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Category → Chevette to Corvette

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

Facts

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

Playoffs

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

Leaders

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


Top player

Antonio McDyess

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

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


Key transaction

Traded Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess for Allen Iverson

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

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

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

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

Trend watch

Streak of seven straight 50-win seasons snapped

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

Why this season ranks No. 41

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previously

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

Facts

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

Playoffs

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

Leaders

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

Top player

Bailey Howell

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

Key transaction

Drafted Jackie Moreland with No. 4 pick

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

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

Why this season ranks No. 43

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

Previously

Chevette to Corvette No. 43: The 1950-51 Fort Wayne Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 32-36
  • Pythagorean record: 29-39
  • Points scored per game: 84.1 (7th of 11)
  • Points allowed per game: 86.0 (9th of 11)
  • Arena: North Side High School Gym
  • Head coach: Murray Mendenhall

Playoffs

  • Lost in first round to the Rochester Royals, 2-1

Leaders

  • Points per game: Fred Schaus (15.1)
  • Rebounds per game: Larry Foust (10.0)
  • Assists per game: Ken Murray (3.8)

Top player

Fred Schaus

Schaus and Larry Foust both played in the NBA’s first All-Star Game. But Schaus, although he didn’t rebound quite as well as Foust, scored more and with more efficiency.


Key transaction

Drafted George Yardley with No. 7 pick

Yardley was a high-scoring wing from Stanford, an eventual Hall of Famer and an excellent pick. Blake Sebring of The News-Sentinel:

When the Fort Wayne Pistons selected George Yardley with the third pick in the 1950 National Basketball Association draft, Pistons General Manager Carl Bennett sent Yardley a telegram at Stanford University.

"Fort Wayne of the National Basketball Association drafted you," Bennett’s telegram said, according to Todd Gould’s book "Pioneers of the Hardwood." "Please call me collect late Tuesday or Wednesday at Harrison 9426 or Anthony 3264. Also advise coach Dean of our choice."

When Yardley received the notice, the Newport, Calif., native had to laugh because he had never heard of Fort Wayne.

It’s no wonder Yardley didn’t join the Pistons right away. Instead, he played AAU basketball, joined the Navy, played volleyball, prepared for the Olympics, broke his hand, missed the Olympics, toured South America and got married.

Finally, three years  later, Yardley joined the Pistons, but that’s a story for a future season.

Trend watch

End of stall era

On Nov. 22, 1950, the Pistons travelled to Minneapolis to play the George Mikan-led and heavily favored Lakers. Stew Thornley:

Fort Wayne controlled the jump and Mikan, flanked by Pollard and Mikkelsen, lumbered into defensive position. But as the trio turned around, they saw Pistons center Larry Foust standing at mid-court with the ball on his hip. And that’s where Foust—and the ball—stayed. Foust was under strict orders from Mendenhall to do nothing until the Lakers came out to play man- to-man.

The officials—Stan Stutz and Jocko Collins—screamed at Mendenhall and the Pistons to play ball. Mendenhall fired back that Minneapolis was playing an illegal zone defense, a charge that Lakers coach Kundla denied.

Meanwhile, the Auditorium crowd of 7,021 began to boo and stomp their feet in response to the inactivity. But Fort Wayne stuck to its game plan as they held the ball for as long as three minutes at a time. When one playing got tired of holding the ball, he’d flip it to a teammate, who would then tuck it under his arm.

The LakersV edge stood at 17-16 entering the fourth quarter. A free throw by Foust tied the scored with 6:10 to go in the game. But Jim Pollard dropped a free throw 12 seconds later to put the Lakers back out front, 18-17.

That score remained as the game entered the final minute. Now it was the Lakers’ turn to stall as Fort Wayne hustled to get the ball back. With nine seconds left, the Pistons forced a turnover as an errant Laker pass sailed out of bounds.

Paul “Curly ” Armstrong took the inbound pass and immediately fed the breaking Foust, who tried to put a running hook shot over Mikan’s outstretched arms. Mikan got a hand on the ball, but Foust’s shot still had enough on it to drop through the rim and give the Pistons a 19-18 lead.

Minneapolis roared back down the floor, but Martin’s shot hit off the rim as the final horn went off, ending the lowest-scoring game in the history of the NBA.

Mikan was game high with 15 points, and he produced the Lakers’ only four field goals of the evening.

The spectators weren’t the only ones fuming. John Kundla commented, “If that’s basketball, I don’t want any part of it.”

“What was wrong with it?” countered Mendenhall. “We won, didn’t we? We wanted to get those giants out in the open where we would have a chance to play basketball, not get our heads kicked in.”

Sportswriter Charlie Johnson called the exhibition a “sports tragedy.” But Minneapolis Tribune columnist Dick Cullum defended the stall as Fort Wayne’s best chance to win: “Therefore, it cannot be criticized for using it. It is a low conception of sports to say that a team’s first duty is to give you a lot of senseless action instead of earnest competition.”

“The name of the game is to win,” added Mikkelsen, “particularly when you’re playing on the road. That may have been the key to it. Since the game was in Minneapolis, Mendenhall had nothing to lose; after all, he wasn’t alienating his fans.”

But alienation of the fans was something that concerned Maurice Podoloff. “It seems to me that the teams showed complete disregard for the interest of the fans by the type of game they played,” said the league president the day after the game.

The NBA didn’t adopt a shot clock until 1954, but Podoloff’s message landed. After this game, which still stands (and likely always will) as the NBA’s lowest-scoring, teams stopped stalling.

Why this season ranks No. 43

The Pistons drafted three players this year – George Yardley in the amateur draft and Bill Sharman and Larry Foust in dispersal drafts – who would become stars. This could’ve been one of the most talented teams in Piston history, even if the top players were too young to compete yet.

But Yardley, as noted above, didn’t join the team for a few years, and Fort Wayne foolishly traded Sharman to the Celtics for Chuck Share. That left only Foust, who had a fine rookie season after Detroit picked him in the Chicago Stags’ dispersal draft.

With Foust and Fred Schaus, the Pistons made the playoffs, where they lost in the first round to a better Rochester Royals team.

Previously

Chevette to Corvette No. 44: The 2000-01 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 32-50
  • Pythagorean record: 36-46
  • Offensive rating: 100.0 (25th of 29)
  • Defensive Rating: 101.8 (8th of 29)
  • Arena: The Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coach: George Irvine

Leaders

  • Points per game: Jerry Stackhouse (29.8)
  • Rebounds per game: Ben Wallace (13.2)
  • Assists per game: Jerry Stackhouse (5.1)
  • Steals per game: Ben Wallace (1.3)
  • Blocks per game: Ben Wallace (2.3)

Top player

Ben Wallace

In 2000-01, the Detroit Pistons could’ve found themselves at their lowest point. Joe Dumars had just taken over and the team immediately lost its franchise player, Grant Hill, in free agency. That, as we know, turned out to be a blessing. Anyone who watches sports and pays attention to how teams are built has, by now, realized the role luck plays in building a contending team. The Pistons, like every other championship caliber team, are no different. They had a lot of luck mixed in with some savvy moves, and that luck started in 2000-01.

The Pistons were lucky that Hill signed a massive contract in Orlando. Severe ankle injuries caused him to miss more games than he played over the life of that deal. Had he re-signed with the Pistons, the team would’ve been stuck paying huge money to a player who couldn’t stay on the court.

The Pistons were lucky that they were largely rebuffed in free agency. After Hill made it clear he was leaving, one of the free agents the team vigorously pursued as a replacement was young Milwaukee Bucks small forward Tim Thomas. Thomas had become a key reserve on an up and coming Bucks team. I remember being at a concert that summer (can’t remember which one) and Dumars was there with Thomas, trying to convince him to become a Piston. Pursuing Thomas made sense — he was young, improving and played the same position as Hill. But I think we can all agree that had the Pistons successfully signed him, their ability to build a championship team would’ve been hindered with him taking up $8-$14 million per year of their budget as he did over the life of his contract that he signed with the Bucks.

But the biggest stroke of luck is that a player the Pistons did sign as part of the Hill sign and trade with Orlando, Wallace, turned into a better player than most would’ve reasonably expected. Wallace was a good player, a tireless worker who crashed the boards with ferocity and brought energy every time he touched the court for Washington and Orlando. The problem for Wallace is that he was always crunched in a numbers game. He was stuck behind bigger name players like Juwan Howard, Gheorge Muresan (don’t laugh … big Gheorge was effective before injuries wrecked his career) and Chris Webber in Washington. He finally became a starter in Orlando, but still only played 24 minutes per game. Wallace’s 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in those 24 minutes in Orlando suggested he would get better with more time on the court.

In his first season in Detroit, he finished second in the league in rebounding behind Dikembe Mutombo. His defensive rating of 94 was, at the time, his career best (he’d later best that mark three times).

Most who remember this season remember Jerry Stackhouse’s pursuit of the scoring title, and I’ll admit, that was fun to watch in what was a bad season. But through acquiring Wallace, Dumars not only landed the cornerstone player who would help return the team to its defensive roots, he also replaced his franchise player with another in the same offseason, which is truly a miraculous feat, lucky or otherwise.

Key transaction

Signed and traded Grant Hill to Orlando for Wallace and Chucky Atkins

This was obviously the biggest move, but we’ve already talked about the impact. So let’s go with the runner-up.

Traded Jerome Williams and Eric Montross to Toronto for Corliss Williamson, Tyrone Corbin, Kornel David and a 2005 First Round Pick

The acquisition of Wallace, a rebounding, defending bundle of energy, kind of made the team’s incumbent rebounding, defending, bundle of energy in Williams expendable. With Wallace under contract, there was little reason to commit to Williams long-term when it was likely thought at the time that both guys would occupy similar roles (remember … it’s doubtful the Pistons fully understood what they had in Wallace at the time). So they shipped Williams and stiff big man Montross to Toronto for salary flexibility — Williamson was a free agent to be while David and Corbin were throw-ins — and a future pick.

Williamson, however, turned out to be a great fit in Detroit. As a tweener forward, Williamson wasn’t quick enough to guard opposing small forwards, but what the Pistons discovered is that his mix of strength, quickness and post moves made him a tough matchup for just about every backup big man in the league. Williamson averaged 15 points and six rebounds per game after getting traded to Detroit. He was re-signed in the offseason and became one of the top reserves in the NBA over the next three seasons.

Trend watch

Jerry Stackhouse’s scoring assault

OK, admittedly, I liked watching Stackhouse try to basically score every time he touched the ball in the 2000-01 season. It was fun to watch and with the Pistons having no shot at contending for anything, why not see how much their best individual perimeter scorer could get each night? But let’s be clear: he was in no way an efficient offensive player. He shot 40 percent from the field and he was quite capable of putting up a hideous statline (like this game, for example).

The Pistons needed Stackhouse to shoot a lot because they simply didn’t have any other offensive threat before the trade for Williamson. The offense often consisted of Stackhouse dribbling around and barreling into the lane in hopes of drawing contact. He was pretty good at that, getting to the line 10.1 times per game. And it wasn’t like he was completely selfish — he did lead the team in assists.

It’s not particularly fun to watch a get-mine type of scorer, even if the Pistons did need big scoring from Stackhouse to have any shot at winning, but Stackhouse undoubtedly had some memorable performances as he fell just short of the scoring title (finishing second to Allen Iverson). The best was his team-record 57 points against Chicago late in the season. I remember watching that game, rooting for Stack to get to 60. He had some shots at it late in the game, but couldn’t get them to go down. I wouldn’t choose to watch that type of basketball all the time, but for one season, Stackhouse undeniably delivered some entertaining moments.

Why this season ranks No. 44

Unlike the current version of the Pistons, the 2000-01 team offered some hope for a quicker turnaround. Wallace was, at worst, going to provide the team with toughness, rebounding and shot-blocking, three areas where the team had been lacking for over a decade. Stackhouse was still a gunner, but he played extremely hard and there was some hope that he could be a key piece if the talent around him was upgraded. Williamson was a hard piece to figure out, but in his partial season with the Pistons he looked talented and tough.

There were certainly question marks — George Irvine wasn’t a long-term solution as coach (and he was fired after the season) and first round draft pick Mateen Cleaves showed that although leadership and intangibles can make a great college point guard, it’s hard to succeed at the NBA level minus a reliable jumpshot.

But this season could’ve been much, much worse. Look around the league at teams that lost their biggest star throughout history. Toronto after Vince Carter or Chris Bosh? Cleveland after LeBron? Orlando after Shaq? Milwaukee after Kareem? Portland after Walton? Recovery is not easy. The Pistons lost Hill, one of the league’s biggest stars on and off the court in the 1990s, a perennial All-Star and one of the NBA’s most popular players. It could’ve been years before the team sniffed contention again. Instead, because of some shrewd, luck, savvy — whatever you want to call them — moves, the Pistons were able to relatively quickly recover from what could’ve been a ruinous blow. The pieces for long-term contention started coming together this season, even if the record was still bad.

Previously

Chevette to Corvette No. 45: The 1962-63 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 34-46
  • Pythagorean record: 31-49
  • Points Per Game: 113.9 (6th of 9)
  • Opponent points per game: 117.6 (5th of 9)
  • Arena: Cobo Arena
  • Head coaches: Dick McGuire

Playoffs

Lost in first round to the St. Louis Hawks, 3-1

Leaders

  • Points per game: Bailey Howell (22.7)
  • Rebounds per game: Bailey Howell (11.5)
  • Assists per game: Don Ohl (4.1)

Top player

Bailey Howell

Howell had his best season scoring and shooting the ball in 1962-63. He averaged 22.7 points per game, the second highest average of his career, and shot 52 percent from the field, a career high. In his five seasons in Detroit, few players can claim his consistency. He never averaged fewer than 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds in a single season.

Key transaction

Drafted Dave DeBusschere

The NBA used weird things called ‘territorial selections’ in the draft until 1966. Basically, it was an attendance ploy. The NBA in the 1950s and 60s was still struggling to gain attention of sports fans, and most teams suffered from poor attendance. The college game was far more popular in most areas. So, if there was a college star who might help spark interest in his nearby NBA team, that team could ‘claim’ the player through territorial rights in the draft and forfeit it’s slotted first-round pick.

DeBusschere, a star at the University of Detroit, went to the Pistons as a result. He’s possibly one of the best athletes the state of Michigan has ever produced. Tom C. Brody of Sports Illustrated:

It takes real ingenuity for a typesetter to squeeze David Albert DeBusschere into box scores. Usually it comes out D’Buss’e or DeBuss’re or D’Bus’r, and the typesetters’ problem seems to last all year. From mid-April until the end of September, DeBusschere (pronounced de-busher with the umph on the bush) is employed by the Chicago White Sox, or one of its subsidiaries, as a right-handed pitcher. Then, as soon as he turns in his baseball uniform, he rushes off to join the Detroit Pistons of the National Basketball Association.

Competing professionally in the major leagues in two sports is rare though not unique. Gene Conley, for example, recently retired as baseball and basketball player. But Dave DeBusschere does more than just play in the two leagues. After two years of preparing him in the minors, the White Sox are thinking seriously of using DeBusschere as one of their starters and, when you consider that the Sox have the best pitching in baseball, that is high status indeed. In basketball, critics stopped using such guarded terms as "promising" right after DeBusschere’s first professional game. If you look closely at the line of figures following his name in that box score, you will notice that he is nearly always one of his team’s leading scorers, re-bounders and playmakers.

DeBusschere would also go on to coach the Pistons as a player-coach. It was certainly impressive that he tried two pro sports and also gave coaching a shot early in his career. Of course, it has also been pointed out that DeBusschere truly blossomed as a basketball player when he left behind coaching and baseball and went to the Knicks, where he focused solely on basketball and helping the Knicks win a championship.

Trend watch

The last of the playoff teams

Current Pistons fans are familiar with playoff streaks ending. Dan recently covered the team that ended an eight-year playoff streak. In the 1990s, a nine-year streak was snapped. This would be the last season of a 14-year streak of playoff appearances for the Pistons.

Why this season ranks No. 45

Coach Dick McGuire really did all he could with this team. The Pistons had almost no size. Howell, DeBusschere and Ray Scott were at times forced to play center where they gave up significant size and strength many nights. Howell was the only regular on the team who shot better than 43 percent. Darrall Imhoff, a young center acquired from the Knicks who had been the third pick in the draft two years prior, showed that the Knicks were right to give up on him so soon (though, somehow, Imhoff, despite showing little basketball ability, was one of the three players packaged from the Lakers to Philadelphia in exchange for Wilt Chamberlain just a few seasons later).

The Pistons could’ve been a lot worse, but McGuire, in his final season as Pistons coached, coaxed just enough out of the team to secure the final playoff spot by three games over San Francisco.

Previously

Chevette to Corvette No. 46: The 1959-60 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 30-45
  • Pythagorean record: 30-45
  • Points scored per game: 111.6 (6th of 8)
  • Points allowed per game: 115.0 (3rd of 8)
  • Arena: Detroit Olympia
  • Head coach: Red Rocha (13-21), Dick McGuire (17-24)

Playoffs

  • Lost in first round to the Minneapolis Lakers, 2-0

Leaders

  • Points per game: Gene Shue (22.8)
  • Rebounds per game: Walter Dukes (13.4)
  • Assists per game: Dick McGuire (5.3)


Top player

Gene Shue

Shue averaged 22.8 points, a career high, 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game – landing him seventh in Most Valuable Player voting.

Teammate Walter Dukes (15.2 points and 13.4 rebounds per game) also had a fine season, finishing 11th in MVP voting.


Key transaction

Drafted Bailey Howell with No. 2 pick

Howell had a remarkable career at Mississippi State, and it appears to be the primary reason he made the Hall of Fame. His NBA career was pretty stellar too, evidenced by his career averages of 18.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game in 12 NBA seasons, the first five with the Pistons.

He likely would’ve won Rookie of the Year if it weren’t for a first-year center named in Philadelphia named Wilt Chamberlain.

Trend watch

First highly successful draft pick in nine years

Howell was the Pistons’ first draft pick with at least 15 career win shares since George Yardley in 1950. Although win shares isn’t a perfect stat, it provides a rough measure of a player’s overall value. For perspective, Howell had 114.8 career win shares.

All that poor drafting was a big reason the Pistons struggled in this era.

Why this season ranks No. 46

As was often the case in their first 20 years in the NBA, the Pistons struggled so much, they fired their coach during the season. This time, that meant replacing Red Rocha with Dick McGuire.

The switch didn’t make much difference, and the Pistons finished 30-45 to claim the No. 2 seed (of three playoff teams) in the lowly Western Division. They were swept by the third-seeded and 25-50 Minneapolis Lakers, who lost to the St. Louis Hawks, who lost to the Boston Celtics.

The transitive theory says the Pistons were the NBA’s worst playoff team.

Previously

Chevette to Corvette No. 47: The 1958-59

Facts

  • Actual record: 28-44
  • Pythagorean record: 33-39
  • Points per game: 105.1 (6th of 8)
  • Opponent points per game: 106.3 (3rd of 8)
  • Arena: Detroit Olympia
  • Head coach: Red Rocha

Leaders

  • Points per game: George Yardley (20.8)
  • Rebounds per game: Walter Dukes (13.3)
  • Assists per game: Dick McGuire (6.2)

Top player

George Yardley

Yardley, an explosive scoring forward, was the Pistons’ first legitimate star. One year after leading the Pistons to the Finals by leading the league in scoring and becoming the first player in NBA history to score 2,000 points in a season, Yardley once again was Detroit’s top offensive player much of the 1958-59 season. The secrets to his success as a player are described in his New York Times’ obituary:

… the 6-foot-5 Yardley was an outstanding leaper and one of pro basketball’s early jump-shot artists.

”He had probably the quickest release of anybody in the N.B.A.,” Bill Sharman, the former star guard of the Boston Celtics, once told The Los Angeles Times. ”He was a deadly shooter and one of the only ones dunking the ball back then.”

Yardley, in the book ”From Set Shot to Slam Dunk,” told Charles Salzberg that he was probably the best jumper in the league. ”There might have been others who were good jumpers,” Yardley recalled, ”but I could move my body well to either side while in the air and still control my shot.”

Yardley was an All-Star in six of his seven NBA seasons. He was also an intelligent player off the court, starting his own engineering firm after his playing career ended. According to his biography on his company’s website, Yardley is the only player in league history who was a teammate of all three of the league’s first three black players — Nathaniel ‘Sweetwater’ Clifton, Chuck Cooper and Earl Lloyd. Yardley sounds exactly like the type of franchise player a team would want to keep around for a long time …

Key transaction

Pistons trade George Yardley to Syracuse for Ed Conlin

I already alluded to the fact that the Pistons traded one of their early iconic players, Dave DeBusschere, in a previous post. Well, it appears that shipping off the team’s best players was a common occurrence in the early history of the team. Yardley was traded during the season to Syracuse for Ed Conlin, a journeyman wing who averaged just 11 points per game in parts of two seasons with Detroit. Yardley, meanwhile, would go on to become an All-Star once again the following season in Syracuse before retiring at age 31 to allow his daughter to start kindergarten in his native California. His bio states that he had other opportunities to play, but contract constraints prevented him from doing so:

He retires as an All Star, averaging over 20 points a game in his final season. He does this in order to allow his daughter, Marilyn, to enter kindergarten in California.

Added note: Syracuse/Philadelphia retains George’s rights. The Lakers try to sign George repeatedly, but Syracuse/Philadelphia insists on the rights to Jerry West or Elgin Baylor in return. No deal is ever consummated.

Now, it’s obvious why the Lakers wouldn’t give up West or Baylor for Yardley, but it does speak to how highly thought of Yardley was at the time that a team would even have the gall to ask for either player, both among the greatest NBA players of all time, in return.

Trend watch

The quest for .500

The 1958-59 season, the second the franchise was in Detroit, also happened to be the second worst record the Pistons had in franchise history. Fortunately, six teams in the eight-team league made the playoffs, so the Pistons’ streak of playoff appearances was extended to 10 straight. But the Pistons were on a more elusive quest: returning to the .500 mark. This was the team’s third straight sub-.500 finish and — without giving too much away — this streak will stay alive for some time.

Why this season ranks No. 47

After trading Yardley, the Pistons found themselves in an identity crisis. The key remaining players were Gene Shue, Phil Jordon, Walter Dukes and Dick McGuire, but McGuire was 33-years-old. Dukes was a good rebounder, but it’s a bit of a problem when your center is a 37 percent shooter. Jordon was traded to Cincinnati in the offseason. The Pistons continued to be competitive enough to sneak into the playoffs, but as we’ve seen throughout the team’s history, recovering from trading a franchise player for less than equal value is no easy task.

Previously

Chevette to Corvette No. 48: The 1951-52 Fort Wayne Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 29-37
  • Pythagorean record: 27-39
  • Points Per Game: 78.0 (9th of 10)
  • Opponent points per game: 80.1 (2nd of 10)
  • Arena: North Side High School Gym
  • Head coaches: Paul Birch

Playoffs

  • Lost in first round to the Rochester Royals, 2-0

Leaders

  • Points per game: Frankie Brian (15.9)
  • Rebounds per game: Larry Foust (13.3)
  • Assists per game: Fred Schaus (4.0)

Top player

Larry Foust

In his second season, Faust averaged 15.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and a career-high 3.0 assists per game to make the All-NBA second team. That recognition earned Foust a $100 bonus, according to Rodger Nelson’s “The Zollner Piston Story.”

Key transaction

Traded Bill Sharman to the Boston Celtics for Chuck Share

During the 1950-51 season, the Washington Capitols folded with a 10-25 record. So the remaining NBA teams held a dispersal draft in January to re-assign the Capitols’ players. Wisely, the Pistons took Bill Sharman, a rookie who was leading Washington with 12.2 points per game.

But Sharman, who was also pursuing a professional baseball career, refused to report to Fort Wayne, according to Ralph Hickock. Sharman sat out the rest of the NBA season following the Capitols’ demise, leaving the Pistons to handle him in the offseason.

The Pistons had wanted Share for a while, and they even thought they had acquired him earlier.

Boston drafted Share with the No. 1 overall pick in 1950,* but he opted to join the Waterloo Hawks of the National Professional Basketball League. Nelson:

Share remembered, "I was attending Bowling Green in Ohio when the Celtics drafted me. I found out when I read it in the Toledo Blade. I was contacted by Boston and I signed, I forgot for how much. Then I was contacted by a team from Waterloo, Iowa, that played in the National Professional Basketball League. They put $2500 on the table and said, Tf you sign with us, you can take this money with you now.’ I was engaged and $2,500 was a lot of money, so I signed with them, too. I even played with Waterloo for a month, then the league folded.

He tried to sign with the Pistons, who had agreed to send a first-round pick to Boston in exchange for permission to buy Share from Waterloo, according to the Associated Press. But NBA President Maurice Podoloff nixed that arrangement.

 *The Celtics infamously passed on Bob Cousy, who starred at nearby Holy Cross  and was drafted third by the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, to pick Share. Larry Schwartz for ESPN.com:

Boston had the first pick in the 1950 NBA draft, and Auerbach selected 6-11 center Chuck Share of Bowling Green. After being criticized by the Boston media, Auerbach responded: "We need a big man. Little men are a dime a dozen. I’m supposed to win, not go after local yokels."

Of course, the Celtics later acquired Cousy.

As a workaround, the Pistons traded Sharman to get their man. Share, 6-foot-11 and 235 pounds, had the size they coveted, but he never blossomed into an impact player with the Pistons. His best years, highlighted by a 14 and 11 season in 1955-56, came with the Hawks, and his nine-year career was a major letdown for a No. 1 overall pick.

Sharman? He became a Hall of Famer as a player and coach and was named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players. I doubt the Pistons ever saw that potential before trading him, and at the time, there was his baseball career to worry about, though that latter concern didn’t stymie the Celtics.

Between the Pistons trading him and the 1951-52 season, Sharman had a unique experience with the Dodgers. Golden Baseball Magazine:

So why are we talking about Bill Sharman on this baseball page? Because of this odd fact: Although he never appeared in a major league game, he was ejected from one.

In September 1951, Bill was called up to the Dodgers, who were trying to stave off the hard-charging New York Giants for the pennant.

In a tense game September 27 against the Braves in Boston, the score was 3-3 when umpire Frank Dascoli called Bob Addis safe at home on a single in the bottom of the eighth. C Roy Campanella, who thought he had the plate blocked, screamed in protest. Campy, manager Chuck Dressen, P Preacher Roe, and coach Cookie Lavagetto were all ejected. To prevent more problems,Dascoli ordered all Dodgers on the bench, including Sharman, to the clubhouse.

Sharman played baseball a couple more seasons, but he became a lot more committed to basketball after that. By that time, though, the Pistons had already traded him.

Maybe the Pistons never would have convinced him to join him to join them. Or maybe he would’ve given up baseball and joined Fort Wayne.

Either way, the Celtics got a an all-time great, and the Pistons got nowhere.

Trend watch

Back-to-back losing seasons

For the first time since becoming a professional team, the Pistons posted consecutive losing seasons. On the bright side, they made the playoffs both those years.

Why this season ranks No. 51

Not a single NBA team had a winning road record this season. For most teams, that was a bit inexplicable and random. For the Pistons, who went 22-11 in Fort Wayne and 7-25 elsewhere, it was completely expected. Nelson:

Fred Schaus made a partial explanation for the Pistons’ road record by comparing North Side with the other venues in the league. Each court had its own characteristics. Among other things, the fans at North Side sat almost on top of the players. While the Pistons were used to it, the other teams were not. Although the court in Boston was very short, most of the others were larger. Schaus said, "We loved it there at North Side High School. We didn’t know what we were doing on those big courts."

The Pistons weren’t actually good. They just took advantage of a quirk in construction.

Still, because four of five teams in each division made the playoffs, Fort Wayne qualified for the postseason. Unsurprisingly, though, the Rochester Royals swept the Pistons in a best-of-three, first-round series.

At least the Pistons did some fun stuff that season. Nelson:

In an unusual promotion gimmick. Fort Wayne and Boston played a midnight basketball game on February 21 in Boston Garden so people who worked on the night shift could watch. The game followed a performance of Ice Follies. It must have been past the Pistons’ bedtime, as they lost to the Celtics 88-67.

Interesting, but underwhelming – that night and all season.

Previously

Chevette to Corvette No. 49: The 1969-70 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 31-51
  • Pythagorean record: 33-49
  • Points Per Game: 112.8 (13th of 14)
  • Opponent points per game: 116.1 (5th of 14)
  • Arena: Cobo Arena
  • Head coaches: Butch Van Breda Kolff

Leaders

  • Points per game: Dave Bing (22.9)
  • Rebounds per game: Otto Moore (11.1)
  • Assists per game: Dave Bing (6.0)

Top player

Dave Bing

With Dave DeBusschere gone, this was clearly Bing’s team. He was a rising star, and the Pistons were lucky to have him.

Except, it appeared they would soon lose his services.

Before the season, Bing signed with the Washington Caps of the ABA. Bing’s move wasn’t set to occur for a year or two, but his impending departure put a cloud over the Pistons.

Thankfully, Bing received a release from the Virginia Squires (the Caps’ new identity) and re-signed with the Pistons following the season.

Key transaction

Hired Butch Van Breda Kolff

Van Breda Kolff appeared to be a tremendous hire. Just 47, he had guided the Lakers 52 and 55 wins and NBA Finals appearances the previous two years, his first two as an NBA head coach. And that was no small task, Los Angeles went 36-45 the year prior.

So, why was he even available?

He didn’t get along with Lakers star center Wilt Chamberlain, and their feud peaked during the 1969 NBA Finals. Steve Spring of the Los Angeles Times:

But the often tempestuous relationship between Chamberlain and Van Breda Kolff reached the breaking point at a crucial moment in that championship title bid.

Boston came back to tie the series and, in the deciding seventh game at the Forum, had a seven-point lead with just over five minutes to play.

Then Chamberlain, a dominating 7-foot-1 center, hurt his right knee coming down with a rebound and left the game.

Mel Counts replaced him, the Lakers rallied and, when Counts made a 10-foot jump shot, the Lakers had pulled to within one point.

Chamberlain stepped forward and told Van Breda Kolff he was ready to return. Van Breda Kolff, who had clashed with Chamberlain earlier in the season, told his starting center he was sticking with Counts.

"We’re doing well enough without you," Van Breda Kolff told Chamberlain.

Chamberlain sat down and the Lakers lost the game, and thus the championship, by two points, 108-106.

Van Breda Kolff resigned, Chamberlain returned and helped the Lakers win an NBA title in 1972.

Via Frank Litsky of The New York Times:

“We played better when he was out,” van Breda Kolff said. “I have no regrets because in my mind at the time I thought it was the right thing to do. The only regret I’ll have would be if I don’t have a team.”

Thanks to the Pistons, he had one.

Trend watch

14 straight losing seasons

That’s more than twice as long as the second-worst streak in franchise history.

The dismal stretch dated back to Fort Wayne, meaning the Pistons hadn’t posted a single winning season in Detroit. The long stretch of bad basketball was a big reason the Pistons ranked 13th of 14 in attendance this season.

Why this season ranks No. 51

The Pistons didn’t do much to improve from their 32-50 record the season prior. They returned their eight leaders in minutes from the season before, although they ultimately traded Happy Hairston, Eddie Miles and Walt Bellamy during the season, that’s too much faith to put into a subpar lineup.

As much as the two didn’t get along, Van Breda Kolff was never going to match his Lakers success in Detroit without Wilt Chamberlain.

The season showed a quick-fix coaching hire wasn’t going to turn this group around. They’d need someone capable of making a larger impact.

Previously

Chevette to Corvette No. 50: The 1968-69 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 32-50
  • Pythagorean record: 33-49
  • Points Per Game: 114.1 (5th of 14)
  • Opponent points per game: 117.3 (13th of 14)
  • Arena: Cobo Arena
  • Head coaches: Donnie Butcher, Paul Seymour

Leaders

  • Points per game: Dave Bing (23.4)
  • Rebounds per game: Walt Bellamy 13.5
  • Assists per game: Dave Bing (7.1)
  • Steals per game: NA
  • Blocks per game: NA

Top player

Dave Bing

Out of necessity, Bing had become a bit of a volume shooter. In the previous season, he averaged 24 shot attempts per game in order to get his 27 points per game. In 1968-69, he became a bit less shot happy (his attempts went down to 20 per game and his assists went up from 6.4 to 7.1 per game) but that wasn’t necessarily because the Pistons put better talent around him. They just added more guys who liked to shoot a lot. Jimmy Walker, a scoring guard, was in his second year in the league. They acquired Walt Bellamy, known for being a get-mine type of player. And they still had Eddie Miles and Happy Hairston on the team, two guys who had healthy scoring averages in the past as well. Bing was a good player, but he was far from an efficient player because of the mismatched collection of talent Detroit had and the lack of chemistry the team exhibited.

Key transaction

Traded Dave DeBusschere to New York for Walt Bellamy and Howard Kornives

The Pistons cut ties with a local legend who had done everything the organization asked of him in DeBusschere. He improved each year in the league, some of those years having the unnecessary burden of also coaching the team, and was known throughout his career as being a great and unselfish teammate. The talented player he was traded for, Walt Bellamy, has been described as a player in search of his own stats. Former teammate Walt Frazier had this to say:

He (Frazier) wasn’t putting up anything close to those numbers as a young Knick. “I didn’t have confidence in my shooting,” he said. And the way those Knicks played made him uncomfortable.
“Nobody would pass the ball,” he said. “Cazzie (Russell) and Bellamy were very selfish. Cazzie and Komives would rather pass the ball into the stands than to each other. There was animosity between Willis and Bellamy.”

Keith Langlois recounted why the trade was made:

The story goes that new Pistons coach Paul Seymour, who went 22-38 after taking over for Donnis Butcher 22 games into the 1968-69 season and wasn’t invited back for the following year, urged the trading of DeBusschere because he was tired of his sulking. If, indeed, DeBusschere had grown weary of being the good soldier, is it any wonder given the managerial incompetence that had surrounded him for his tenure in Detroit?

The return was journeyman point guard Howard Komives and 7-footer Walt Bellamy, who had splashed into the NBA in 1961-62 with Chamberlainesque impact, averaging a stunning 31.6 points and 19.0 rebounds as a rookie. But he’d worn out welcomes in Baltimore and New York and had a reputation as a malcontent. He proved it in Detroit, lasting a mere 109 games. In his second season with the Pistons, his scoring sunk to 10 a game before they moved him to Atlanta in a trade that netted the Pistons one John Arthurs, whose NBA career consisted of 22 games the previous season for Milwaukee. He never suited up for the Pistons.

Trend watch

Will they ever find a center?

The willingness to trade for a player who two franchises gave up on despite his talent spoke to a larger problem with the Pistons: they always lacked size. The Pistons of the previous decade were frequently guard heavy and frequently employed undersized forwards up front. The fact that Bellamy turned out to be a bust further set the team back. Not only had they not solved their problem in the middle, but they gave up one of their best assets for him. It would take two more years before the Pistons would finally land their coveted big man.

Why this season ranks No. 50

Giving up DeBusschere is one of the all-time worst moves the franchise has made. It did irreparable damage to the team’s immediate future, but former Piston Gene Shue wasn’t surprised, via Langlois:

They traded Gene Shue after the 1963 season – Shue’s parting shot: “Detroit has the worst management in the league.”

Management would prove it, too. The Pistons didn’t return to the playoffs until 1974.

Previously