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Archive → November, 2011

Chevette to Corvette No. 21: The 1995-96 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 46-36
  • Pythagorean record: 49-33
  • Offensive Rating: 107.9 (15th of 29)
  • Defensive Rating: 105.1 (7th of 29)
  • Arena: The Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coach: Doug Collins

Playoffs

  • Lost in first round to the Orlando Magic, 3-0

Leaders

  • Points per game: Grant Hill (20.2)
  • Rebounds per game: Grant Hill (9.8)
  • Assists per game: Grant Hill (6.9)
  • Steals per game: Grant Hill (1.3)
  • Blocks per game: Theo Ratliff (1.5)

Top player

Grant Hill

It’s pretty obvious when you look at the above statistical leaders. Hill was good as a rookie, but blossomed in his second year. Under new coach Doug Collins, the Pistons truly became Hill’s team and Collins built the offense around Hill’s talents. He played in a point-forward role, one he would continue in the rest of his Detroit career, and he quickly became one of the top all-around players in the league.

Key transaction

Traded the rights to Randolph Childress and Bill Curley to Portland for Otis Thorpe

Hiring Collins as coach was an important transaction. Here was what Collins said before the season started, via Sports Illustrated:

“We’ve got enough finesse players,” said Collins. “We need some dirty-work guys.”

That’s a fine talking point, but the Pistons were short on dirty-work guys until acquiring Thorpe. Although O.T. was getting up there in age, he solidified the Detroit frontcourt, a weak spot ever since the team traded Dennis Rodman, providing toughness, rebounding and scoring in the paint. He averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds per game and helped turn the Pistons into a solid defensive unit after they were one of the league’s worst defensive teams the previous season.

Trend watch

Return of the D

After finishing 20th and 22nd in the league in points allowed per game the previous two seasons, the Pistons under Collins jumped to second in the league in that category, the first of two straight seasons under Collins in which they’d finish second.

Why this season ranks No. 21

Although the team had significant talent, particularly in Hill and Allan Houston, who averaged 19 points per game for the season and was one of the league’s top 3-point shooters, most didn’t expect the Pistons to make as big a leap as they did, going from 28 wins to 46 and making the playoffs. But, according to Sports Illustrated, one person who expected Collins to have a huge immediate impact was former Pistons coach Chuck Daly:

“I think you can project him as coach of the year,” Daly said.

Collins would’ve had a very good chance at it, if not for the fact that the Chicago Bulls won 72 games that season, deservedly earning Phil Jackson the honor. But Collins clearly had the Pistons headed in a competent direction for the first time since Daly left.

Previously

Chinese team still interested in Rodney Stuckey

Guan Weijia of Sheridan Hoops reports that the Guangdong Southern Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association are still interested in Rodney Stuckey:

Including Yi, the defending champions have eight national team players and a number of national youth team players. Their only American player for now is James Singleton, but the club is contacting Rodney Stuckey and Delonte West, one of whom may come to China, sources told me.

Players who sign with Chinese clubs are not given opt-out clauses should the NBA lockout end, but that hasn’t deterred players like J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Wilson Chandler from accepting deals in China this offseason. Stuckey reportedly wasn’t interested in late October when reports first surfaced that he was being pursued, but perhaps things could change now that the lockout looks like it could be a prolonged one. Stuckey also indicated on Twitter that he might go back to school to pursue his degree.

UPDATE: Guandong just signed Aaron Brooks, per Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski, so perhaps that means they are no longer interested in Stuckey.

Chevette to Corvette No. 22: The 1991-92 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 48-34
  • Pythagorean record: 47-35
  • Offensive Rating: 107.5 (15th of 27)
  • Defensive Rating: 105.3 (6th of 27)
  • Arena: The Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coach: Chuck Daly

Playoffs

  • Lost in first round to the New York Knicks, 3-2

Leaders

  • Points per game: Joe Dumars (19.9)
  • Rebounds per game: Dennis Rodman (18.7)
  • Assists per game: Isiah Thomas (7.2)
  • Steals per game: Isiah Thomas (1.5)
  • Blocks per game: John Salley (1.5)

Top player

Dennis Rodman

Joe Dumars led the team in scoring for the second straight year, and Isiah Thomas was still Isiah Thomas. But Rodman’s 18.7 rebounds per game were the most since Wilt Chamberlain. Add his awesome defense, and Rodman gets the slightest edge over Dumars and Thomas.

Key transaction

Chuck Daly resigned

The Pistons traded James Edwards and waived Vinnie Johnson before the season, two big blows to the Bad Boys core. Bill Laimbeer, via Booth Newspapers, placed the blame on Pistons general manager Jack McCloskey:

McCloskey was “crippling the team by providing it with no sense of direction. Pro athletics is a business. You can`t deny that. But at the same time, you must attempt to attain a certain kind of family atmosphere. We had that here once. That feeling no longer exists in our organization.“

That feeling magnified when Chuck Daly told his team a month before the season ended that he planned to resign after the playoffs. Dennis Rodman, who considered Daly a father, took the news hardest. But years later, Laimbeer didn’t back down when it came to assigning blame. Eli Zaret’s “Blue Collar Blueprint”:

And Chuck didn’t have to go anywhere. The animosity became too great. But it wasn’t animosity among the players and coach; it was animosity among the coach and GM. I had a bad taste for what was going on and something had to be said, and that was my job.

After the season, McCloskey left for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Trend watch

Offense falls first

After years of climbing to the top of the NBA, the Pistons’ 48 wins and first-round exit were their worst marks in six years. Even the biggest optimistic could see the aging Pistons weren’t going to regain their title form.

Their offense ranked below the league average for the first time in 10 years – Isiah Thomas’ rookie season.

Why this season ranks No. 22

The 1991-92 Pistons were a good team – not capable reaching the heights of the prime Bad Boys, but a good team nonetheless.

Isiah Thomas, upset that John Stockton stole his place on the Dream Team, scored 44 points when Stockton and the Jazz visited The Palace in November. Although Thomas’ motivations for isolating Stockton were a bit petty and selfish, he needed just 22 shots in the Detroit win. This was long before Thomas’ insecurities and ego led to self destruction.

But Thomas’ showing led to destruction from the outside.

Playing in Utah the next month, Karl Malone showed his displeasure with Thomas’ showmanship by trying to block one of Thomas’ shots. But instead of going for the ball, Malone went for Thomas’ head. And instead of using his hand, he used his elbow. It wasn’t pretty.

Thomas needed 40 stitches, and the injury led to the end of his career. But don’t forget: the Pistons were the dirty team. Karl Malone is an angel.

A loss that night dropped the Pistons to 10-14, but they rallied to a 38-20 record down the stretch.

Despite the solid play, the team had problems. Newly acquired Orlando Woolridge and Darrel Walker didn’t exactly fit with what was left of the Bad Boys, and the Pistons finished fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Detroit played the New York Knicks in the first round, but without home-court advantage in the opening round for the first time in six years, the Pistons lost in a full five games. Eli Zaret’s “Blue Collar Blueprint”:

After the final horn sounded in New York, Dumars said, “To think, there are three more rounds of playoffs, and we’re not in any of them. I’m not sure what to do now.”

Hope for one small silver lining remained: the Knicks could somehow beat the hated Chicago Bulls in the second round. Eli Zaret’s “Blue Collar Blueprint”:

As the teams left the floor at Madison Square Garden after the 94-87 Knicks victory, Laimbeer said to Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Xavier McDaniel and the rest, “Play Chicago as tough as you played us, and you’ll beat ‘em.” He even playfully warned Knicks’ coach Pat Riley that if they didn’t play the Bulls as hard as they had just played the Pistons, he’d kick Riley’s tail.

Harvey Araton of The New York Times:

“I told Patrick Ewing, ‘If they let you play the way you played against us, you’ll do all right,’ ” said Salley.

What Laimbeer and Salley didn’t realize was that just because the Knicks had beat the Pistons didn’t mean they could beat the Bulls. Chicago won Game 7 against the New York and went on to win its second straight title.

The Pistons, in their minds, had nothing. They didn’t have a playoff-series victory. They didn’t have several of their longtime teammates or their coach. And they didn’t have the honor of being the most recent team to win back-to-back championships.

Previously

Ben Gordon a plaintiff in Minnesota lawsuit against NBA owners

Ben Gordon has been the most visible Piston in the players’ fight against the owners during the NBA lockout, and that continues. Gordon is one of four plaintiffs named in a lawsuit against the NBA filed in Minnesota.

Via Matt Moore of Eye on Basketball

Chevette to Corvette No. 23: The 1998-99 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 29-21
  • Pythagorean record: 32-18
  • Offensive Rating: 104.2 (10th of 29)
  • Defensive Rating: 100.3 (9th of 29)
  • Arena: Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coach: Alvin Gentry

Leaders

  • Points per game: Grant Hill (21.1)
  • Rebounds per game: Grant Hill (7.1)
  • Assists per game: Grant Hill (6.0)
  • Steals per game: Lindsey Hunter (1.8)
  • Blocks per game: Don Reid (0.9)

Top player

Grant Hill

Not surprisingly, as you’ll find with every Hill team of this era, he was the team’s superior player and it wasn’t close. Jerry Stackhouse averaged 14.5 points per game, but shot just 37 percent. Bison Dele’s scoring and rebounding numbers plummeted in his second season in Detroit and Christian Laettner, who averaged nearly 14 points and 7 rebounds per game with the Hawks his previous season, averaged just seven points and 3 rebounds per game as a Piston. He also shot a horrid 37 percent from the field.

Hill picked up the slack, putting together another great all-around season and leading the Pistons into the playoffs.

Key transaction(s)

(Tie) Traded the rights to Bonzi Wells to Portland for a 1999 first round pick and a 2000 second round pick; Traded Scot Pollard to Atlanta with Portland’s 1999 first round pick for Christian Laettner

These moves were symbolic of several similar ones the Pistons made in this era. They gave up cheap young players in Wells (who never played for Detroit after they drafted him in the first round out of Ball State) and Pollard, both of whom would go on to be productive rotation players elsewhere, for a declining, moody veteran in Laettner. The Pistons hoped Laettner’s familiarity with Hill from their Duke days would be an enticement for Hill to re-sign when he hit free agency in 2000. Instead, Laettner was awful in Detroit and the Pistons gave away two pieces who were cost controlled and would’ve complimented Hill better. At least Stackhouse punched Laettner since the fans couldn’t.

Trend watch

Hill’s versatility

Despite may efforts to give Hill more help, the Pistons were once again in a familiar situation this season. Hill once again led the team in scoring, rebounding and assists. Hill led the team in all three categories for two straight seasons before Dele stopped that streak by leading the team in rebounds in 1997-98, but Hill took back the rebounding lead in 1998-99 to make it three out of four seasons of being the team’s Mr. Everything.

Why this season ranks No. 23

As a basketball player in Detroit, Dele was a flop. But as a person, he’s one of the most interesting characters the team has ever had. After his disappearance and murder in 2002, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl chronicled Dele’s unique career and life:

The 6’11″, 260-pound Dele, however, never showed a sustained passion for basketball. He was sidelined for most of his 1992-93 season with the Orlando Magic with clinical depression, swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills on one occasion and crashing a car into a pole on another. Late in the 1996-97 season he joined the Chicago Bulls and helped them win an NBA title, the only time, his friends say, that he was happy in the league. He signed as a free agent with the Pistons, but after two solid seasons in Detroit, where Dele tried to escape the winter doldrums by snorkeling in his wall-sized home aquarium, he suddenly quit the sport.

“He told me—and these were his exact words—that he felt like an organ-grinder’s performing monkey,” says Byrne. “Every time he thought it was a game, people told him it was a business. And every time he treated it as a job, they told him he didn’t have any team spirit.”

Dele didn’t just retire abruptly after the 1999 season, he left the remaining five years and $36 million of his contract on the table. Dele’s obvious basketball talents were evident in flashes with the Pistons, but it was also evident that he just didn’t have a consistent passion for the game. I always remember Dele getting heavy criticism in the media and from fans during these years in Detroit, and although I was certainly frustrated with his play at times, I always found him to be thoughtful and funny whenever he spoke.

Previously

Allen Iverson: ‘I’m a smart dude that made mistakes’

It’s no secret I’m one of the only Pistons fans who still likes Allen Iverson after Joe Dumars’ little experiment a few years ago, and the transcript of this deposition by The Detroit News only cements that. Iverson was answering questions about a bar fight in Detroit that resulted in him being sued for $2.5 million and he was familiar with the attorney asking questions, Gregory Lattimer. Lattimer had previously won a successful judgement against Iverson. The transcript is full of highlights, including this one:

Iverson accused the lawyer of targeting him for a payday.

“I know you lurking. I know you lurking, man. I know you lurking,” Iverson said. “How the hell you live with (it)? You’ve been involved with three suits against me. You know what to do. You got a plan.”

Lattimer: “I just go to work every day.”

Iverson: “I know, and I’m the one that pay you, and you know it. But not this time jack. … I die before I let you get me this time.”

This exchange was also pretty classic:

Lattimer asked Iverson about his off-court problems and checkered reputation and invoked the name of Iverson’s coach at Georgetown University, John Thompson.

“John Thompson told me a long time ago that you’re one of the smartest kids that he (knows),” Lattimer said. “So I don’t think you’re dumb.”

Iverson: “I’m a smart dude that made mistakes.”

I don’t know if there has ever been a worse athlete-city pairing than Iverson with Detroit.

Chevette to Corvette No. 24: The 1970-71 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 45-37
  • Pythagorean record: 39-43
  • Points per game: 110.1 (13th of 17)
  • Points allowed per game: 110.9 (5th of 17)
  • Arena: Cobo Arena
  • Head coach: Butch van Breda Kolff

Leaders

  • Points per game: Dave Bing (27.0)
  • Rebounds per game: Otto Moore (8.5)
  • Assists per game: Dave Bing (5.0)

Top player

Dave Bing

The Pistons improved by 14 games from the previous season, and Bing’s most efficient scoring season was a large reason why. Bing’s 27.0 points per game average was just 0.1 off his career-best mark. His .467 field goal percentage was a career high and he got to the free throw line a career-best 9.4 times per game. Bing was selected to start the All-Star Game for the first time in his career and he finished third in the NBA MVP voting.

Key transaction

Drafted Bob Lanier with the first pick in the 1970 NBA Draft

Bing’s big season was obviously a big key for the Pistons as they looked to be on the fringe of building a contending team, but the biggest development was the fact that, finally, after trying an endless parade of promising young players and big name veterans, the Pistons landed a franchise big man in Lanier. He was solid as a rookie, finishing second on the team in rebounding and third in scoring and made the All-Rookie First Team.

Trend watch

Lanier’s rebounding

Lanier’s rookie season would be the last time he was a single digit rebounder for a while. He followed it up with seven straight seasons averaging double figures in rebounding.

Why this season ranks No. 24

The Pistons finished above .500 this season for the first time since 1956, and their second-year coach Butch van Breda Kolff was instrumental in the team finding some success. Greg Eno on the 1970-71 team:

The ’70-71 Pistons streaked out of the gate at 9-0. It’s still the best start in franchise history. You can look it up. They finished, though, at 45-37 — stumbling toward the end and failing to make the playoffs. But it was the first time, since the team moved to Detroit in 1957, that any Pistons club had managed to win more games than it lost. It’s also the first season I remember following pro sports, and I have vivid memories of a TV news piece about VBK. The camera isolated on him on the sidelines. He was like an aerobics instructor. He was up. He was down. He lied down on the floor, on his stomach, looking for God knows what. He yelled at the refs. He yelled at his players. He yelled at the refs some more. He kicked a basketball into the crowd in anger. And this was one game.

The summer after that season, the Pistons gave VBK a shiny new contract. He wasn’t impressed.

“Hell, you can always quit if you want to. Or they can fire you,” VBK said of the written word.

And just one season later, van Breda Kolff did just up and quit, despite having more success than any Pistons coach in that recent history.

Previously

Austin Daye using time in Russia to learn how to play in structured offense

In an interesting interview with Nima Zarrabi of HoopsHype, Austin Daye compares the NBA’s style of play to Europe’s:

Are there some guys over there that you could see contributing on NBA teams if given the chance?

AD: That’s tough. Put it this way, going one-on-one and things like that, the guys here aren’t that great at it, at creating a shot for themselves. But here in Russia, they use the team aspect so well. They have sets for everything, they even have sets for counters so you can’t even make reads. In the NBA, you can come off a pick-and-roll and the guy who has the ball has the option to make the read depending on the defense. Out here, they want you to run the play exactly how they want it. And the tempo of the game here is much slower. The NBA is the fastest, of course. It’s timing and control out here. The coaches want to have control of what’s going on. I think they feel like the players would make more mistakes than they would like if they go off on their own. The pace is just different, that’s something that you have to get used to.

So, Daye will be prepared to play for Rick Carlisle, circa 2002. Lawrence Frank next season? We’ll see.

Read the rest of the interview. There’s a lot of interesting tidbits in there.

Dave Checketts’ NBA lockout comments all but prove he’s done with Pistons

Last we heard from Dave Checketts, he was probably finished working for the Pistons. David Aldridge of NBA.com:

He had only a two-month consulting arrangement with the team, according to sources — a deal that supposedly expired on July 31.

That “supposedly” always left a slight doubt, but Checketts’ radio interview yesterday all but proved he no longer holds a role with the Pistons. As transcribed by RealGM:

"The rumblings coming out of both the players side and owners side are suggesting there is a deal," said Checketts.

"I think this is heading in a positive light. This certainly could and has already in this negotiation over time, crashed into a wall. I get a different feeling about this. I think both sides have come together and are trying very hard to iron out the details and come out unified."

Checketts expects positive news to emerge on Thursday evening.

"I’ve received a couple of phone calls from friends who are very close to the process that say ‘we have a deal and it’s a matter of having everything straightened out."

I’d be totally shocked if Checketts commented publicly on the lockout while still working for an NBA team. Executive-types like him would be last on my list of NBA employees most likely to risk a $1 million fine for talking about the lockout.

By the way, a deal too end the lockout appears far from imminent, according to Marc Stein of ESPN. So, Checketts isn’t a Piston, and he isn’t right.

Chevette to Corvette No. 25: The 1976-77 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 44-38
  • Pythagorean record: 38-44
  • Offensive Rating: 100.3 (9th of 22)
  • Defensive Rating: 101.3 (17th of 22)
  • Arena: Cobo Arena
  • Head coach: Herb Brown

Playoffs

  • Lost in first round to the Golden State Warriors, 2-1

Leaders

  • Points per game: Bob Lanier (25.3)
  • Rebounds per game: Bob Lanier (11.6)
  • Assists per game: Kevin Porter (7.3)
  • Steals per game: Chris Ford (2.2)
  • Blocks per game: Bob Lanier (2.0)

Top player

Bob Lanier

At 28, Lanier had one of the best seasons of his career, averaging 25.3 points, 11.6 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. He finished fourth in MVP voting behind a dominant Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a healthy Bill Walton and a volume-shooting Pete Maravich.

That this wasn’t clearly Lanier’s best season is a testament to how great he was.

Key transaction

Drafted Marvin Barnes from the Spirits of St. Louis with the No. 4 pick in the ABA dispersal draft

When the NBA merged with the ABA, two ABA teams didn’t join the NBA: the Kentucky Colonels and the Spirit of St. Louis. That meant their players were sent to the NBA in a dispersal draft.

Luckily, for the Pistons, they had the fifth pick. Artis Gilmore (Chicago Bulls), Maurice Lucas (Portland Trail Blazers) and Ron Boone (Kansas City Kings) went off the board first, leaving the Pistons to decide between Marvin Barnes and Moses Malone.

They chose Bad News, literally and figuratively.

Barnes had been nicknamed “Bad News” for good reason. Linda Witt of People:

Barnes’s problems with the law date back to 1972 when he was a Providence College All-America. Accused of smacking a 6’10", 240-pound teammate with a tire iron, Barnes insisted he was acting in self-defense but pleaded guilty at a 1974 trial "so that all this will end here." Ordered to pay his victim $10,000, he also drew three years probation. Then, last October 9, he was arrested in Detroit’s Metro Airport with a handgun in his carry-on luggage. (He said a ticket agent told him to take the gun to a security officer who would check it onto the plane.) A Providence judge sentenced Barnes to a year for violating probation and refused to allow him to substitute youth work, saying, "He is not a model to be emulated by the young and impressionable."

Barnes tends to agree. "I’m not your apple pie and ice cream guy like Doc [Philadelphia star Julius Erving]," he says. "I’m the baddest. I’m a for-real black." He lives with the hungers of the Providence ghetto where he grew up. When he first signed as a pro with the Spirits of St. Louis in 1974 for $2.1 million, he leased an apartment with 13 phones and bought a silver Rolls-Royce, a diamond initial ring for each hand and a ruby necklace spelling "News."

"Money is the root of all my evils," Barnes acknowledges. During his career, he has often missed team flights and once, chartering his own plane, he arrived at a Norfolk, Va. arena moments before the game—and then scored 43 points.

In Detroit, some of Barnes’ demons got the best of him, and his play suffered. He averaged just 9.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in 1976-76. Keep in mind, he 24 and 11 player in his final year with St. Louis. The Pistons eventually benched him, leading to perhaps the greatest quote in franchise history:

“News didn’t come here to sit on no wood.”

Unfortunately, Barnes’ self-destructive tendencies rubbed off on teammates who weren’t as well-equipped to handle the life Barnes led. Eli Zaret’s “Blue Collar Blueprint”:

“In the ABA, Marvin Barnes was a great, great player that had issues,” says Lanier. “They took a chance on him, but Marvin was still into street life and he affected Eric Money. Money (a Detroit product, who played college ball at Arizona) could shoot the in-between jumper and he might’ve been one of the best that ever played.

“A few years ago, Lanier continues, “I ran into Marvin in Houston and he said, ‘Bob, I used to get get high all the time and Eric started to get high with me.’ When somebody tells you that and this is 20-some odd years later, you want put your fist right through their head. And I adored Marvin Barnes – I liked his personality and he’s as charming a guy as you’d ever want to meet. But in terms of him trying to be part of the team that wins a championship … man…” Lanier trails off.

Trend watch

Reached playoff for fourth straight season

By 1977, the playoffs had become commonplace for the Pistons. They had made it each of the previous three years and slipped in again in 1977.

That streak followed a 10-year stretch where the Pistons reached the playoffs only once. Unfortunately, after 1977, they headed back in that direction, missing the postseason for six straight seasons.

Why this season ranks No. 25

This season was absolutely insane, probably the craziest in Pistons history. They won a lot of games, but were completely dysfunctional. And Marvin Barnes was only the start. John Papanek of Sports Illustrated:

Money replies to a suggestion from Brown during a crucial time-out while the Pistons are beating Cleveland at home by screaming, "Hey, if you don’t like what I’m doing don’t put me out there." Whereupon Lanier, the team captain, gets up and walks away. Brown calls after him pleadingly, "Bob. Bob. Come back, Bob. Please." At Washington, Ford is about to take a jumper when he hears Brown shout at him, "Chris, don’t shoot!" He runs by the bench and shouts at the coach, "Don’t you ever yell at me during play!" Kevin Porter is removed from a game, and, as usual, trots angrily past Brown heading for the last seat on the bench. Finding it occupied, Porter sits down in the middle. At a time-out the rest of the Pistons get up and huddle around Brown. Porter moves quickly to the vacated end seat and resumes his pout from there. In a game against San Antonio, Barnes shows up at halftime, full of painkillers after having four teeth extracted ("Dentist said, ‘Marvin, was you eating rocks?’ ") and is ordered into uniform by the team doctor and General Manager Oscar Feldman. Barnes does not want to dress. "Fans be yelling ‘News! News!’ " he says. "I don’t want to disappoint ‘em." Sides form quickly—the doctor and general manager vs. Lanier and Ford—and an argument rages that can be heard outside the closed locker-room door. If the Pistons were a TV mini-series, they would make Roots seem like Ding Dong School.

Herb Brown,  was no more composed than his players. John Papanek of Sports Illustrated:

His coaching style—he screams a lot, jumps off the bench and is notably free with criticism—was not what the Pistons were used to after the taciturn Scott. And they resented it, partly because they did not feel Brown had the credentials to be coaching them—most recently two years at C.W. Post College on Long Island and 30 games with the Israel Sabras in the late great European Professional Basketball League. Brown’s brash and scratchy Noo Yawk accent didn’t help either. "I just don’t like the way he sounds when he’s criticizing me," says Lanier. "What he’s saying may be right, but sometimes I just can’t listen."

Brown leaned on Lanier to sooth some of the team’s problems, and Lanier got tired of the added responsibility. The star center even threatened to leave the team, and so did Barnes (for completely different reasons). Linda Witt of People:

Even before he broke his hand in a game near the end of the regular season, Barnes, 24, was threatening to boycott the NBA playoffs in one of his periodic quarrels with Pistons management. And on May 16 he is scheduled to begin serving a year in a Rhode Island jail.

The way Barnes’ on-court game had fallen apart, he likely wouldn’t have made a difference in a first-round loss to the Warriors, anyway.

How the 1976-77 Pistons still played so well despite so much drama is a great mystery. One thing is clear, though: there will never be another team like them.

Previously