Chevette to Corvette No. 62: 1993-94 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 20-62
  • Pythagorean record: 21-61
  • Offensive rating: 102.7 (23rd out of 27)
  • Defensive Rating: 110.9 (26th of 27)
  • Arena: The Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coach: Don Chaney

Leaders

  • Points per game: Joe Dumars (20.4)
  • Rebounds per game: Olden Polynice (12.4)
  • Assists per game: Isiah Thomas (6.9)
  • Steals per game: Lindsey Hunter (1.5)
  • Blocks per game: Olden Polynice/Charles Jones (1.0)

Top player

Joe Dumars

Dumars became the last Bad Boy standing in one of the worst seasons in Pistons history. Dennis Rodman was traded in the offseason, Bill Laimbeer retired just 11 games into the season and Isiah Thomas played in just 58 games before rupturing his Achilles tendon, ending his career.

Although he wasn’t as old as Thomas or Laimbeer, Dumars was no spry youngster himself. This would be the last season Dumars averaged more than 20 points per game and the last time he’d shoot 45 percent or better from the field in his career.

Now, Dumars certainly proved to be a key steadying presence on future teams as well as a versatile player who spent time at both guard spots and still shot the three at a reliable clip in subsequent seasons. At 30-years-old, time was catching up with Dumars, but in 93-94? Joe D could still score the ball. Even before Thomas’ injury, Isiah was clearly no longer a go-to scorer. Dumars had quietly ascended into that role, and Dumars’ diverse skillset of rainbow 3-pointers, a great post game for a guard and shifty moves in the mid-range area made him a tough cover. The Pistons were a bad team, but Dumars’ efforts helped prevent them from being a historically bad team (seriously … look at that roster).

Dumars’ play in February and March might have been the biggest highlight of an overall dismal season. Beginning with a 42 point effort Feb. 5 vs. New Jersey, Dumars would score 40 points or more in four of 13 games in that stretch. Dumars was miscast as a sole go-to player, but once the Bad Boys seemingly fell apart overnight, he made every effort he could to keep an inferior team competitive on a nightly basis.

Key transaction

Traded Dennis Rodman, Isaiah Morris, a 1994 second round pick and a 1996 first round pick to San Antonio for Sean Elliott, David Wood and a 1996 first round pick

This trade was insanely bad, not just because Rodman was an extremely undervalued player and Elliott was overrated because he had decent offensive numbers playing next to David Robinson. I wrote in-depth about how badly the Pistons were ripped off last year on PistonPowered:

But it wasn’t just ‘fit’ and ‘production’ (or a lack of both) that made this a bad trade. Check out what Elliott once told SLAM’s Alan Paul about the trade:

SLAM: In ’93, your trade from Detroit to Houston was voided when you flunked the physical. Is that how you learned you had kidney disease?

SE: No. I knew way before that. Detroit knew I had a kidney condition before they got me, but they just wanted to get rid of Dennis Rodman. The Spurs didn’t know if I was going to be able to play more than another year or two, so this was a chance for them to get something in return. Midseason, we told Detroit I wanted to go somewhere out West, because things were not working out. The Pistons had told Houston I had something going on but when they tested me out, all the doctors had different opinions and everyone was in limbo. They sent me back to Detroit, which eventually sent me back to San Antonio.

I mean … read that quote again. There’s a lot to process in there. The Pistons traded arguably their best overall player at that point in Rodman for a one-dimensional scorer who they knew had a kidney condition. Then, when they were trying to trade Elliott midseason, they TOLD THE TEAM WILLING TO TRADE FOR HIM THAT HE HAD A CONDITION! Of course Houston would nix that trade!

Elliott never fit in with the Pistons, he had one of the worst statistical seasons of his career, and at the end of the season, he was traded back to San Antonio for Bill Curley and a second draft pick that would become Charles O’Bannon. Elliott was one of the most disappointing acquisitions the Pistons ever made. He was a young All-Star who was supposed to be the transitional star, along with Dumars, the team needed while more pieces from the Bad Boys era were replaced. The fact that the team was ready to cut ties with him at midseason shows just how poorly they miscalculated when trading for him.

Trend watch

Goodbye defense

After the Pistons helped revolutionize the way defense was played in the 1980s, bringing physicality and toughness to the game and setting the stage for the bully-ball of the 1990s brought to you by the New York Knicks and Miami Heat, the Pistons didn’t just see some slippage defensively in 93-94. This season would mark the first of two straight seasons that the Pistons finished in the bottom two in the league in defensive rating.

The evaporation of the defense is totally understandable, looking at the roster. Rodman, the league’s best defender and rebounder, was traded for a terrible defender in Elliott. Laimbeer tried to give it a go, but just couldn’t physically play near the level he used to. The team’s best shot blocker, John Salley, was also traded.

Replacements up front included the pudgy Terry Mills, a decent offensive player who was never particularly comfortable playing physically, Charles Jones, who was signed as a free agent but was actually the same age as Laimbeer (36), and Cadillac Anderson. Olden Polynice put up good rebounding numbers, but the team thought so highly of him that they traded him for Pete Chilcutt. The sheer number of big men the Pistons paraded out there during the 93-94 season in an effort to have any semblance of a defensive presence is crazy. Along with those guys already mentioned above, David Wood, Marcus Liberty, Tod Murphy, Dan O’Sullivan and Ben Coleman also got looks.

Why this season ranks No. 62

This season was absolutely tragic. Not only was Rodman shipped off before the season started, but the Pistons unceremoniously lost Laimbeer and Thomas unexpectedly in-season. Those guys were deserving of much better send-offs. But, in Laimbeer’s case, he had one final performance that I will always remember.

Shaquille O’Neal was in his second year in the league with the Orlando Magic, and by this point, it was already clear he was going to be the league’s biggest marketing star not named Jordan. He was huge, he dunked all the time and his personality off the court was engaging. He had all of those tools working for him, he played for a still relatively new team in Orlando and the franchise was experiencing its first success with him as the key figure and rookie Penny Hardaway joining him in 93-94. The Magic were the league’s darlings, and if growing up a Piston fan taught me anything, it’s to always hate the league’s darlings.

In November, I, like anyone else, was admittedly excited to see Shaq play the Pistons. Sure, I acted like I hated him, but he was still entertaining to watch. But Bill Laimbeer still had one vintage performance left.

Now, Laimbeer was no match for Shaq defensively, other than being able to still supply a good, hard foul. But the Pistons won one of their 20 games by knocking off the Magic, a team that would go on to make the playoffs, and Laimbeer is the major reason the Pistons pulled off that upset. He scored 26 points off the bench, hitting 11 of his 15 shots (only one of them a 3-pointer), and grabbed seven rebounds in 32 minutes. O’Neal simply didn’t respect Laimbeer enough to actually step out and guard him and Laimbeer punished him for it. Laimbeer only played five more games after that one (he also actually had a 25-point game in a win over Philly in that span as well, but the Orlando game sticks out more in my mind) before abruptly retiring. It would’ve been nice to have seen Laimbeer and Thomas get the chance to play a full season on a better Pistons team in their final year, but with that not in the cards, Laimbeer’s performance against Orlando will always stick out as perhaps the coolest moment of that otherwise horrible season.

Previously

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