears.

The Pistons slipped past the also-mediocre Bucks in a full three-game series, before losing a hard-fought battle to the top-seeded Golden State Warriors. Curry Kirkpatrick of Sports Illustrated:

The Warriors seem in emotional tatters after their tough battle against the put-upon Pistons, whose coach, the hyperactive Herb Brown, emerged as the most unexpectedly adroit tactician since Marko Todorovich was guiding Tri-Cities in 1951. In the deciding contest Rick Barry wailed so much about the refereeing that teammates seeking to restrain him pushed him over a chair in the runway. Whereupon a kindly old Motown gentleman tried to poke out his eyes with a cane.

Not a bad finish to a year that included trading a superstar for a lesser player and firing a coach.


Quietly, the Pistons have an exciting stable of young players

Writing for NBC’s Pro Basketball Talk, Matt Moore touches on something that Ryan Pravato recently highlighted in a guest post for PistonPowered: the upside of the Pistons’ young talent stacks up pretty well with other young teams around the league. Here’s what Moore had to say:

Very quietly, Dumars has drafted exceptionally well over the past few years. Austin Daye, Jonas Jerebko, Greg Monroe, and Brandon Knight. You throw in a superstar wing after a year of spectacular sucking (hello, Harrison Barnes!) and you’ve got something cooking there. Fill it out with free agency after a purge and you have a real shot at building something.

Now, Moore also notes that he might over-value some of those young guys a bit because his belief in their upside isn’t justified by what they’ve actually produced to this point. But his overall point is a positive one, I think, especially coming from a national writer: the Pistons have some assets. Daye, Jerebko, Monroe and Knight all are young, cheap and have, at worst, enough talent to make them intriguing trade chips and, at best, the makings of future key players surrounding that elusive superstar that the Pistons have yet to find in this prolonged rebuilding period.

Chevette to Corvette No. 39: The 1974-75 Detroit Pistons


  • Actual record: 40-42
  • Pythagorean record: 37-45
  • Offensive Rating: 98.3 (5th of 18)
  • Defensive Rating: 99.7 (17th of 18)
  • Arena: Cobo Arena
  • Head coach: Ray Scott


  • Lost in first round to the Seattle SuperSonics, 2-1


  • Points per game: Bob Lanier (24.0)
  • Rebounds per game: Bob Lanier (12.0)
  • Assists per game: Dave Bing (7.7)
  • Steals per game: Dave Bing (1.5)
  • Blocks per game: Bob Lanier (2.3)

Top player

Bob Lanier

Lanier tied for 13th in MVP voting, but both an early crack at advanced statistics and his teammates rated him even higher at one point during the season. Pat Putnam and Jane Gauss of Sports Illustrated:

In an attempt to determine the NBA’s most complete player, statistics were fed into a computer. They included total scoring, assists, rebounds, blocked shots and field-goal scoring. Lanier came out No. 1. After 40 games he was averaging 24.7 points and playing tremendous defense. And he was doing it with a left knee wracked by tendinitis and arthritis. Every few days the knee has to be drained, and after every game he packs it in ice to reduce the pain and swelling.

"He’s our savior," says Rowe.

"Our healer," says Adams.

"Our leader," says Bing.

"Listen to those guys," says Lanier. "They think I’m Moses."

Key transaction

Drafted Eric Money with No. 39 pick

Money, a Detroit native, had a fine career, though he play just six seasons. In his fourth year, he averaged 18.6 points per game for Detroit. But he’s probably best known for scoring for both teams in a single game.

Trend watch

Momentum thwarted

The Pistons had gone from 26 to 40 to 52 wins the previous three seasons, but the big leaps ended in 1974-75. In fact, the Pistons went the wrong direction.

Why this season ranks No. 39

Dave Bing held out before the season, according to Eli Zaret’s “Blue Collar Blueprint.” New Pistons owner Bill Davidson refused the star guard’s demands, and Bing eventually reported. He had a fine year, but the fractured relationship between Bing and the Pistons would have more dire effects soon enough.

In the short term, a bunch of side issues derailed what appeared on track to be a promising season. Pat Putnam and Jane Gauss of Sports Illustrated:

For the Detroit Pistons all was normal early last week, which meant there weren’t enough healthy bodies to make up two practice teams. Coach Ray Scott had called for drills on Monday and Tuesday, but without his two All-Stars, Center Bob Lanier (wounded knee) and Guard Dave Bing (attending a funeral). And the wife of reserve Forward Howard Porter was seriously ill, and so he was spending the two days with her in New York. They were all back on Wednesday when Milwaukee came to town, but the visiting Bucks added some speed to an attack that has been less than quick and stopped the Pistons 102-92.

When it was over, Scott was saddened and you might have imagined from the way he spoke that this team was in dire trouble. "This isn’t a YMCA league," he said softly. "You just don’t show up one night a week and expect to win. You’ve got to work at it. And, for one reason or another—travel, injuries, personal problems—we haven’t been able to do that. Not for the last eight days. And in this league that’s a long time."


Former Piston Darvin Ham expected to be named assistant coach with Lakers

Yahoo!’s Marc J. Spears:

Ex-NBA player Darvin Ham expected to be named a @Lakers assistant coach soon,sources say. Ham was head coach of NBDL Albuquerque last season

Dunkin’ Darvin was a Larry Brown favorite because of his hustle and defensive intensity. Chances are, Ham is remembered a little more fondly by Detroit fans than another recent addition to the Los Angeles staff with Pistons ties.

Pistons fire Eli Zaret

Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News:

Eli Zaret , who has spent the last five years with the Pistons organization, doing sideline reporting and other television assignments, has been let go by the team’s new management.

"When they left from Skorich, they moved away from the way we promoted the Pistons," Zaret said. "It was inevitable. I wish them well. We just didn’t fit in."

Zaret doesn’t know what the future holds, other than believing the franchise will delve more into social media.

When I watched Eli Zaret on television, I always thought his smile looked forced. It just looked too big to be genuine.

But while I covered the Dennis Rodman number retirement, Zaret walked by me – no camera on him – and there was that same huge smile.

Chevette to Corvette No. 40: The 1982-83 Detroit Pistons


  • Actual record: 37-45
  • Pythagorean record: 40-42
  • Offensive Rating: 105.4 (11th of 23)
  • Defensive Rating: 105.8 (14th of 23)
  • Arena: Pontiac Silverdome
  • Head coach: Scotty Robertson


  • Points per game: Kelly Tripucka (26.5)
  • Rebounds per game: Bill Laimbeer (12.1)
  • Assists per game: Isiah Thomas (7.8)
  • Steals per game: Isiah Thomas (2.5)
  • Blocks per game: Terry Tyler (2.0)

Top player

Isiah Thomas

Believe it or not, this choice wasn’t easy. Second-year point guard Thomas tied for 16th in MVP voting, but a few of his more seasoned teammates – Bill Laimbeer, Vinnie Johnson and Kelly Tripucka – could make cases as the Pistons’ best player. Thomas showed signs of becoming Detroit’s go-to player, and it won’t be long until he’s an annual mainstay in this section. This year, though, he barely beat a crowded field.

Key transaction

Drafted Ricky Pierce with No. 18 pick

The Pistons had two first-round picks this year, and they drafted Cliff Levingston with the ninth pick and Pierce with the 18th pick. Both players stuck in the league for quite a while, neither with the Pistons.

Levingston had a fine career, mostly with the Hawks. Pierce was a bit better. He won two Sixth Man of the Year awards and made an All-Star game, his best years coming with the Bucks.

Trend watch

Momentum thwarted

The Pistons had gone from 16 to 21 to 39 wins the previous three seasons. Everyone expected Detroit to break into the playoffs in 1982-83, a season after finishing one spot out the year before.

Instead, the Pistons took a small step back, winning just 37 games. That meant missing the playoffs for the sixth straight year.

Why this season ranks No. 40

The few future Bad Boys already on the roster – Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and Vinnie Johnson – progressed nicely. And Kelly Tripucka had a nice moment when he scored a then-team-single-game-record 56 points against the Bulls in January – even if he didn’t immediately appreciate it. Via a wire report:

“In a way I’m sorry to have broken Bing’s record because I always admired him and his accomplishments when I was a kid,” Tripucka said.

But the positives of the season were overshadowed at the time by one big negative: the Pistons expected to make the playoffs and didn’t. As often happens in those situations, the team fired its coach. Bill Laimbeer, via Eli Zaret’s “Blue Collar Blueprint”:

A coaching change had to be made at that time. Scotty was inflexible and was always butting heads with Isiah.


Robertson refused to fall on the proverbial sword. “I think it was the wrong decision, but it wasn’t my decision,” Robertson said grim-faced. He knew that the Pistons were destined to improve, and although claiming he wasn’t bitter, he seemed to sound it. “I’ve given an awful lot of myself over the past three years and somebody else is going to get the rewards.”

When he met the media to announce his decision, McCloskey was terse and pointed. “We feel we need improvement defensively and there has been no progress made along on those lines. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the specific reason for the change.” He added that the search was under way for a new coach who would “hopefully have NBA head coaching experience.”


Chevette to Corvette No. 41: The 2008-09 Detroit Pistons


  • Actual record: 39-43
  • Pythagorean record: 40-42
  • Offensive Rating: 107.4 (21st of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 108.0 (16th of 30)
  • Arena: The Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coach: Michael Curry


  • Lost in first round to the Cleveland Cavaliers, 4-0


  • Points per game: Richard Hamilton (18.3)
  • Rebounds per game: Antonio McDyess (9.8)
  • Assists per game: Chauncey Billups (7.5)
  • Steals per game: Allen Iverson (1.6)
  • Blocks per game: Rasheed Wallace (1.3)

Top player

Antonio McDyess

Obviously as a condition of the Chauncey Billups-Allen Iverson trade (see next section), the Nuggets released Antonio McDyess, freeing him to return to the Pistons. Who would’ve thought he’d play better than Iverson in Detroit?

Even as his championship window came crashing down, the aging McDyess was the Pistons’ rock. Every game, he rebounded and scored efficiently. When most of his teammates were up and down, that steadiness was enough to make him Detroit’s top player.

Key transaction

Traded Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess for Allen Iverson

Perhaps, no trade has affected the Pistons more than this one.* It caused, or at least sped up, the end of a contending era and ushered in five years of salary-cap hell.

*Other contenders: trading for Bob McAdoo, trading for Bill Laimbeer, trading for Rasheed Wallace, trading Dave DeBusschere, trading Dennis Rodman.

Desperate to spark an apparently stagnant team, Joe Dumars traded highly paid Billups for Iverson and his expiring contract. At the time, it wasn’t the worst idea. Iverson gave the Pistons a chance at a spark, and if he didn’t deliver, they’d have cap space the next summer.

The results were dismal. Iverson played poorly in Detroit, and the Pistons used their cap room to overpay Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva the following summer.

Trend watch

Streak of seven straight 50-win seasons snapped

The Pistons, even though they reached the Finals just twice in the span, were the toast of the Eastern Conference during the previous seven years. Between 2001-02 and 2007-08, Detroit won 384 games – 70 more than the next closest team (the Nets).

Why this season ranks No. 41

The Chauncey Billups trade defined the season. The Pistons lost their emotional leader when they needed him more than ever.

Detroit’s two high-profile shooting guards, Allen Iverson and Richard Hamilton, struggled to coexist. Eventually, Hamilton demanded better treatment, and Iverson started complaining. The Pistons shut down Iverson and played Hamilton, but the damage was already done. The team was fractured.

So was the Pistons family. Bill Davidson died during the regular season, and Chuck Daly died during the playoffs.

A 4-0 start before Iverson showed was enough for the Pistons to sneak into the playoffs, but by that point, they had given up on the season. Tayshaun Prince was abused by LeBron James, and the other Pistons didn’t play much better. The Cavaliers easily swept Detroit.

Michael Curry was in way over his head dealing with Iverson and Hamilton, and when he refused to reconcile with Hamilton after the season, the first-year coach was fired.

The Pistons were at a crossroads at the end of the year. This season could have been a blip during a lengthy playoff streak or the first step of decline. It ended up very much the latter.


Chevette to Corvette No. 42: The 1960-61 Detroit Pistons


  • Actual record: 34-45
  • Pythagorean record: 34-45
  • Points scored per game: 118.6 (5th of 8)
  • Points allowed per game: 121.0 (7th of 8)
  • Arena: Detroit Olympia
  • Head coach: Dick McGuire


  • Lost in first round to the Los Angeles Lakers, 3-2


  • Points per game: Bailey Howell (23.6)
  • Rebounds per game: Bailey Howell (14.4)
  • Assists per game: Gene Shue (6.8)

Top player

Bailey Howell

As Dan Feldman pointed out, just one season earlier, Bailey Howell had a strong rookie seasons and was one of the Pistons’ best draft picks in years. By his second season, he’d become the team’s best player, wresting the team lead in scoring and rebounding from veteran teammates Gene Shue and Walter Dukes respectively. Howell made the first of his six All-Star appearances in 1961 and had his best All-Star Game performance — 13 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists. Shue and Dukes also made the All-Star Game in 1961.

Key transaction

Drafted Jackie Moreland with No. 4 pick

The Pistons had a top four pick in a draft that produced five All-Stars and three future Hall of Famers. Much like the famed 2003 draft class, however, the Pistons didn’t come away with any of the five. Oscar Robertson and Jerry West were the top two picks in the draft, followed by Darrell Imhoff. The Pistons selected Moreland at the No. 4 spot, ahead of future Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens and future All-Star Bill Shaffer.

Moreland averaged 7.3 points per game and shot 40 percent as a rookie. He spent five seasons in Detroit, never averaging more than 9.1 points per game, although he did have more success in the ABA with New Orleans after leaving the Pistons.

Why this season ranks No. 43

Dick McGuire took over midway throught he 1959-60 season as player-coach after the team and Red Rocha parted ways. In 60-61, he was given the job on a permanent basis and retired as a player. The team improved slightly, winning four more games than the previous season and stretching the Lakers, who beat them 2-0 in the playoffs the previous season, to a full five games in the first round. With McGuire coach and a trio of All-Stars in Howell, Shue and Bailey, the Pistons finally seemed close to becoming a legitimate title-contending team.