Chevette to Corvette No. 33: The 1977-78 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 38-44
  • Pythagorean record: 38-44
  • Offensive Rating: 100.3 (12th of 22)
  • Defensive Rating: 101.5 (14th of 22)
  • Arena: Cobo Arena
  • Head coaches: Herb Brown (9-15), Bob Kauffman (29-29)

Leaders

  • Points per game: Bob Lanier (24.5)
  • Rebounds per game: Bob Lanier (11.3)
  • Assists per game: Eric Money (4.7)
  • Steals per game: Chris Ford (2.0)
  • Blocks per game: Bob Lanier (1.5)

Top player

Bob Lanier

Lanier had a typically fine season and received an MVP vote.

But he missed the Pistons’ final 12 games after having knee surgery, according to Steve Addy’s “The Detroit Pistons: More Than Four Decades of Motor City Memories.” Detroit went 5-7 in the stretch and missed the playoffs.

Key transaction

Traded Kevin Porter and Howard Porter to the New Jersey Nets for Al Skinner and two second-round picks

Just two years prior, Kevin Porter was more valuable than Dave Bing. But Porter clashed with Herb Brown in Detroit, detracting from his solid play. Greg Eno of Out of Bounds:

One day in practice, according to Green in his book “The Detroit Pistons: Capturing a Remarkable Era,” Brown was overseeing a ball movement drill and noticed one of the Pistons being checked in a mismatch by point guard Kevin Porter.

Porter was an angry, simmering player who scowled a lot and distrusted coaches. He and Brown were very similar people, which was part of their problem.

Brown saw the mismatch and implored the bigger player to shoot.

“You got a midget on you! Shoot the ball! You got a midget on you!”

Kevin Porter didn’t like being called a midget by the disco-dressing Herbie Brown.

That was part of the tenuous, stormy relationship between coach and point guard, which at times nearly turned physical in its confrontations.

Brown would sit Porter during games and not call on him for chunks of minutes at a time. Porter would glare and scowl. Herbie would finally call for Porter and it was even money whether Kevin would actually acquiesce and enter the game.

This went on for most of the 1976-77 season

By the 1977-78 season, their problems were unavoidable. Curry Kirkpatrick and John Papanek of Sports Illustrated in a season preview published Oct. 31, 1977:

During the summer Brown tried unsuccessfully to dump his main nemesis, Kevin Porter. The two have not exactly made peace, but they are willing—so they say—to lay down their swords for the common good. "This year when I’m yanked I’ll accept it," says Porter. Says Brown, "I may have made some mistakes." Says Lanier, "You can’t change human nature. To be fair they should trade one of them."

The Pistons were completely fair. They traded Porter seven days later and fired Brown not long after.

Trend watch

Playoff streak snapped after four straight seasons

Between 1963-64 and and 1972-73 seasons, the Pistons made the playoffs only once. But they had reached the postseason all four years prior to 1977-78. It wouldn’t last.

Why this season ranks No. 33

The 1976-77 season was one for the ages. The Pistons hated their coach, but that didn’t stop them from playing well. It was a juicy mix of storylines and success.

In 1977-78, all that tension began to pull the Pistons in the wrong direction. They still hated their coach, but they didn’t play nearly as well.

The season began with Marvin Barnes leaving prison. John Papanek of Sports Illustrated:

At 15 minutes past midnight last Friday, after 152 days on the inside, Marvin Barnes, 25, walked out of the Adult Correctional Institute at Cranston, R.I., climbed into his lawyer’s Rolls-Royce and was driven off to resume his job as a $300,000-a-year forward for the Detroit Pistons.

After spending a few hours with his mother, sister and friends in West Providence, the 6’9", 225-pound Barnes flew to Buffalo, where he rejoined the Pistons for a preseason game against the Braves.

Then, on Oct. 9, 1976, a metal detector at Detroit Metropolitan Airport picked up something suspicious in his luggage. It turned out to be an unloaded pistol—a clear violation of probation. On May 16 News began serving a one-year sentence that was shortened to five months, and last Friday he was free again, on parole.

At a press conference in Buffalo, flanked by Pistons General Manager Bob Kauffman and Coach Herb Brown,Barnes was ever so cautious, aware that he would be judged on whatever he said and did. So he said things like, "I paid my debt to society. I want to come out, be a basketball player again, do what’s right." Kauffman prompted him to tell of the time he had spent studying while in prison. "Oh, yeah," said Barnes. "I couldn’t cut no classes."

Strangely, the pot of drama in Detroit never boiled over. The Pistons traded the Porters and Barnes and fired Brown during the season, and slowly simmered into irrelevance.

Previously

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