Detroit Pistons, once a powerhouse in the East, have now fallen to the bottom of the NBA. They have had a roller coaster ride for the past 3 decades and have now bottomed out.
What exactly caused one of the most exciting and dominating teams in the league to be reduced to a mere shadow of it’s former glory?
However, before we get into that, a little history lesson is in order so that we understand why the Pistons were such a great team.
The Bad Boys era (1981-1994)
After struggling for decades, The Motor City dominated the league during the late 1980′s and the early 1990′s, commonly known as the bad boys era, when the team was studded with superstars like Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, and Vinnie Johnson who formed the core of their team for about a decade. They had put together the trio through a series of drafts and transfer beginning in 1981. They added Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman to their roster in 1986.
The team was ready to launch it’s championship run.
The Pistons faced off against none other than the mighty Los Angeles Lakers (for the 2nd time in a row) in the 1989 NBA finals. The Lakers were led by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and James Worthy. The Pistons swept them 4-0 and won their first NBA Championship that year.
They successfully defended their title in 1990 when they defeated the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls in the conference finals. They matched up against the Trail Blazers in the NBA finals, which they won 4-1.
After these successful years, the Pistons’ fortune changed for the worse. Isiah Thomas injured his wrist and had to undergo surgery on it before the 1992 playoffs. They were swept by their rivals, The Bulls, in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Following this, the team went through a period which they like to refer to as “transitional” which in reality, was nothing but a downhill ride. Their stars either retired or were traded of to other teams. Laimbeer and Thomas retired in 1993 and 1994 respectively. Edwards, Johnson, Sally and Rodman were all shipped off to other teams.
The team bottomed out in the 1993-94 season, finishing 20-62 in the regular season.
The Grant Hill era (1994-2000)
Since they bottomed out in the 1993-94 season, they got the opportunity to draft Grant Hill, a promising Small Forward and Co-Rookie of the Year.
Hill should have been the core of their team for the near future. However, they failed to build a team around him and the rebuilding fizzled out. Their front office also made a lot of questionable decisions when it came to a change in personnel. They lost free agent Allan Houston to the New York Knicks. They signed washed up free agents like Christian Laettner, Loy Vaught, Cedric Ceballos, and Bison Dele.
There was no consistency even at the head of the organisation. They continuously changed head coaches, going through 4 coaches in an eight year span. A revolving system of coaches is definitely not a team “in transition” needs.
The Return (2000-2008)
The return of the Pistons to championship contention began in 2000, with the signing of Joe Dumars as the team’s President of Basketball operations. He worked out a sign and trade with Orlando Magic which brought Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins to Detroit in exchange for Grant Hill. Both of them solidified their positions as starters pretty soon.
Dumars didn’t stop revamping the roster there. He fired head coach George Irvine and hired Rick Carlisle. Carlisle coached the team through to their first 50 win season since 1997, and their first playoff series win since 1991.
Dumars continued to revamp the roster by signing Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton. He drafted Tayshaun Prince from Kentucky in the 2002 offseaon. The Pistons posted back to back 50 win seasons and advanced to the conference finals this time. But they were swept away by the New Jersey Nets (Now Brooklyn Nets).