- Actual record: 53-29
- Pythagorean record: 53-29
- Offensive Rating: 108.9 (6th of 30)
- Defensive Rating: 104.2 (7th of 30)
- Arena: The Palace of Auburn Hills
- Head coach: Flip Saunders
- Lost NBA Eastern Conference Finals (4-2) versus Cleveland Cavaliers
- Won NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals (4-2) versus Chicago Bulls
- Won NBA Eastern Conference First Round (4-0) versus Orlando Magic
- Points per game: Rip Hamilton (19.8)
- Rebounds per game: Rasheed Wallace (7.2)
- Assists per game: Chauncey Billups (7.2)
- Steals per game: Chauncey Billups (1.2)
- Blocks per game: Rasheed Wallace/Amir Johnson (1.6)
Three straight years of heavy minutes leading teams deep into the playoffs caught up with Billups a bit this season. He missed 12 games and his 3-point shooting fell from 43 percent the previous two seasons to 35 percent. Still though, he was unquestionably the team’s franchise player since Ben Wallace had departed for Chicago in the offseason.
Signed Chris Webber as a free agent
After Ben Wallace left for Chicago in the offseason, the Pistons scrambled to replace him with Nazr Mohammed. The only problem? Mohammed was not very good. So when the Philadelphia 76ers decided to cut ties and buy out Webber, the Pistons gave him the opportunity to come back home.
Sure, Webber had no more athleticism as a result of crippling knee injuries, he looked goofy in that No. 84 jersey and he was terrible defensively because of his poor mobility. But his passing ability was a nice addition to Flip Saunders’ offense and he fit in well in the veteran locker room.
The Pistons were a good team under Flip Saunders. The defense didn’t slip all that much under him and the offense became much, much better. But his easygoing personality didn’t fit well with a team that was its most motivated with Larry Brown nitpicking everything, and the team started to show more and more disharmony, something that would continue. Former ESPN writer Chris Sheridan:
And before we get to a dissection of Webber’s game, including the flat arc on his jumper, his slow feet on defense and the absence of anything remotely resembling a sprint from a pair of legs that had been resting for nearly a month, we’re going to change the subject to what appears to be a growing note of discord and disharmony — aw, heck, let’s just call it hate — between Rasheed Wallace and coach Flip Saunders.
At one point late in the third quarter during a timeout, nearly everyone on the Pistons’ bench turned and stared at Sheed as he prematurely broke from the huddle and walked to the scorers’ table to await the resumption of play.
Now Wallace has been doing this for years, but on this occasion, judging from the looks on the Pistons’ faces, there was more to it. Webber even walked over and said something to Wallace, who replied with a shake of the head and the type of disgusted look you get from someone who doesn’t want to be told to calm down or to make peace.
Wallace did not take kindly to that piece by Sheridan. From Sheridan again:
Rasheed Wallace was thrusting a bottle of orange soda straight at my chin after he came over to me this morning at the Pistons’ practice facility for some civilized discourse regarding this morning’s Daily Dime lead.
Of course, what constitutes civilized discourse is not the same to everyone.
So as I explained to Sheed that pointing a soda and screaming obscenities at me was not my preferred way to conduct an adult discussion, he kept yelling, “Did you ever hear the word ‘hate’ come out of my mouth?”
That was actually the second discussion I’d had on the subject in the course of a half-hour, the first coming when coach Flip Saunders patted me on the back and said he wished I had chosen a different word than “hate” to describe his less-than-ideal relationship with Wallace.
This incident actually highlights quite perfectly the differences between Brown and Saunders and why there may have been friction between ‘Sheed and Flip. Brown frequently went out of his way to publicly defend Wallace. Sometimes that meant getting a technical defending ‘Sheed in a game (even when ‘Sheed was clearly out of line), sometimes that meant effusively praising Wallace for no particular reason — I for some reason always remember Brown bringing ‘Sheed up in completely unrelated conversations and just pointing out how knowledgeable he was about the game — and sometimes that meant sticking up for him to reporters on the record. Saunders, obviously, stuck up for Wallace in this instance where an article portrayed ‘Sheed negatively. But Saunders did it privately and didn’t make a big public show about it.
I love Rasheed Wallace and am forever grateful he became a Piston. But it was very clear that ‘Sheed was a bit of a tortured artist, he was someone who needed a coach to be on his side, he needed some occasional praise or support, and Saunders just didn’t have the personality that Brown did to provide that. And during the Saunders Era, as ‘Sheed grew more undisciplined, the rest of the team began to follow suit.
Why this season ranks No. 10
In a recap of this season for Detroit Bad Boys, my good friend Pardeep Toor summed it up thusly:
In many ways, this is the most disappointing Pistons team of the decade. They won the conference by winning a mere 53 games – everybody in the conference was awful. There was really no reason for them not to make a finals appearance.
After the Cavaliers series, I remember how badly I wanted things to change. There was questions about how much or if Dumars should pay Billups in the off-season, whether or not Saunders should come back and just overall sour potatoes.
Nothing changed in the off-season, which wasn’t an awful decision but everyone just a got a year older and Flip once again failed to establish anything resembling a regular rotation with his younger players. The worst thing that happened this year: the team lost its swag. They were no longer the nobody can beat us bad boys sequel but rather the team that had already peaked in years prior.
Losing to a Cleveland team that was essentially LeBron James and a few spot-up shooters was humiliating. They were clearly inferior to Detroit talent-wise, other than James. But Cleveland succeeded the way the Detroit teams early in the decade did: playing with effort, playing physical defense and playing intelligently helped make up for the talent gap, and James’ endless parade of dunks took care of the rest.
The season was not a complete waste, however. It gave us one of ‘Sheed’s best YouTube clips ever. Poor Will Blalock.
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