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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

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