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Archive → December, 2011

Chevette to Corvette No. 4: The 2004-05 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 54-28
  • Pythagorean record: 53-29
  • Offensive Rating: 105.6 (17th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 101.2 (3rd of 30)
  • Arena: Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coach: Larry Brown

Playoffs

  • Beat the Philadelphia 76ers in first round, 4-1
  • Beat the Indiana Pacers in Eastern Conference Semifinals, 4-2
  • Beat the Miami Heat in Eastern Conference Finals, 4-3
  • Lost in NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs, 4-3

Leaders

Top player

Ben Wallace

The Goin’ to Work era Pistons branded themselves on not having a superstar. But by the 2004-05 season, I think Wallace was pretty close. On the court, he had another fine season, making his third straight All-Star appearance and winning his third straight Defensive Player of the Year Award. He also made the cover of the Sports Illustrated NBA Preview issue and made the SI cover once again in the playoffs. He got to explain his tattoo to SI:

The defensive wiz says his tat was inspired by his 10th-grade history teacher at Central High in Hayneville, Ala., Mr. Calhoun. “We were all doing reports, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Wallace says. “He told me I should check out Big Ben, the tower in England.” Wallace got the stylized lettering first, as a junior at Virginia Union. “I draw all my own tattoos, and I hadn’t come up with a sketch of the tower,” says Wallace, who had the building added in a 2 1/2-hour session a year later. Wallace had the clock set at 10 because in craps “Big Ben” is slang for a roll of 10, and that, says Wallace, “pays the best.”

He got to make fun of the Pistons’ teal uniforms:

What was your most embarrassing moment?

“[In 2000], my first year in Detroit, when we had to wear those teal uniforms and play in front of crowds of about 1,000.”

In a SI player poll, 18 percent of NBA players called Wallace the best defensive player in the game. In another player poll, Wallace was one of only nine players to receive a vote (the others were Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James and Jason Kidd) when NBA players were asked who they would most like to play with on the same team.

Wallace was never a traditional superstar, but by 2005, he had cemented himself as one of the game’s elite franchise players.

Key transaction

Signed Antonio McDyess as a free agent

It’s hard to find any transaction Joe Dumars has made and not be inundated by supporters who want to extoll the genius virtues of said move and detractors who have countless arguments as to what it was lucky/overrated/whatever. I would venture a guess, though, that Dumars’ signing of McDyess might be the most popular move among fans he’s ever made.

After winning the title in 2004, Dumars had to trade scoring sixth man Corliss Williamson to have enough money to re-sign Rasheed Wallace, attempt to re-sign Mehmet Okur and have money for raises that would be due to Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace and Rip Hamilton in coming seasons. The team couldn’t match Utah’s offer to Okur, both in terms of money and an opportunity to start, so losing him and Williamson from the bench would’ve been a huge blow if not for McDyess signing in Detroit to pursue a championship. Here is what McDyess told SI’s Ian Thomsen after signing:

“I was at the lowest point of my life. Basketball is what I live for, and when I kept getting injured, I felt like it was over. But now I’m here, I’m happy and I don’t feel like I have a limit to what I can do.”

McDyess later showed even more loyalty when he agreed to re-sign with the Pistons after they included him in the Chauncey Billups-Allen Iverson trade. McDyess undoubtedly would’ve had his pick of contending teams to sign with, but he came back to a going nowhere Pistons team to finish the season before signing with the Spurs in the offseason. McDyess recently retired, and despite not getting that ring, he seemed like a great teammate and it was truly remarkable watching him reinvent himself in Detroit after suffering devastating knee injuries that sapped him of his unreal athleticism.

Trend watch

Two and out

After the season, Larry Brown became the second straight Pistons coach to win 50 or more games in back to back seasons. He also became the second straight coach to get fired. Rick Carlisle was let go to pursue Brown, who Dumars believed was the coach needed to turn the Pistons from a good team into a title team. That hunch ended up being a good one.

Brown and the Pistons parted ways under more complicated circumstances, though. Brown was getting his trademark itch — he had reportedly talked to Cleveland about a position in the front office and had pined about coaching his hometown Knicks. This did not please Bill Davidson, how paid Brown a lot of money and handed him a championship roster.

The move ended up being not so great for both parties. Brown’s replacement, Flip Saunders, never successfully got the team to play with the postseason discipline and thoughness they showed under Brown. Brown had two unsuccessful coaching stints, first with the Knicks and then with Charlotte, before being reduced to begging for any job that opens up.

Why this season ranks No. 4

The Pistons finished 2004-05 with an identical record as the title-winning team the previous season and actually finished as the East’s top team in the standings as opposed to the second best team the previous regular season, but things always felt just a bit off in 2004-05. The team was still great, don’t get me wrong. But Brown’s health problems caused him to miss some games. In games when he was on the sidelines, he often had to sit in some Mr. Burns-style chair because of his ailing hip.

The team had to adjust to a few new faces, Rasheed Wallace didn’t start the season in the greatest physical condition and the Pistons were just a bit sluggish early. Then, in November, a Ben Wallace-Ron Artest fight led to an idiot fan interjecting himself into the game and touched off one of the ugliest scenes in modern sports (but if you tell me you didn’t laugh a little when Jermaine O’Neal punched Turtle from Entourage, I won’t believe you).

The brawl led to the dismantling of the Pistons’ biggest rival at the time as the Pacers were ruined by suspensions. Miami had thrown together the trial version of its mercenary squad of stars trying to buy a championship, and although the Pistons beat the Heat in seven games in the ECF, it was pretty clear that the O’Neal-Wade combo would break through at some point. And then, in game five of the NBA Finals, Robert Horry capped one of the most ridiculous performances in NBA Finals history with a 3-pointer that resulted on a rare mental lapse on defense by the Pistons, best summed up by Hubie Brown saying ‘Oh No!’ right as Horry was catching the ball to release a game-winning open three.

The season was great, and in some ways, as rewarding as the championship season simply because the Pistons had to go through many obstacles (some self-created) to even get in position to win another title. But it is hard not to look back on the season as a missed opportunity.

Previously

DaJuan Summers makes New Orleans roster, Terrico White doesn’t

Dan wrote a couple weeks ago that recent Pistons second round picks DaJuan Summers and Terrico White were in Hornets camp. Summers made the cut while White did not.

Good for Summers, who was by all reports a professional, good guy in an often toxic locker room last season. He played briefly overseas, but didn’t have a good experience in Italy. He didn’t play in the Hornets’ first game, but might get a shot some time this season as that team finds its post-Chris Paul identity.

White, on the other hand, was among those cut in Hornets camp. His athletic skills have never been a question, but White is trapped in a point guard’s body and couldn’t even be described as a true point guard in college. He could still develop some needed refinement overseas or in the D-League. If he was going to make a NBA roster, the Hornets would’ve been among his best bets. Currently, there point guard options behind Jarrett Jack are less than stellar post-Paul.

Ben Wallace continues to mentor young players

Since returning to the Pistons, Ben Wallace has been a positive influence on young players with the team. The latest example, via Keith Langlois at Pistons.com, is his work with Vernon Macklin:

Young big guys who ace the prerequisites – a thirst for learning and an eagerness to embrace hard work – get to attend the Ben Wallace Graduate School of Hard Knocks. Macklin sits in the front row.

“I can really say, out of everybody, he really talks to me a lot and he definitely has my back,” Macklin said. “I said to him one day, ‘I want to be like you, Big Dog.’ He said, ‘No, be like I used to be.’ This guy is really serious about this and he still loves the game, no matter how long he’s been in the league. If he sees a young guy working hard, he definitely pulls for you 110 percent.”

If the frontcourt continues to struggle as much as it did in the first game the season, Macklin will definitely get some minutes. Although it’s a longshot based on his draft position that he’ll ever develop into a rotation player, Wallace, an undersized, offensively challenged, undrafted big man from a small college is about the perfect player for Macklin to try and model his work ethic and passion for the game after.

How to get Ben Gordon going

Ben Gordon’s woes have been thoroughly discussed on PistonPowered. He was signed from Chicago in hopes of getting a 20-point-per-game player to a reasonable price. Critics pointed out that he only has one dimension ( scoring), while supporters saw his explosive and effective offense, which would eventually make up for his weaknesses (defense and passing).

Gordon’s stat line was disappointing again last night. He scored 14 points in 33 minutes on 4-of-14 shooting. After two years of disappointing play, fans expected a great change and a great game.

Although his statistics don’t indicate it, I thought Gordon took great shots within the rhythm of the offense, and more importantly, within his game. I think Lawrence Frank can get him back to his old self, and let’s not forget every scorer has an off night every once in a while. Just look at the quality of the shots, and then decide whether he had a bad game or made poor choices.

Gordon made good choices, but the shots simply didn’t fall. I found an example to show how Frank can maximize Gordon’s value in the second quarter with about 3:30 left.

Gordon0

The Pistons run a set I call “Horns”. Actually, I’m not the only one who does so. NBA 2K players will be accustomed to the name. I know it from my time playing basketball, too.

Ben Wallace (who had a terrific game) sets a screen at the right side of the elbow. Jonas Jerebko and Tayshaun Prince set a double screen at the left side of the elbow. Gordon starts running from the free-throw line using the double-screen to get rid of his defender. Darren Collison reads the situation correctly and cheats under the double screen.

Gordon2

Down under the basket Gordon now has two options. Either he uses Wallace’s screen or he goes back to Jerebko’s screen. This forces his defender to gamble on where he will go in order to stay with him. Collison guesses that Gordon will use Wallace’s screen, maybe because Big Ben is an elite screener. Gordon makes a great read and changes the direction quickly, going back to Jerebko, getting rid of his defender. He gets a wide open midrange-jumper which he drains.

Gordon3

This wasn’t the only quality look Gordon got last night, but one of the few he actually hit. He should make more of them as the season progresses.

He’s always been an elite jump-shooter, and I just cannot believe that he’ll consistently miss open jumpers. If the Pistons execute their offense like this more often, Gordon will score 16 to 18 points per game this year, and you can quote me on that one.

Pistons loss to Pacers in opener leaves hopeless feeling

Hope, as it does annually, sprung for the Pistons. Unfortunately, it had a shelf life of about an hour.

Hope has expired.

None of those outcomes are off the table after only one game, but hope is.

After a 91-79 loss to the Pacers tonight, the Pistons are a longshot to make the playoffs. That shouldn’t be a surprise after the Pistons returned nearly the same roster from a 30-win team, but for anyone who was holding out at least some hope of a postseason run, tonight was a crushing blow.

More than any year since the lockout-shortened 1999 season, every game counts. A loss matters. A loss to team whose playoff spot the Pistons would like to steal matters more.

Obviously, the Pistons uninspiring performance matters much more than a single loss. The Pistons didn’t even look like a playoff team, or even close. Not even the most eternal optimist could claim the Pistons belong on the Pacers’ level, let alone the Eastern Conference’s upper tier.

Even at 66 games, it’s a long season. I caution against overreacting to just one game, and it’s possible everything bulleted above turns in the Pistons’ favor.  The Pistons could reasonably improve – and boy, they better. With 65 games left, a lot is still possible.

A dose of pragmatism is necessary.

Optimism is not.

Jonas Jerebko excels in return

Jonas Jerebko (7-of-11 for 17 points with five rebounds, an assist a steal and a block) was the Pistons’ best player tonight. I’ll let you decide whether that’s a positive or negative for the team.

For Jerebko, it’s fantastic.

He ran the floor with energy, shot well from outside and showed excellent activity defensively. It was great having him back, and he looks much more polished than he did two years ago.

Unfortunately, there were a couple kinks he didn’t show during his rookie season:

1. David West (11 points on 3-of-12 shooting and seven offensive rebounds) and Tyler Hansbrough (15 points on 6-of-14 shooting and five offensive rebounds) gave Jerebko a tough time in the paint. Jerebko’s active defense helped, but man-on-man, he was pretty up and down.

2. Jerebko showed a nice stroke on a couple nice long twos, but he must do a better job of recognizing where the 3-point line is.  For 50 percent more points, it would have been worth the slightly longer attempt.

Hopefully, that’s rust and nothing more.

Brandon Knight a work in progress

Brandon Knight was more down than up in his debut. He missed all three of his 2-point shots, turned the ball over four times and had no assists in 16 minutes. Offensively and defensively, he looked a bit lost. Perhaps, not too lost to see regular minutes – but probably too lost to run the offense for significant stretches.

On the plus side, he made 3-of-6 3-pointers to take advantage of what might be his biggest strength right now.

Rodney Stuckey steps up defensively, struggles offensively

Rodney Stuckey played strong defense, which he does fairly often. More than merely using his size and foot speed to stay between his man and the basket, his M.O., Stuckey harassed the Pacers effectively. His quick hands got a couple steals, and he deflected more balls.

His offense – despite a strong final line of 17 points and six assists – wasn’t as impressive. Outside of the game’s final 15 minutes – which the Pistons began down 24 and never threatened in – Stuckey scored four points on 1-of-6 shooting, attempted just two free throws, assisted four baskets and turned the ball over twice in 24 minutes. On the night, he missed four layups, including two the Pacers blocked.

I’m not faulting Stuckey for padding his stats, and that late play might be a real sign of progress for the late arrival to training camp. But I’d like to see better play with in a game still contested before I lavish praise.

Greg Monroe’s non-game

Greg Monroe’s season will start Wednesday against Cleveland, as far as I’m concern. Five fouls held Monroe to 21:39 – the least he’s played in his last 19 games. In fact, since New Year’s, Monroe played fewer minutes just twice.

He scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds tonight, but he barely impacted the game. It was hardly the performance I expected from Monroe, who’s coming off a strong rookie year looking to evolve into a more rounded player.

If foul trouble remains a concern, we’ll address it, but a few of Monroe’s fouls tonight seemed pretty touchy. I’d guess this was just a fluke.

Ben Wallace can still defend

Ben Wallace (seven rebounds and three blocks in 18 minutes) provided a spark off the bench. He took a few minutes to warm up, but once he did, the Pistons’ defense picked up.

I’m not sure Wallace, 37, can handle an expanded load or back-to-backs, let alone back-to-back-to-backs. But for one night, it was nice to see he can still play.

Ben Gordon still can’t score

Ben Gordon (4-of-14, including 1-of-4 on 3-pointers, for 14 points with five turnovers) looked off. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, because he’s been off the last two years.

He’ll have good games, when he looks like the Bulls’ Ben Gordon, and everyone will get excited. But I fear games like this will be more common.

Transition perimeter defense

Lawrence Frank will have his hands full fixing the Pistons defense, but closing on the perimeter would be a great place to start. The Pacers shot 7-of-15 on 3-pointers, many of them coming on fastbreaks or semi-fastbreaks. Often, every Piston racing up the court went to the lane rather than identifying trailers.

Another approach to solving that issue would be preventing fastbreaks. The Pistons’ turnover rate (17.6) would’ve ranked last in the league last season. Hopefully, that’s a product of the lockout, but the Pacers didn’t have nearly the same trouble taking care of the ball.

Small play from small forwards

Tayshaun Prince (six points, three rebounds, two assists and a block) played a largely forgettable 34 minutes. His backup, Austin Daye (no points and a misleadingly high seven defensive rebounds*) didn’t do much, either. And third-string Damien Wilkins didn’t play.

*One came off a missed free throw. One came after a blocked shot. Three came when power forwards took jumpers and weren’t in the lane to crash the offensive glass. One came as the third quarter expired.

The Pistons need more production from that position.

New Pistons open season against Pacers

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons at Indiana Pacers
  • Date: Dec. 26,  2011
  • Time: 7 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Detroit Plus, NBA League Pass

Records

  • Pistons: 0-0
  • Pacers: 0-0

Probable starters

Pistons:

Pacers:

  • Darren Collison
  • Paul George
  • Danny Granger
  • David West
  • Roy Hibbert

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Pistons +8

Over/under: 194

Score: Pacers win, 101-93

Three things to watch

1. New era

The Pistons have a new owner and a new coach, and in time, both should improve the franchise. How much they can do this season remains to be seen, especially because the roster is mostly the same as last year.

But winning their season opener could go a long way after an 0-5 start sunk the Pistons last year.

2. New defense

The Pistons’ defensive rating has steadily dropped the last few years – 4th to 16th to 26th to 28th in the NBA – but Lawrence Frank has emphasized defense and has the tactical skills to actually improve that end.

That starts at power forward, where the Pacers have David West (who has averaged 27 points on 57 percent shooting and nine rebounds per game against Detroit the last three years) and Tyler Hansbrough (whom Tim Donahue of 8 Points, 9 Seconds called Pacers’ best player right now).

Last year, the best power forwards, by PER, were:

1. Kevin Love (24.4)

2. Dirk Nowitzki (23.5)

3. Pau Gasol (23.3)

4. Zach Randolph (22.7)

5. Tim Duncan (21.9)

6. Blake Griffin (21.9)

7. LaMarcus Aldridge (21.6)

8. Whoever is playing the Pistons (21.0)

9. Kevin Garnett (20.7)

10. David West (20.5)

Considering the Pistons’ opponents include backups, that’s embarrassing. A strong showing tonight against West and Hansbrough would go a long way in showing the Pistons’ defensive woes are behind htem.

3. New point guard

Rodney Stuckey will start, according to Keith Langlois of Pistons.com, but all eyes will be on Brandon Knight. Stuckey missed part of camp, and at his size, Will Bynum isn’t suited to start.

Knight has incredible upside, and the sooner he cracks the starting lineup, the better – especially because Stuckey can shift to shooting guard.

Pistons stats pick ‘em contest

Choose the higher in the comments before tonight’s game, and we’ll update standings throughout the year.

Remember, just 66 games on the slate:

1. Charlie Villanueva ppg OR total times Pistons suffer defeat by 15 or more?

Both will be in double digits, and both should be close. Might want to eye the schedule for this one.

2. Ben Gordon total 3-pointers made OR Austin Daye total free throw attempts?

Gordon made 173 in 08/09 in 82 games (over 36 mpg). In 09/10 he made just 75 in 62 games (nearly 28 mpg).

3. Rodney Stuckey 3pt% OR Will Bynum 3pt%?

We can only hope these stay N/A for as long as possible.

4. Jason Maxiell rpg OR Rodney Stuckey ast/gm?

Does Maxiell even get enough minutes for this to be close? Likely depends on Big Ben’s durability/effectiveness.

5. Jonas Jerebko total 3-pointers made OR Tayshaun Prince total blocked shots?

Prince blocked 41 shots while sleepwalking through last season. He blocked 71 in 04/05 with, shall we say, a slightly different cast of characters.

6. Home wins OR team’s leading scorer?

It’s going to be close, and thus depressing.

7. Ben Gordon 20+ point games OR Brandon Knight 6+ assist games?

Gordon had just nine 20+ point games last season. That number WILL rise.

8. Austin Daye mpg OR team’s regular season win total?

With Prince re-signing, there’s definitely a clamp on Daye’s minutes. However, Daye is capable of playing 3 different positions. Although, if he’s inconsistent with his shot and ball control there’s not much of a chance his mpg exceeds the mid-20’s.

9. Tayshaun Prince ppg OR Greg Monroe total 18 & 10 games?

Prince will average between 13 and 15 ppg. I might be babying Greg with the 18 instead of 20. Shoot, maybe the 10 as well?

10. Brandon Knight ppg OR Rodney Stuckey fga/gm?

Should bode well for the team if this race is within 1.0-2.0. But it probably won’t be. Rodney in 09/10 had 15.2 fga/gm, last season just 11.8. Expect it back near 15 this season.

11. Ben Gordon mpg OR Jonas Jerebko total double-doubles?

Jonas had 7 double-doubles during his rookie campaign, but nearly sniffed out about 15-20 more. If Gordon is finishing games this matchup will be tight.

12. Charlie Villanueva total blocked shots OR Vernon Macklin total DNP’s?

There’s a joke to be had in this one somewhere.

13. Austin Daye 3pt% OR total team losses?

Daye shot 40.1% from downtown last season.

14. Ben Gordon TO/gm OR Greg Monroe ast/gm?

Gordon will likely be more involved, so his TO’s will increase (1.7 last season).  Same thing applies for Monroe in the assists department (1.3 last season).

15. Damien Wilkins total 3pt attempts OR Ben Wallace total made free throws?

Ben played in 54 games last year at nearly 23 mpg and made 19 out of 57 free throws. We can probably expect very similar numbers this season.

Brandon Knight probably isn’t one of the best shooting point guards – yet?

When the Pistons drafted Brandon Knight, Joe Dumars didn’t only praise his new point guard’s outside shooting, he called it elite.

“Chauncey can stand out there and shoot with the best of them, and this kid, that’s what he does,”Dumars said. “He can really, really shoot the ball. … He’s going to be one of those point guards that when you name the best shooting point guards, he’s going to be one of those guys.”

So, I asked the TrueHoop Network to name “the best shooting point guards,” and these nine names came up:

  • Chauncey Billups
  • Steve Nash
  • Chris Paul
  • Jameer Nelson
  • Deron Williams
  • Luke Ridnour
  • Stephen Curry
  • Jason Kidd,
  • Aaron Brooks

How do Knight’s 3-point numbers at Kentucky last year – 87-of-231 (37.7 percent) – compare with what those nine players did last season?

Knight is a bit below the median, but it’s not completely fair to compare him to top NBA veterans yet. How did Knight’s 3-point shooting at Kentucky compare to those players’ rookie-year percentages?

Of course, Knight’s percentage will likely drop as he adjusts to the NBA’s extended 3-point line – although maybe not as much it would’ve in past years, considering the NCAA moved back its 3-point line.

I’d set 35 percent as a fair bar for Knight this season. That would still rank him seventh relative to what those other players did last year and fourth relative to what they did as rookies.

When I name the best shooting point guards at the end of the season, I’d be surprised if I include Knight – yet.

Arnie Kander’s post-workout smoothies include a low-calorie for Jason Maxiell

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

So just like in past years, when workouts conclude at the practice facility, players grab a cup filled with a green substance that looks like an unappetizing blend of seaweed and liquid. It’s actually a smoothie full of the essentials highly trained athletes need to compete.

Assistant coach Charles Klask, who was about to down a cup on Friday, said it actually isn’t bad.

Kander gets the concoction to his players within 20 minutes of the conclusion of practice to help them recover from Frank’s long workouts. The smoothies are designed for specific players. Thin rookie Brandon Knight gets a smoothie full of fats and proteins; husky Jason Maxiell gets one with about 50 fewer calories.

It’s always awesome to learn more about Arnie Kander’s methods, and Ellis’ article explains a bit more how Kander plans to handle the shortened season.

Chevette to Corvette No. 5: The 1987-88 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 54-28
  • Pythagorean record: 54-28
  • Offensive Rating: 110.5 (6th of 23)
  • Defensive Rating: 105.3 (2nd of 23)
  • Arena: Pontiac Silverdome
  • Head coach: Chuck Daly

Playoffs

  • Beat the Washington Bullets in first round, 3-2
  • Beat the Chicago Bulls in Eastern Conference Semifinals, 4-1
  • Beat the Boston Celtics in Eastern Conference Finals, 4-2
  • Lost in NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, 4-3

Leaders

  • Points per game: Adrian Dantley (20.0)
  • Rebounds per game: Bill Laimbeer (10.1)
  • Assists per game: Isiah Thomas (8.4)
  • Steals per game: Isiah Thomas (1.7)
  • Blocks per game: John Salley (1.7)

Top player

Isiah Thomas

ESPN’s John Hollinger ranked Thomas’ performance in Game 6 of the Finals as the seventh-best Finals performance ever:

This was the best Finals game ever by a player whose team lost. Nobody who saw this game will ever forget Thomas’ sheer determination in rattling off 25 of his 43 points in the third quarter despite spraining his ankle midway through the quarter when he landed on Michael Cooper’s foot. Thomas had just scored 14 straight points, but limped to the sideline.

Not for long, however. With the Pistons one win away from a first-ever championship, he re-entered the game after half a minute and bravely hopped along … and kept scoring.

I can’t embed the video, but watch highlights of the quarter. It’s incredible.

Key transaction

Traded Ron Moore and a second-round pick to the Phoenix Suns for James Edwards

Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

Still fully capable of logging starter’s minutes, content to come off the bench and possessed of both an amiable personality that was a fit in their locker room and a low-post scoring presence that suited their needs, Edwards not only was ideally suited for the Pistons but came at preposterously little cost.

All it took for McCloskey to get the Suns to bite on his request for Edwards was a little-used, little-known 7-foot project, Ron Moore, and a 1991 No. 2 pick. Acquired by McCloskey the previous June from the Knicks, who’d drafted him, for Sidney Green, Moore wouldn’t play in the NBA after that rookie season and wound up with nearly as many personal fouls (34) as career points (38).

“That, to me, was a no-brainer,” McCloskey says today of the Edwards trade. “When I was an assistant coach with the Lakers, we drafted (Edwards) and Kareem was hurt in the early part of the season. You could see, boy, he could score. And he had a great personality – terrific personality, just the nicest guy. So I grabbed him.”

Edwards had a fairly limited role his first half season with Detroit, serving as fourth big man behind Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn and John Salley (and sometimes Dennis Rodman, who was playing more small forward then). After playing off the bench again in 1988-89, Edwards became a starter the following two years. In either role, he was a key piece of the Bad Boys.

Thankfully, this was the only trade the Pistons made with the Suns at that time. Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated:

McCloskey also considered giving Phoenix two of his better young players, guard Joe Dumars and forward-center John Salley, for either point guard Jay Humphries or point guard Jeff Hornacek and standout forward Larry Nance.

Trend watch

First NBA Finals in 31 years

For the first time in 31 years – and first time in Detroit – the Pistons made the NBA Finals. After reaching the Eastern Conference Finals the year before and the second round two years before that, the Pistons’ Finals berth was the next step on a clear upward progression.

Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated:

Reserve center Chuck Nevitt, who was a member of the 1984-85 Lakers, was the only Detroit player who had ever been in a championship series, yet none of the Pistons seemed nervous. Before the game, starting guards Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars admitted to each other that neither felt as if he were about to play anything except a regular-season game. "I said to Isiah, ‘I wonder how you’re supposed to feel,’ " said Dumars later. "Maybe it was good that we didn’t know."

Why this season ranks No. 5

Before the season, Sports Illustrated predicted the Pistons would lose in the Finals to the Lakers, which ultimately happened. The Pistons were excellent and getting better, and everyone knew it.

They also had fully developed their distinct style by this point. Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated:

But Detroit’s physical game is effective only if it also works on the minds of its opponents—there’s a method to the Pistons’ badness—and that’s exactly what happened in the early moments of Game 3 on Saturday when the direction of the weekend was established.

Detroit center Bill Laimbeer was whistled for an offensive foul when he set a hard, Piston-style pick on Jordan. But Jordan thought that Laimbeer continued with the pick after the whistle, so he gave Laimbeer an elbow in the gut as they headed upcourt. Laimbeer shoved Jordan and, lo and behold, Jordan came back swinging, landing two blows before he was separated from Laimbeer. Jordan, who was charged with a technical, later said that it was the first time he ever threw a punch on a basketball court.

Less than a minute later Detroit power forward Rick Mahorn, a fellow who would win an NBA popularity contest only if he were running against Laimbeer, took a swing at Chicago forward Charles Oakley as they wrestled for a rebound. Mahorn drew the T this time. The early fireworks, minor though they were by Piston standards, threw the Bulls off their game. "It got me out of sync," is the way Jordan put it.

After beating the Washington Bullets and Chicago Bulls, the Pistons moved to the conference finals to face the Boston Celtics, an old rival that had beaten the Pistons in all three playoff series between the teams. Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

When their Eastern Conference finals series opened on May 25 at the Garden, the Pistons’ losing streak there sat at 21 games. Their last win had come on Dec. 19, 1982. Scotty Robertson was their coach. Only Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and Vinnie Johnson remained from the team that would finally snap the losing streak.

It happened fast – in Game 1 of the conference finals. Chuck Daly had been 0-20 as Pistons coach at the Garden before that moment. Isiah was brilliant that night, scoring 35 and passing for 12 assists.

The Pistons won the series in six games and took a 3-2 NBA Finals lead over the favored Lakers. Holding a one-point lead in the closing seconds of Game 6 – see the “Top player” section above for how they got it – the Pistons appeared poised to win their first title a year ahead of schedule.

But Bill Laimbeer was whistled for what has become known as a “phantom foul.” Bill Davidson:

Well, the worst loss was out in L.A. (in 1988) when I was in the room with David Stern getting ready to accept the trophy, and they call a foul on Bill Laimbeer against Kareem. Bill pulled down a clean rebound, and Hugh Evans calls a foul. You know that he was set up, and you know … I don’t say he had a bet on the game, but that was … that was unconscionable! And that cost us a championship, which we should have had. Which we had.

Abdul-Jabbar made both free throws, and the Lakers won Game 7. Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated:

As for the Pistons, their defeat seemed more a coronation than a wake. With a few more favorable calls, a few more wise decisions in the clutch and a few more minutes of playing time from Isiah Thomas (whose severely sprained right ankle limited him to 28 minutes in Game 7), the Pistons could have won their first NBA title ever. At the very least, Detroit is next season’s early favorite in the clubhouse.

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