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Category → Chevette to Corvette

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

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

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

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

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

Chevette to Corvette No. 26: The 1952-53 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 36-33
  • Pythagorean record: 34-35
  • Points scored per game: 81.0 (7th of 10)
  • Points allowed per game: 81.1 (5th of 10)
  • Arena: War Memorial Coliseum
  • Head coach: Paul Birch

Leaders

  • Points per game: Larry Foust (14.3)
  • Rebounds per game: Larry Foust (11.9)
  • Assists per game: Fred Schaus (3.6)

Playoffs

  • Lost NBA Western Division Finals (3-2) against Minneapolis Lakers
  • Won NBA Western Division Semifinals (2-1) against Rochester Royals

Top player

Larry Foust

Foust was the organization’s first franchise player, but he got a little bit of help in the 1952-53 season. His scoring and rebounding numbers dipped some, but he also had four teammates average double figures in scoring, compared to just two teammates the previous season. Foust was able to play five fewer minutes per game, which paid off as the season went on. He was an All-Star for the third time and finished fifth in the league in rebounding.

Key transaction(s)

Drafted Monk Meineke and Dick Groat

Adding two impact rookies to the lineup in the same season gave Fort Wayne’s attack more balance. Groat finished second in the team in scoring (11.9 points per game) and Meineke was third on the team in scoring (10.7 points per game) and second in rebounding (6.9 per game). Unfortunately, neither player replicated that season. Meineke never approached double-digit scoring again in four more NBA seasons and Groat gave up on basketball after one season because he also excelled at another sport:

A two-time All-America selection in both baseball and basketball, Groat played professional basketball for the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons while finishing his final semester at Duke. He was under contract with his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates at the time as well.

Groat left the Pistons after the season to serve in the military, then after his service ended, he returned only to baseball, even though basketball was reportedly the sport he loved most.

Trend watch

Playoff success

The Pistons had their best playoff showing in their brief history this season, advancing to the Western Division Finals where they stretched the series against the Lakers to five games (it was a five game series, not seven, in those days) before losing. It continued an upward trend, as the team got incrementally better each of the previous three seasons. The Pistons were swept in the Western Division Finals the previous season.

Why this season ranks No. 26

Unlike a few other young Pistons teams that appeared on the upswing only to fall off, the Pistons built on this 1952-53 the following season. Although they lost a good player in Groat, the loss of a young talent would be mitigated by the next season’s arrival of George Yardley.

Previously

Chevette to Corvette No. 27: The 1972-73 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 40-42
  • Pythagorean record: 42-40
  • Points scored per game: 110.3 (6th of 17)
  • Points allowed per game: 110.0 (10th of 17)
  • Arena: Cobo Arena
  • Head coach: Earl Lloyd (2-5), Ray Scott (38-37)

Leaders

  • Points per game: Bob Lanier (23.8)
  • Rebounds per game: Bob Lanier (14.9)
  • Assists per game: Dave Bing (7.8)

Top player

Bob Lanier

In his first two seasons, Bob Lanier made the All-Rookie Team and then the All-Star team. His scoring went down just a bit from his second year to his third year in 1972-73, but that’s also when Lanier felt his game began to reach new heights. NBA.com:

With Lanier dominating the middle, the Pistons finally began to click in 1972-73. “It wasn’t until I was into my third year that I started playing the kind of basketball I felt I was capable of playing and had the kind of mobility I wanted,” he said in the Detroit Free Press.

Lanier would continue to be one of the game’s great centers, but his 14.9 rebounds per game in 1972-73 would be the best mark of his career in that category.

Key transaction

Traded Jimmy Walker to Houston for Stu Lantz

As tempted as I am to pick the team’s brief signing of Flint legend Justus Thigpen here, Mr. Thigpen just didn’t have much of a NBA impact. Instead, we’ll go with a trade that shook up a young group that at one time looked like it would finally turn the Pistons into a contender. Walker proved to be a capable scorer and made a couple All-Star games during his Detroit career, but after following up a 45-win season in 1970-71 with a 1971-72 season that saw the team fail to live up to expectations, Walker was one of the players who was shipped out. The Star News:

Pistons coach Early Lloyd grew disenchanted with Walker’s erratic performance last season and talked openly about wanting to trade the 6-foot-3 guard.

Of course, Lloyd himself wouldn’t survive the season either. He lasted only seven games before being replaced by Ray Scott.

Trend watch

That elusive .500 mark

The Pistons had finished above .500 just once in the past 16 seasons heading into the 1972-73 season. The came close to breaking even after Scott took over as coach, but would have to wait one more season before they finally got above .500 for the second time in that stretch.

Why this season ranks No. 27

Lanier had established himself as a dominate force, Dave Bing was still a reliable player and, according to Lanier, it appeared the team finally had a coach the players believed in after Scott took 0ver:

He credited part of the Pistons’ steady improvement to new coach Ray Scott. “He took over and we started playing collectively as a unit,” Lanier said in the Free Press. “We had a good feeling, and we related well with one another.”

The Pistons were never the most harmonious bunch during the 1960s and 1970s, so any coach that could help maintain any amount of positive feelings in the locker room had to be viewed as an asset. The team went 38-37 under Scott and would take a big step forward the following season.

Previously

Chevette to Corvette No. 28: The 1953-54 Fort Wayne Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 40-32
  • Pythagorean record: 41-31
  • Points scored per game: 77.7 (8th of 9)
  • Points allowed per game: 76.1 (2nd of 9)
  • Arena: War Memorial Coliseum
  • Head coach: Paul Birch

Playoffs

  • Lost in round robin to the Minneapolis Lakers and Rochester Royals, 4-0

Leaders

  • Points per game: Larry Foust (15.1)
  • Rebounds per game: Larry Foust (13.4)
  • Assists per game: Andy Phillip (6.3)

Top player

Larry Foust

Rodger Nelson’s “The Zollner Piston Story”:

The Pistons, in a season-closing promotion, had the fans vote on an all-time Piston team. There were more than 19,000 votes cast, selecting Bobby McDermott, Curly Armstrong, Mel Hutchins, Larry Foust and Andy Phillip.

McDermott and Armstrong were already off the team. The aging Andy Phillip averaged double figures for the last time, and Hutchins’ numbers fell short of Foust’s.

Not only was Foust an all-time great for the franchise, he was its best player in 1953-54.

Key transaction

Signed George Yardley

The Pistons drafted George Yardley in 1950, but they didn’t sign him until 1953. Even then, it was a struggle. Blake Sebring of The News-Sentinel:

Yardley finally signed with the Pistons in 1953. Because he hated training camp, Yardley ignored the Pistons’ offer of $6,000, playing beach volleyball in California and becoming the first rookie to hold out, until it reached $9,500. Yardley also had an engineering degree and figured he could make more money in that field.

Rodger Nelson’s “The Zollner Piston Story”:

He later said that dallying while the price went up may not have been as calculated as it seemed. In fact, he wanted to play at Fort Wayne, but he hated training camp. He spent a little extra time in California, playing volleyball on the beach, and by the time he was ready to head east he was earning some extra money.

Trend watch

Closest call

Since joining the NBA (called the BAA that first year), the Pistons finished 23, 11, 12, 12 and 11.5 games out of first place – held either by the Minneapolis Lakers or Rochester Royals.

But Fort Wayne finished just six games behind the Western Division-champion Lakers and two games behind second-place Rochester in 1953-54.

The Pistons matched a franchise-record with 40 NBA wins, albeit with four more games than 1949-50, when the previously set the mark. But more importantly, they appeared to be closing the gap with the NBA’s top teams.

Why this season ranks No. 28

By signing George Yardley, the rising Pistons – who had gone from 29 to 36 wins the previous two years – appeared ready to break through. Rodger Nelson’s “The Zollner Piston Story”:

The high hopes escalated when Fred Zollner bought the contract of Mel Hutchins from the financially strapped Milwaukee Hawks in August. It was believed to be the biggest player purchase in pro history to that time. He was later described by George Yardley as "the best defen- sive player in the league." Ben Kerner needed the cash, so he asked Fred Zollner which players he wanted. Fred said he wanted Mel Hutchins. "You can’t have him," Kerner replied. Fred shrugged. Hutchins was the only one he wanted. The deal went through, for an amount that is still not known. Kerner had promised Hutchins part of the price, but he did not receive it. Mel later said, "What they needed was someone to homogenize the team — rebound, give the ball up, play tough defence, someone to do that. That’s what Fred got me for." After he arrived in Fort Wayne, Fred and Carl Bennett had a meeting with Hutchins to explain his new place on the team. "Pull the team together and don’t worry about the statistics."

Mel Hutchins had a fine year in his first with Fort Wayne, as did George Yardley and No. 4 pick Jack Molinas. That trio combined with mainstays Larry Foust and Andy Phillip to form a strong foundation.

Unfortunately, it began to crumble mid-season. Rodger Nelson’s “The Zollner Piston Story”:

The Molinas bubble burst on January 10, when he admitted to betting on Piston games through a New York bookmaker. It ended a month-long investigation on Molinas. He had been named to the All-Star team only four days before his suspension. Don Meineke, Mel Hutchins and Molinas roomed together. Mel said, "Jack was raised with gambling. He would bet on anything. He wanted a place to gamble. But what he did had no influence on the way the game was played. No influence." While it was only a footnote in NBA history, Molinas’ suspension came as a severe blow to the aspiring Pistons. There had been no question of his fixing games, but he had to go. Aside from the personal shock — Frank Brian, for one, found him a personable companion — there was the waste of what everyone thought would be a dazzling career. Brian said, "He had everything, he was going to become a ball player. It was terrible." Some years later Molinas served a prison term in a college basketball scandal.

That was a heavy incident, but the seasons also had its lighter notes, like this one about third-year coach Paul Birch. Rodger Nelson’s “The Zollner Piston Story”:

He did have a reputation for expressing himself physically. He threw orange peels and liked kicking things to emphasize a point. The team knew this, in one game where they were losing at half time. They gathered in the locker room, ready for the peels to fly. Trainer Stan Ken worthy always carried an oxygen mask in a small bag, ready for emergencies. The bag looked like any player’s kit bag, so the team placed it in the middle of the floor, knowing that Birch would not be able to resist it. Sure enough, he kicked it, but the oxygen tank inside resisted more than a bagful of clothes would have.

Birch overcame his injured foot to lead the Molinas-less Pistons into the playoffs. In an experiment that lasted only one season, three teams made the postseason per division and played a round robin.

The three-team round robin was a de facto two-team series. The Lakers and Royals swept the Pistons in four games, a pretty disappointing end to a promising season.

After it ended, Birch was forced to resign. Rodger Nelson’s “The Zollner Piston Story”:

Dike Eddleman summed up Birch’s difficulties with his players by saying, "Birch didn’t see eye-to-eye with anyone, not even himself"

Previously

Chevette to Corvette No. 29: The 1961-62 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 37-43
  • Pythagorean record: 36-44
  • Points scored per game: 115.4 (7th of 9)
  • Points allowed per game: 117.1 (3rd of 9)
  • Arena: Cobo Arena
  • Head coach: Dick McGuire

Playoffs

  • Lost NBA Western Division Finals (4-2) vs. Los Angeles Lakers
  • Won NBA Western Division Semifinals (3-1) vs. Cincinnati Royals

Leaders

  • Points per game: Bailey Howell (19.9)
  • Rebounds per game: Bailey Howell (12.6)
  • Assists per game: Gene Shue (5.8)

Top player

Bailey Howell

Although his scoring average dipped some from the previous season, Howell was still Detroit’s top scorer and he also wrested the team rebounding lead from Walter Dukes, who saw his per-game average drop by eight per game from the previous season.

One of Howell’s greatest skills was his ability to get to the line. He averaged 7.7 free throw attempts per game in 61-62, but that was down from more than 10 per game in 60-61 and it cost Howell. Howell’s 19.9 points per game average in 61-62 was the only time in a four year period he dipped below 20 points per game.

Key transaction

Drafted Ray Scott with the fourth pick in the NBA Draft

Scott had a fine NBA career, mostly in Detroit, as a center/forward. He averaged 13.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game as a rookie, lasted five seasons with the Pistons and would later go on to coach the Pistons and at Eastern Michigan University. And, as Greg Eno reported in 2006, Scott became a lifetime part of the Detroit sports scene:

And Scott made it clear that once Detroit gets in your blood, you can’t get it out. Not that he’d want to, anyway.

“I came here in 1961 and y’all haven’t kicked me out yet,” Scott said with a typically big chortle. “But you (attendees of yesterday’s luncheon) might not know that I’ve been here that long because I played for the Pistons.” Then it was our turn for chortling.

“I am a Detroiter. Emanuel (Steward) and I practically grew up together as kids.”

Trend watch

Improving the defense

Despite scoring less, the Pistons became a more stout defensive team in Dick McGuire’s second year as coach. They went from seventh (of nine) in the league in points allowed to third, and that propelled them to a bit of postseason success.

Why this season ranks No. 29

For the first time in four years, the Pistons won a playoff series, beating Cincinnati in the Western Division semifinals. They stretched the Lakers to six games in the West finals and, at that point, that was the team’s best playoff showing since moving to Detroit in 1957.

Previously

Chevette to Corvette No. 30: The 1967-68 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 40-42
  • Pythagorean record: 36-46
  • Points scored per game: 118.6 (4th of 12)
  • Points allowed per game: 120.6 (10th of 12)
  • Arena: Cobo Arena
  • Head coach: Donnie Butcher

Playoffs

  • Lost in first round to the Boston Celtics, 4-2

Leaders

  • Points per game: Dave Bing (27.1)
  • Rebounds per game: Dave DeBusschere (13.5)
  • Assists per game: Dave Bing (6.4)

Top player

Dave Bing

Bing averaged a career-high 27.1 points per game – on a career-high, by a wide margin, 24.0 shots per game. It wasn’t his best season, but by volume, it was probably his biggest.

Key transaction

Drafted Jimmy Walker with No. 1 pick

Walker had a fine career and made a couple All-Star games, but he never met the hype of a No. 1 pick. Not that the Pistons knew that in 1967-68. Jerry Bembry of ESPN The Magazine:

NBA Hall of Famer Dave Bing, representing Walker’s early professional career, spoke fondly of the rookie he took in as a roommate 40 years ago in Detroit. "I’m 22, Jimmy’s 21 and we feel like we have the NBA’s best backcourt," Bing recalls. "We played together, lived together and enjoyed each other as friends and as teammates. A great guy to be around; Jimmy had a big heart."

Walker is probably best known for fathering, but never meeting, Jalen Rose.

Trend watch

Move to Eastern Division

The Pistons made the playoffs for the first time in five years. In fact, they’d also miss the playoffs the next five seasons.

But it’s difficult not to wonder what could have happened had the Pistons remained in the Western Division. The NBA expanded with the Houston Rockets and Seattle SuperSonics, and consequently, Detroit moved to the much-tougher East.

The Pistons went 15-25 against the East and 25-17 against the West.

Why this season ranks No. 30

This was the second of just two full seasons Dave Bing and Dave DeBusschere played together, and it began with a tense situation. Sports Illustrated:

Like the three monkeys on the log, Donnis Butcher, Dave DeBusschere and Paul Seymour see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil—at least, of each other. It’s just what they’re thinking that has Piston fans curious. The whole Detroit coaching situation has fallen right past curious all the way down to ludicrous. When the Pistons had a shot at a playoff berth last March, Owner Fred Zollner made Player-coach DeBusschere a player and Assistant Coach Butcher a head coach. With DeBusschere concentrating on playing and Butcher on coaching, the Pistons made a sparkling finish, losing six of their last eight games and missing the playoffs. After the season General Manager Ed Coil retained Butcher as head coach and kept DeBusschere as key player. Zollner, however, announced he was hiring Seymour, former head coach at Syracuse and Baltimore, as "assistant coach and head scout." Seymour, normally discreet, did not keep it a secret that Zollner had asked him to coach Detroit a long time ago, saying, "If things go wrong this year, I suppose they’ll be looking around to me." With that stirring vote of confidence, Butcher signed a one-year contract and everyone went skipping off to training camp.

The Pistons went a fairly uneventful 40-42, and Seymour didn’t replace Butcher until the following season.

Detroit even held a 2-1 lead against Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics in the first round in 1967-68. But the Celtics won the next three games, eliminated the Pistons and won the 10th of 11 title in a 13-year-span.

What could have been one of the Pistons’ biggest playoff series ever instead just served as a mediocre ending to a mediocre year. At least the Pistons set a franchise record for attendance in the process.

Previously