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Chevette to Corvette No. 23: The 1998-99 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 29-21
  • Pythagorean record: 32-18
  • Offensive Rating: 104.2 (10th of 29)
  • Defensive Rating: 100.3 (9th of 29)
  • Arena: Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coach: Alvin Gentry

Leaders

  • Points per game: Grant Hill (21.1)
  • Rebounds per game: Grant Hill (7.1)
  • Assists per game: Grant Hill (6.0)
  • Steals per game: Lindsey Hunter (1.8)
  • Blocks per game: Don Reid (0.9)

Top player

Grant Hill

Not surprisingly, as you’ll find with every Hill team of this era, he was the team’s superior player and it wasn’t close. Jerry Stackhouse averaged 14.5 points per game, but shot just 37 percent. Bison Dele’s scoring and rebounding numbers plummeted in his second season in Detroit and Christian Laettner, who averaged nearly 14 points and 7 rebounds per game with the Hawks his previous season, averaged just seven points and 3 rebounds per game as a Piston. He also shot a horrid 37 percent from the field.

Hill picked up the slack, putting together another great all-around season and leading the Pistons into the playoffs.

Key transaction(s)

(Tie) Traded the rights to Bonzi Wells to Portland for a 1999 first round pick and a 2000 second round pick; Traded Scot Pollard to Atlanta with Portland’s 1999 first round pick for Christian Laettner

These moves were symbolic of several similar ones the Pistons made in this era. They gave up cheap young players in Wells (who never played for Detroit after they drafted him in the first round out of Ball State) and Pollard, both of whom would go on to be productive rotation players elsewhere, for a declining, moody veteran in Laettner. The Pistons hoped Laettner’s familiarity with Hill from their Duke days would be an enticement for Hill to re-sign when he hit free agency in 2000. Instead, Laettner was awful in Detroit and the Pistons gave away two pieces who were cost controlled and would’ve complimented Hill better. At least Stackhouse punched Laettner since the fans couldn’t.

Trend watch

Hill’s versatility

Despite may efforts to give Hill more help, the Pistons were once again in a familiar situation this season. Hill once again led the team in scoring, rebounding and assists. Hill led the team in all three categories for two straight seasons before Dele stopped that streak by leading the team in rebounds in 1997-98, but Hill took back the rebounding lead in 1998-99 to make it three out of four seasons of being the team’s Mr. Everything.

Why this season ranks No. 23

As a basketball player in Detroit, Dele was a flop. But as a person, he’s one of the most interesting characters the team has ever had. After his disappearance and murder in 2002, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl chronicled Dele’s unique career and life:

The 6’11″, 260-pound Dele, however, never showed a sustained passion for basketball. He was sidelined for most of his 1992-93 season with the Orlando Magic with clinical depression, swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills on one occasion and crashing a car into a pole on another. Late in the 1996-97 season he joined the Chicago Bulls and helped them win an NBA title, the only time, his friends say, that he was happy in the league. He signed as a free agent with the Pistons, but after two solid seasons in Detroit, where Dele tried to escape the winter doldrums by snorkeling in his wall-sized home aquarium, he suddenly quit the sport.

“He told me—and these were his exact words—that he felt like an organ-grinder’s performing monkey,” says Byrne. “Every time he thought it was a game, people told him it was a business. And every time he treated it as a job, they told him he didn’t have any team spirit.”

Dele didn’t just retire abruptly after the 1999 season, he left the remaining five years and $36 million of his contract on the table. Dele’s obvious basketball talents were evident in flashes with the Pistons, but it was also evident that he just didn’t have a consistent passion for the game. I always remember Dele getting heavy criticism in the media and from fans during these years in Detroit, and although I was certainly frustrated with his play at times, I always found him to be thoughtful and funny whenever he spoke.

Previously

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