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Chevette to Corvette No. 44: The 2000-01 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 32-50
  • Pythagorean record: 36-46
  • Offensive rating: 100.0 (25th of 29)
  • Defensive Rating: 101.8 (8th of 29)
  • Arena: The Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coach: George Irvine

Leaders

  • Points per game: Jerry Stackhouse (29.8)
  • Rebounds per game: Ben Wallace (13.2)
  • Assists per game: Jerry Stackhouse (5.1)
  • Steals per game: Ben Wallace (1.3)
  • Blocks per game: Ben Wallace (2.3)

Top player

Ben Wallace

In 2000-01, the Detroit Pistons could’ve found themselves at their lowest point. Joe Dumars had just taken over and the team immediately lost its franchise player, Grant Hill, in free agency. That, as we know, turned out to be a blessing. Anyone who watches sports and pays attention to how teams are built has, by now, realized the role luck plays in building a contending team. The Pistons, like every other championship caliber team, are no different. They had a lot of luck mixed in with some savvy moves, and that luck started in 2000-01.

The Pistons were lucky that Hill signed a massive contract in Orlando. Severe ankle injuries caused him to miss more games than he played over the life of that deal. Had he re-signed with the Pistons, the team would’ve been stuck paying huge money to a player who couldn’t stay on the court.

The Pistons were lucky that they were largely rebuffed in free agency. After Hill made it clear he was leaving, one of the free agents the team vigorously pursued as a replacement was young Milwaukee Bucks small forward Tim Thomas. Thomas had become a key reserve on an up and coming Bucks team. I remember being at a concert that summer (can’t remember which one) and Dumars was there with Thomas, trying to convince him to become a Piston. Pursuing Thomas made sense — he was young, improving and played the same position as Hill. But I think we can all agree that had the Pistons successfully signed him, their ability to build a championship team would’ve been hindered with him taking up $8-$14 million per year of their budget as he did over the life of his contract that he signed with the Bucks.

But the biggest stroke of luck is that a player the Pistons did sign as part of the Hill sign and trade with Orlando, Wallace, turned into a better player than most would’ve reasonably expected. Wallace was a good player, a tireless worker who crashed the boards with ferocity and brought energy every time he touched the court for Washington and Orlando. The problem for Wallace is that he was always crunched in a numbers game. He was stuck behind bigger name players like Juwan Howard, Gheorge Muresan (don’t laugh … big Gheorge was effective before injuries wrecked his career) and Chris Webber in Washington. He finally became a starter in Orlando, but still only played 24 minutes per game. Wallace’s 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in those 24 minutes in Orlando suggested he would get better with more time on the court.

In his first season in Detroit, he finished second in the league in rebounding behind Dikembe Mutombo. His defensive rating of 94 was, at the time, his career best (he’d later best that mark three times).

Most who remember this season remember Jerry Stackhouse’s pursuit of the scoring title, and I’ll admit, that was fun to watch in what was a bad season. But through acquiring Wallace, Dumars not only landed the cornerstone player who would help return the team to its defensive roots, he also replaced his franchise player with another in the same offseason, which is truly a miraculous feat, lucky or otherwise.

Key transaction

Signed and traded Grant Hill to Orlando for Wallace and Chucky Atkins

This was obviously the biggest move, but we’ve already talked about the impact. So let’s go with the runner-up.

Traded Jerome Williams and Eric Montross to Toronto for Corliss Williamson, Tyrone Corbin, Kornel David and a 2005 First Round Pick

The acquisition of Wallace, a rebounding, defending bundle of energy, kind of made the team’s incumbent rebounding, defending, bundle of energy in Williams expendable. With Wallace under contract, there was little reason to commit to Williams long-term when it was likely thought at the time that both guys would occupy similar roles (remember … it’s doubtful the Pistons fully understood what they had in Wallace at the time). So they shipped Williams and stiff big man Montross to Toronto for salary flexibility — Williamson was a free agent to be while David and Corbin were throw-ins — and a future pick.

Williamson, however, turned out to be a great fit in Detroit. As a tweener forward, Williamson wasn’t quick enough to guard opposing small forwards, but what the Pistons discovered is that his mix of strength, quickness and post moves made him a tough matchup for just about every backup big man in the league. Williamson averaged 15 points and six rebounds per game after getting traded to Detroit. He was re-signed in the offseason and became one of the top reserves in the NBA over the next three seasons.

Trend watch

Jerry Stackhouse’s scoring assault

OK, admittedly, I liked watching Stackhouse try to basically score every time he touched the ball in the 2000-01 season. It was fun to watch and with the Pistons having no shot at contending for anything, why not see how much their best individual perimeter scorer could get each night? But let’s be clear: he was in no way an efficient offensive player. He shot 40 percent from the field and he was quite capable of putting up a hideous statline (like this game, for example).

The Pistons needed Stackhouse to shoot a lot because they simply didn’t have any other offensive threat before the trade for Williamson. The offense often consisted of Stackhouse dribbling around and barreling into the lane in hopes of drawing contact. He was pretty good at that, getting to the line 10.1 times per game. And it wasn’t like he was completely selfish — he did lead the team in assists.

It’s not particularly fun to watch a get-mine type of scorer, even if the Pistons did need big scoring from Stackhouse to have any shot at winning, but Stackhouse undoubtedly had some memorable performances as he fell just short of the scoring title (finishing second to Allen Iverson). The best was his team-record 57 points against Chicago late in the season. I remember watching that game, rooting for Stack to get to 60. He had some shots at it late in the game, but couldn’t get them to go down. I wouldn’t choose to watch that type of basketball all the time, but for one season, Stackhouse undeniably delivered some entertaining moments.

Why this season ranks No. 44

Unlike the current version of the Pistons, the 2000-01 team offered some hope for a quicker turnaround. Wallace was, at worst, going to provide the team with toughness, rebounding and shot-blocking, three areas where the team had been lacking for over a decade. Stackhouse was still a gunner, but he played extremely hard and there was some hope that he could be a key piece if the talent around him was upgraded. Williamson was a hard piece to figure out, but in his partial season with the Pistons he looked talented and tough.

There were certainly question marks — George Irvine wasn’t a long-term solution as coach (and he was fired after the season) and first round draft pick Mateen Cleaves showed that although leadership and intangibles can make a great college point guard, it’s hard to succeed at the NBA level minus a reliable jumpshot.

But this season could’ve been much, much worse. Look around the league at teams that lost their biggest star throughout history. Toronto after Vince Carter or Chris Bosh? Cleveland after LeBron? Orlando after Shaq? Milwaukee after Kareem? Portland after Walton? Recovery is not easy. The Pistons lost Hill, one of the league’s biggest stars on and off the court in the 1990s, a perennial All-Star and one of the NBA’s most popular players. It could’ve been years before the team sniffed contention again. Instead, because of some shrewd, luck, savvy — whatever you want to call them — moves, the Pistons were able to relatively quickly recover from what could’ve been a ruinous blow. The pieces for long-term contention started coming together this season, even if the record was still bad.

Previously

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