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Category → Chevette to Corvette

Chevette to Corvette No. 31: The 1997-98 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 37-45
  • Pythagorean record: 46-36
  • Offensive Rating: 105.3 (13th of 29)
  • Defensive Rating: 103.5 (9th of 29)
  • Arena: Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coaches: Doug Collins (21-24), Alvin Gentry (16-21)

Leaders

  • Points per game: Grant Hill (21.1)
  • Rebounds per game: Bison Dele (8.9)
  • Assists per game: Grant Hill (6.8)
  • Steals per game: Grant Hill (1.8)
  • Blocks per game: Theo Ratliff (2.3)

Top player

Grant Hill

This gets a bit redundant in this era, but the Pistons simply had no other player remotely close to as talented as Hill. As good as he was this season, his numbers slid a bit. His shooting percentage fell from 48 to 45 percent, his rebounding went down from 9 per game to 7.7 per game and his assists went down from 7.3 to 6.8 per game. Those slides were largely a result of more attention focused on Hill as his teammates couldn’t really command the attention of the defense or create shots on their own.

Key transaction

Traded Theo Ratliff and Aaron McKie to Philadelphia for Eric Montross and Jerry Stackhouse

This trade, quite simply, was horrible. Here’s what I wrote about it in Piston Devotion, which you can purchase here:

But the trade was as much a failure for what the Pistons gave up as for what they received. They sent Philadelphia Aaron McKie, a defensive-minded combo guard who was among the best defenders in the league and who would go on to win a Sixth Man of the Year award in Philly in 2001, and, more importantly, a young defensive-minded center in Theo Ratliff.

Now, Ratliff had a rough start to his career in Detroit. He was a project player drafted out of Wyoming in 1995. Doug Collins didn’t have much patience for Ratliff (or young players in general) so, despite Ratliff’s occasional flashes of energy, shot-blocking and defense, he was often in Collins’ doghouse for making (relatively minor) mistakes. Eventually, he was traded when it became clear the pairing with Collins wasn’t going to work out.

Ratliff quickly blossomed in Philly, becoming one of the best shot blockers in the league while anchoring Larry Brown’s defense. His minutes jumped from 24 per game in Detroit to 32 in Philly after the trade in 1997. By the 2000-01 season, he’d become an All-Star. He proved to be exactly the kind of player Detroit had needed the last decade, an athletic, defensive-minded center. And the worst part is, he was sacrificed for a coach in Collins who was fired just a handful of games after that trade was made in the 97-98 season.

Now, Stackhouse, who was terrible initially with the Pistons, eventually got better and became an important piece in their rebirth when he was traded for Rip Hamilton. But at the time, this was a terrible trade for the Pistons and another in a long line of examples of young players the Pistons draft developing into better players elsewhere.

Trend watch

Grant Hill didn’t quite do it all

The addition of Bison Dele and the emergence of Jerome Williams began to take some pressure off of Grant Hill on the boards. After leading the team in scoring, rebounding and assists for two straight seasons, Hill fell to second on the team in rebounding behind Dele this season.

Why this season ranks No. 32

As has been the case several times in their history, the Pistons appeared to be on the verge of a breakthrough only to fall apart. They won a surprising 54 games the previous season after losing Allan Houston to free agency and promptly underachieved in 97-98, and most of the blame can be placed solely on the guard play. Check out the shooting percentages for guards who saw big minutes for the Pistons this season: Joe Dumars – 41 percent; Malik Sealy – 42 percent; Aaron McKie – 41 percent; Jerry Stackhouse – 42 percent; Lindsey Hunter – 38 percent. It’s no wonder Hill’s assist numbers went down with so many low percentage shooters on the perimeter.

The lack of development from young players, particularly Hunter and Ratliff, and the fact that Bison Dele didn’t have as big an impact as the team hoped, also hurt. Part of this could be attributed to coaching — Ratliff immediately thrived, as mentioned above, when he got out from under Collins. But the point is, although the team looked ready to take another step forward, no one rose to the occasion to become the complimentary player Hill desperately needed, and it cost Collins his job.

Previously

Chevette to Corvette No. 32: The 1992-93 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 40-42
  • Pythagorean record: 38-44
  • Offensive Rating: 107.4 (18th of 27)
  • Defensive Rating: 108.9 (15th of 27)
  • Arena: Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coaches: Ron Rothstein

Leaders

  • Points per game: Joe Dumars (23.5)
  • Rebounds per game: Dennis Rodman (18.3)
  • Assists per game: Isiah Thomas (8.5)
  • Steals per game: Alvin Robertson (2.2)
  • Blocks per game: Dennis Rodman (.7)

Top player

Joe Dumars

Ben Gulker will probably kill me for not picking Dennis Rodman and his league-leading 18.3 boards per game here, but I have to go with Joe D. At 29-years-old, with teammates Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer aging, Dumars asserted himself as Detroit’s go-to player, averaging a career-best 23.5 points per game. He shot 47 percent overall and 37 percent from three while also dishing out four assists per game. The team finished below .500 and missed the playoffs because they had no rim protector after trading John Salley in the offseason, Rodman, the team’s best defender, missed 19 games, and Laimbeer, who turned 35 during the season, was not the same defensive presence he used to be.

Key transaction

Traded John Salley to Miami for Isaiah Morris and a first round pick

The Salley trade was the first of several trades and retirements that dismantled the Bad Boys. Salley went to Miami, Rodman would be traded the following offseason and Thomas and Laimbeer would both retire in 1993-94. But, oddly enough, Salley was the only player from that group who brought back any value in return. The Pistons used that pick from Miami to draft Lindsey Hunter.

(runner-up) Traded Orlando Woolridge to Milwaukee for Alvin Robertson

I had to pick one more in this section just to point out the dysfunction of the Pistons of this era. Rodman was well into his meltdown after the team parted ways with Chuck Daly, and the Rodman-Pistons relationship ended poorly in the offseason. But Robertson was no picnic either. He finished the 92-93 season and then was traded in November ’93:

Alvin Robertson of the Detroit Pistons had a fight with BILLY McKINNEY, the team’s player personnel director, shortly after McKinney told him on Thursday that he was being suspended for three games for skipping practices and missing back rehabilitation sessions, two newspapers reported yesterday.

Robertson pinned McKinney on a courtside table during a practice session at Auburn Hills, Mich., and coaches and players had to pull him off, The Detroit Free Press and The Oakland Press of Pontiac, Mich., reported.

Robertson has now been suspended indefinitely.

“It was a split second when I lost my cool,” Robertson said of the fight. “And that split second is going to get me more media attention than I have had for the last two years, so I certainly regret the incident.”

Trend watch

Can’t make it 10 straight

The Pistons missed the playoffs by one game, ending their streak of nine straight years in the postseason.

Why this season ranks No. 32

It’s amazing how much this season has in common with the 2008-09 Pistons. The team was at the end of a long stretch of contending, but rather than tear down, they tried to patch things up on the fly by hiring an underwhelming coach because he was familiar with the team (assistant Ron Rothstein in 92-93, assistant Michael Curry in 08-09). While the 08-09 Pistons tried to mix young players as a way to invigorate the core, the 92-93 version tried the same “shake things up” tactic in the rotation with veterans like Terry Mills, Robertson, Olden Polynice and Gerald Glass. In both cases, it didn’t have the desired affect. Injuries and malaise plagued both teams, as did age and an abundance of minutes played, which caught up with key players on both squads. Both finished below .500 and while the 08-09 Pistons managed to sneak into the playoffs in a weaker East, they were quick first round fodder, showing they didn’t really belong in the postseason.

Prior to the season, the Pistons in 1992-93 believed that they just needed a quick re-tooling, a fresh but familiar voice at coach and a few roster tweaks to give their Thomas-Dumars-Rodman-Laimbeer core one last run at contention. The season proved that that group didn’t have that last run in them.

Previously

Chevette to Corvette No. 33: The 1977-78 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 38-44
  • Pythagorean record: 38-44
  • Offensive Rating: 100.3 (12th of 22)
  • Defensive Rating: 101.5 (14th of 22)
  • Arena: Cobo Arena
  • Head coaches: Herb Brown (9-15), Bob Kauffman (29-29)

Leaders

  • Points per game: Bob Lanier (24.5)
  • Rebounds per game: Bob Lanier (11.3)
  • Assists per game: Eric Money (4.7)
  • Steals per game: Chris Ford (2.0)
  • Blocks per game: Bob Lanier (1.5)

Top player

Bob Lanier

Lanier had a typically fine season and received an MVP vote.

But he missed the Pistons’ final 12 games after having knee surgery, according to Steve Addy’s “The Detroit Pistons: More Than Four Decades of Motor City Memories.” Detroit went 5-7 in the stretch and missed the playoffs.

Key transaction

Traded Kevin Porter and Howard Porter to the New Jersey Nets for Al Skinner and two second-round picks

Just two years prior, Kevin Porter was more valuable than Dave Bing. But Porter clashed with Herb Brown in Detroit, detracting from his solid play. Greg Eno of Out of Bounds:

One day in practice, according to Green in his book “The Detroit Pistons: Capturing a Remarkable Era,” Brown was overseeing a ball movement drill and noticed one of the Pistons being checked in a mismatch by point guard Kevin Porter.

Porter was an angry, simmering player who scowled a lot and distrusted coaches. He and Brown were very similar people, which was part of their problem.

Brown saw the mismatch and implored the bigger player to shoot.

“You got a midget on you! Shoot the ball! You got a midget on you!”

Kevin Porter didn’t like being called a midget by the disco-dressing Herbie Brown.

That was part of the tenuous, stormy relationship between coach and point guard, which at times nearly turned physical in its confrontations.

Brown would sit Porter during games and not call on him for chunks of minutes at a time. Porter would glare and scowl. Herbie would finally call for Porter and it was even money whether Kevin would actually acquiesce and enter the game.

This went on for most of the 1976-77 season

By the 1977-78 season, their problems were unavoidable. Curry Kirkpatrick and John Papanek of Sports Illustrated in a season preview published Oct. 31, 1977:

During the summer Brown tried unsuccessfully to dump his main nemesis, Kevin Porter. The two have not exactly made peace, but they are willing—so they say—to lay down their swords for the common good. "This year when I’m yanked I’ll accept it," says Porter. Says Brown, "I may have made some mistakes." Says Lanier, "You can’t change human nature. To be fair they should trade one of them."

The Pistons were completely fair. They traded Porter seven days later and fired Brown not long after.

Trend watch

Playoff streak snapped after four straight seasons

Between 1963-64 and and 1972-73 seasons, the Pistons made the playoffs only once. But they had reached the postseason all four years prior to 1977-78. It wouldn’t last.

Why this season ranks No. 33

The 1976-77 season was one for the ages. The Pistons hated their coach, but that didn’t stop them from playing well. It was a juicy mix of storylines and success.

In 1977-78, all that tension began to pull the Pistons in the wrong direction. They still hated their coach, but they didn’t play nearly as well.

The season began with Marvin Barnes leaving prison. John Papanek of Sports Illustrated:

At 15 minutes past midnight last Friday, after 152 days on the inside, Marvin Barnes, 25, walked out of the Adult Correctional Institute at Cranston, R.I., climbed into his lawyer’s Rolls-Royce and was driven off to resume his job as a $300,000-a-year forward for the Detroit Pistons.

After spending a few hours with his mother, sister and friends in West Providence, the 6’9", 225-pound Barnes flew to Buffalo, where he rejoined the Pistons for a preseason game against the Braves.

Then, on Oct. 9, 1976, a metal detector at Detroit Metropolitan Airport picked up something suspicious in his luggage. It turned out to be an unloaded pistol—a clear violation of probation. On May 16 News began serving a one-year sentence that was shortened to five months, and last Friday he was free again, on parole.

At a press conference in Buffalo, flanked by Pistons General Manager Bob Kauffman and Coach Herb Brown,Barnes was ever so cautious, aware that he would be judged on whatever he said and did. So he said things like, "I paid my debt to society. I want to come out, be a basketball player again, do what’s right." Kauffman prompted him to tell of the time he had spent studying while in prison. "Oh, yeah," said Barnes. "I couldn’t cut no classes."

Strangely, the pot of drama in Detroit never boiled over. The Pistons traded the Porters and Barnes and fired Brown during the season, and slowly simmered into irrelevance.

Previously

Chevette to Corvette No. 34: The 1956-57 Fort Wayne Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 34-38
  • Pythagorean record: 30-42
  • Points per game: 96.4 (7th of 8)
  • Opponent points per game: 98.7 (3rd of 8)
  • Arena: War Memorial Coliseum
  • Head coaches: Charles Eckman (34-38)

Playoffs

  • Lost in Western Division Semifinals to the Minneapolis Lakers, 2-0

Leaders

  • Points per game: George Yardley (21.5)
  • Rebounds per game: George Yardley (10.5)
  • Assists per game: Chuck Noble/Gene Shue (3.3)

Top player

George Yardley

Yardley is a fixture in the top player section in the Fort Wayne years for a pretty simple reason: the Pistons didn’t have much offense. The 56-57 season was Yardley’s fourth in the league and in those four seasons, the Pistons finished seventh, eighth, fifth and eighth in points per game in an eight-team league. After his rookie season, Yardley led the team in scoring the next three years, with his best season to date in 1956-57, when he averaged 21.5 points per game and also a team-leading 10.5 rebounds per game.

Key transaction

Traded a first-round pick to New York for Dick McGuire

McGuire was acquired at the end of the 1956-57 season, so he didn’t actually play in Fort Wayne, he joined the Pistons the following season in their first year in Detroit. McGuire’s career was winding down, but he became a steadying influence at point guard and, the following season, Yardley led the league in scoring with McGuire running the offense. McGuire also would go on to have some minimal success as a coach with the Pistons. The pick they have up turned into Mike Farmer, a forward who didn’t make much impact in a few seasons in the league.

Trend watch

Declining win total and declining defense

In their final season in Fort Wayne, the Pistons also had their first losing season in five years. The Pistons in this era were never good offensively, and with just two players on the roster who shot 40 percent in 1956-57, things were no different. But where the team began to erode a bit was at the defensive end. After leading the league in points allowed, the Pistons fell to third in 1956-57. Larry Foust, who had led the team in scoring just two seasons prior, missed 11 games due to injury and the team lacked an inside presence. Although some of the roster issues were addressed in the offseason, the trend of a once-stingy defense gradually becoming a lot less stingy would be a recurring theme as the team declined in subsequent decades as well.

Previously

Chevette to Corvette No. 35: The 1957-58 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 33-39
  • Pythagorean record: 30-42
  • Points per game: 105.3 (5th of 8)
  • Opponent points per game: 107.7 (6th of 8)
  • Arena: Detroit Olympia
  • Head coaches: Charles Eckman (9-16), Red Rocha (24-23)

Playoffs

  • Beat the Cincinnati Royals in first round, 2-0
  • Lost in Western Conference Semifinals to the St. Louis Hawks, 4-1

Leaders

  • Points per game: George Yardley (27.8)
  • Rebounds per game: Walter Dukes (13.3)
  • Assists per game: Dick McGuire (6.6)

Top player

George Yardley

Yardley’s best season as a pro also happened to coincide with the franchise’s first season in Detroit. He led the league in scoring, averaging a career-high 27.8 points per game and also averaged a career-best 10.7 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, it would also be Yardley’s last full season as a Piston.

Key transaction

Traded Larry Foust to Minneapolis for Walter Dukes

The Pistons swapped centers with the Lakers before the season and, although Dukes certainly had some flaws (namely an anemic sub-40 percent field goal percentage) for a big man, he was a couple years younger than Foust and would go on to average four straight double-doubles for the Pistons. He also made two All-Star appearances as a Piston.

Trend watch

Parting ways with another coach

After having four coaches in the franchise’s first six years, it looked like the Pistons had some stability heading into the 1957-58 season with Charles Eckman, who was entering his fourth season on the job. But as Sports Illustrated’s Bil Gilbert reported, Eckman didn’t last long:

Fred Zollner, owner of the Detroit Pistons, performed what may be the most delicate and tactful coaching amputation of all time, the patient being Charley Eck-man. Under Eckman the Pistons played more or less as they had for other coaches, in other words not very well. In due time Zollner called Eckman and commented that things were going badly. Eckman agreed but said there was hope for improvement. Zollner said that even so he thought maybe some changes should be made in Eckman’s department. “I said, ‘Sure, O.K., Fred,’” recalls Eckman, “but then I remembered that I was the only one in my department.”

Why this season ranks No. 35

On the court, this season wasn’t much different than several others ranked below it on this list. The Pistons finished below .500 and fired another coach. But it gets a bit of a bump for a couple reasons. First, it was the franchise’s first season in Detroit after moving from Fort Wayne. And secondly, things appeared to be looking up for the Pistons with Yardley having his best season as a pro and Dukes and Gene Shue proving to be reliable young starters. The team was also the final NBA stop of the legendary Nathaniel ‘Sweetwater’ Clifton this season.

Fred Zollner, the team owner, was also proving to be an asset to the league, although the league was not doing much to repay that generosity according to Myron Cope of Sports Illustrated:

Indeed, to the NBA, Zollner has been square old Pop who always comes through when you write home for money. During the league’s years of growing pains Zollner helped keep it afloat by lending it large sums, while many clubs failed to pay their dues. He asked no concessions for his vote when the league gerrymandered its territorial draft to allow Philadelphia to select Wilt Chamberlain of Kansas University and to swing Ohio State’s Jerry Lucas to the new Cincinnati Royals. “I try to vote on what I think are the ethics of a situation,” he says.

In return for all his efforts his fellow owners have spit in his eye. With the excuse that the Pistons had a private plane in which to get about, the NBA awarded them the worst schedule, the tight, grueling trips that grind a team down. When the territorial draft was about to expire two years ago, Zollner pleaded for its extension in one form or another, so that he might satisfy local pressures and draft Michigan’s Cazzie Russell. He was voted down. “I asked for a special favor and didn’t get it, so I wasn’t wronged,” reasons Zollner.

Previously

Chevette to Corvette No. 36: The 1999-2000 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 42-30
  • Pythagorean record: 45-37
  • Offensive Rating: 107.3 (4th of 29)
  • Defensive Rating: 105.8 (21st of 29)
  • Arena: Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coach: Alvin Gentry (28-30), George Irvine (14-10)

Leaders

  • Points per game: Grant Hill (25.8)
  • Rebounds per game: Jerome Williams (9.6)
  • Assists per game: Grant Hill (5.2)
  • Steals per game: Lindsey Hunter (1.6)
  • Blocks per game: Mikki Moore (1.1)

Top player

Grant Hill

Hill’s final season in Detroit did not disappoint. He was an All-Star six times in six seasons with the Pistons, so by his sixth year in the league, it was hard to believe he would add much to his game, but this season gave every indication that were it not for the devastating ankle injuries that first started plaguing Hill in his final playoff series with the Pistons against the Heat, he looked like a man on the verge of becoming one of the game’s best. Hill averaged a career-best 25.8 points per game this season and did so while shooting 48 percent from the field, which at the time was the second best mark of his career. He also successfully extended his range, shooting nearly 35 percent from 3-point range, only the second time in his career that he finished a season better than 20 percent. ‘What would’ve happened if Grant Hill stayed healthy?’ will remain one of the most speculated ‘what ifs’ in modern NBA history.

Key transaction

(Tie) Signed Mikki Moore and Terry Mills as free agents

Bison Dele’s surprise retirement before the season just two years into a three-year contract left the Pistons with a hole in the middle. Moore was a thin, end-of-bench type and Mills was an end-of-the-line veteran. Neither was the type of guy any team would look at as an ‘impact’ signing, but between the two, the Pistons got just enough competent center play to sneak into the playoffs. Mills, known his entire career for his shooting, hit 39 percent from three in his second stint with the Pistons and Moore, who eventually carved out a nice NBA career for himself, provided about 17 minutes of boundless energy every game. He finished around the basket (hitting 62 percent of his shots), had nice range for a big man and protected the rim (averaged 2.3 blocks per 36 minutes). Plus, it was always fun when Moore and Jerome Williams, another energy player who could rebound, run the floor and finish, at the same time. They were undersized, but they helped make the Pistons more competitive and were nice targets for Hill on the break.

Trend watch

The declining defense

Championships in Detroit were always built around tough defense. Although the 1999-00 team made the playoffs, they did it in decidedly un-Pistons like fashion. The team was weak in the frontcourt with the slow and aging Mills, the undersized Moore and Williams and the soft Christian Laettner. The team ranked 26th out of 29 teams in points allowed this season. Part of that decline was a result of playing at the fourth fastest pace in the league, but the Pistons’ transformation into a finesse, perimeter-oriented team was also at its height. The Pistons were seventh in points per game allowed the previous season.

Why this season ranks No. 36

For better or worse, this was the end of the Grant Hill era in Detroit. After the season ended, the severity of Hill’s ankle injury wasn’t clear and it certainly didn’t scare off the Orlando Magic’s big offer to him. I remember being really nervous that Hill would leave that entire season and I felt all along that the Pistons needed to win a playoff series in order for him to even consider staying, something that looked pretty unlikely considering they were the seventh seed. That final series against the Heat was symbolic of the entire Hill tenure in Detroit. It featured Hill doing a bit of everything, surrounded by a cast of players who, even though they tried hard, were just not good enough to compete with any of the East’s upper echelon teams. Once the playoffs ended, it felt like Hill was leaving and unfortunately for the Pistons, the team didn’t seem to have many assets moving forward. At least we only had one more season of teal jerseys to go after this though.

Previously

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

Facts

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

Leaders

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

Top player

Kelly Tripucka

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

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

Key transaction

Drafted Isiah Thomas with No. 2 pick

Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

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

Bruce Newman of Sports Illustrated:

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

Newman:

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

Langlois:

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

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

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

Trend watch

Fast track to success

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

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

Why this season ranks No. 37

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

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

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

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

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

Previously

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

Facts

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

Playoffs

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

Leaders

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

Top player

Bob Lanier

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

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

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

Key transaction

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

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

Trend watch

10th coach in 14 seasons

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

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

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

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

Why this season ranks No. 38

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

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

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

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

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

Previously

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

Facts

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

Playoffs

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

Leaders

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

Top player

Bob Lanier

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

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

"He’s our savior," says Rowe.

"Our healer," says Adams.

"Our leader," says Bing.

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

Key transaction

Drafted Eric Money with No. 39 pick

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

Trend watch

Momentum thwarted

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

Why this season ranks No. 39

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

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

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

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

Previously

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

Facts

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

Leaders

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


Top player

Isiah Thomas

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


Key transaction

Drafted Ricky Pierce with No. 18 pick

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

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

Trend watch

Momentum thwarted

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

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

Why this season ranks No. 40

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

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

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

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

Zaret:

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

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

Previously