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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

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