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Chevette to Corvette No. 22: The 1991-92 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 48-34
  • Pythagorean record: 47-35
  • Offensive Rating: 107.5 (15th of 27)
  • Defensive Rating: 105.3 (6th of 27)
  • Arena: The Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coach: Chuck Daly

Playoffs

  • Lost in first round to the New York Knicks, 3-2

Leaders

  • Points per game: Joe Dumars (19.9)
  • Rebounds per game: Dennis Rodman (18.7)
  • Assists per game: Isiah Thomas (7.2)
  • Steals per game: Isiah Thomas (1.5)
  • Blocks per game: John Salley (1.5)

Top player

Dennis Rodman

Joe Dumars led the team in scoring for the second straight year, and Isiah Thomas was still Isiah Thomas. But Rodman’s 18.7 rebounds per game were the most since Wilt Chamberlain. Add his awesome defense, and Rodman gets the slightest edge over Dumars and Thomas.

Key transaction

Chuck Daly resigned

The Pistons traded James Edwards and waived Vinnie Johnson before the season, two big blows to the Bad Boys core. Bill Laimbeer, via Booth Newspapers, placed the blame on Pistons general manager Jack McCloskey:

McCloskey was “crippling the team by providing it with no sense of direction. Pro athletics is a business. You can`t deny that. But at the same time, you must attempt to attain a certain kind of family atmosphere. We had that here once. That feeling no longer exists in our organization.“

That feeling magnified when Chuck Daly told his team a month before the season ended that he planned to resign after the playoffs. Dennis Rodman, who considered Daly a father, took the news hardest. But years later, Laimbeer didn’t back down when it came to assigning blame. Eli Zaret’s “Blue Collar Blueprint”:

And Chuck didn’t have to go anywhere. The animosity became too great. But it wasn’t animosity among the players and coach; it was animosity among the coach and GM. I had a bad taste for what was going on and something had to be said, and that was my job.

After the season, McCloskey left for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Trend watch

Offense falls first

After years of climbing to the top of the NBA, the Pistons’ 48 wins and first-round exit were their worst marks in six years. Even the biggest optimistic could see the aging Pistons weren’t going to regain their title form.

Their offense ranked below the league average for the first time in 10 years – Isiah Thomas’ rookie season.

Why this season ranks No. 22

The 1991-92 Pistons were a good team – not capable reaching the heights of the prime Bad Boys, but a good team nonetheless.

Isiah Thomas, upset that John Stockton stole his place on the Dream Team, scored 44 points when Stockton and the Jazz visited The Palace in November. Although Thomas’ motivations for isolating Stockton were a bit petty and selfish, he needed just 22 shots in the Detroit win. This was long before Thomas’ insecurities and ego led to self destruction.

But Thomas’ showing led to destruction from the outside.

Playing in Utah the next month, Karl Malone showed his displeasure with Thomas’ showmanship by trying to block one of Thomas’ shots. But instead of going for the ball, Malone went for Thomas’ head. And instead of using his hand, he used his elbow. It wasn’t pretty.

Thomas needed 40 stitches, and the injury led to the end of his career. But don’t forget: the Pistons were the dirty team. Karl Malone is an angel.

A loss that night dropped the Pistons to 10-14, but they rallied to a 38-20 record down the stretch.

Despite the solid play, the team had problems. Newly acquired Orlando Woolridge and Darrel Walker didn’t exactly fit with what was left of the Bad Boys, and the Pistons finished fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Detroit played the New York Knicks in the first round, but without home-court advantage in the opening round for the first time in six years, the Pistons lost in a full five games. Eli Zaret’s “Blue Collar Blueprint”:

After the final horn sounded in New York, Dumars said, “To think, there are three more rounds of playoffs, and we’re not in any of them. I’m not sure what to do now.”

Hope for one small silver lining remained: the Knicks could somehow beat the hated Chicago Bulls in the second round. Eli Zaret’s “Blue Collar Blueprint”:

As the teams left the floor at Madison Square Garden after the 94-87 Knicks victory, Laimbeer said to Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Xavier McDaniel and the rest, “Play Chicago as tough as you played us, and you’ll beat ‘em.” He even playfully warned Knicks’ coach Pat Riley that if they didn’t play the Bulls as hard as they had just played the Pistons, he’d kick Riley’s tail.

Harvey Araton of The New York Times:

“I told Patrick Ewing, ‘If they let you play the way you played against us, you’ll do all right,’ ” said Salley.

What Laimbeer and Salley didn’t realize was that just because the Knicks had beat the Pistons didn’t mean they could beat the Bulls. Chicago won Game 7 against the New York and went on to win its second straight title.

The Pistons, in their minds, had nothing. They didn’t have a playoff-series victory. They didn’t have several of their longtime teammates or their coach. And they didn’t have the honor of being the most recent team to win back-to-back championships.

Previously

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