- Actual record: 31-49
- Pythagorean record: 31-49
- Points scored per game: 108.5 (7th of 9)
- Points allowed per game: 111.9 (6th of 9)
- Arena: Cobo Arena
- Head coach: Charles Wolf (2-9), Dave DeBusschere (29-40)
- Points per game: Terry Dischinger (18.2)
- Rebounds per game: Reggie Harding (11.6)
- Assists per game: Ray Scott (3.6)
DeBusschere ranked second on the team in each of the three major categories listed above, and management thought so much of his basketball knowledge, the Pistons named him player-coach after Charles Wolf’s slow start. But above all, DeBusschere was an excellent player. Tom C. Brody of Sports Illustrated:
The eight-player trade, largest in NBA history at the time, ridded the Pistons many of the players who had feuded with Charles Wolf the season before. Unfortunately, the deal also ridded the Pistons of a lot of talent.
Dischinger was the prize of the deal. Two years prior, he won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award, and he averaged 20.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game the previous season.
But, according to Eli Zaret’s “Blue Collar Blueprint,” former Piston Gene Shue assessed the trade thusly: “Detroit has the worst management in the league.”
The trade had even more negative consequences than expected. Dischinger, who had an ROTC commission from Purdue, went into active military service after the season as the Vietnam War was escalating. He missed the following two years, and when he returned to the NBA, he wasn’t the same. Dischinger played six more seasons, including five with Detroit, but he was just a 10-and-5 player at that point.
Lost final eight games
The Pistons went a reasonable 29-32 to begin DeBusschere’s coaching career. Projected over a full season, that would have been Detroit’s best record in eight years.
But the Pistons struggled to end the season, a time of year when DeBusschere’s mind had previously drifted to baseball. He was a rising player in the Chicago White Sox organization. Tom C. Brody of Sports Illustrated:
When DeBusschere gets through with his basketball duties this spring he will already be several weeks late for spring training, and the White Sox are not particularly happy about it. When he signed, it was agreed that he could play both sports, but now the Sox realize they have an exceptional property in DeBusschere and they wish he would forget basketball.
DeBusschere never played Major League Baseball, that year or again. Did his split focus hurt his baseball career and NBA team that spring?
Why this season ranks No. 53
Naming DeBusschere head coach was an experiment. At the time, he was the second-youngest head coach ever in one of the major sports.
The move immediately paid one major dividend: It fired up the players. Brody:
If the attitude of the rest of the NBA was reserved because of DeBusschere’s age, there was unrestrained joy among the Piston players. The announcement was made at practice, and every player immediately took turns dunking the ball in the basket. "Even I dunked it," said stocky Don Butcher, "and I haven’t even touched the rim in five years."
DeBusschere also had some, um, interesting methods . Brody:
He introduced a note of levity into the heretofore grim procedure of traveling by pulling a harmonica from his pocket—after a losing game—and playing such favorites as Love Makes the World Go Round but, Baby, Money Greases the Wheels.
But the decision backfired. DeBusschere, via “Motor City Memories”:
“It was a big mistake,” he later conceded. “I wasn’t mature enough. It hurt me as a player thinking about what we could do on the floor.”
The Pistons took a chance by naming DeBusschere coach. In the end, that chance contributed to one of the NBA’s all-time greats spending his best years with the New York Knicks.