Chevette to Corvette No. 4: The 2004-05 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 54-28
  • Pythagorean record: 53-29
  • Offensive Rating: 105.6 (17th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 101.2 (3rd of 30)
  • Arena: Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coach: Larry Brown

Playoffs

  • Beat the Philadelphia 76ers in first round, 4-1
  • Beat the Indiana Pacers in Eastern Conference Semifinals, 4-2
  • Beat the Miami Heat in Eastern Conference Finals, 4-3
  • Lost in NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs, 4-3

Leaders

Top player

Ben Wallace

The Goin’ to Work era Pistons branded themselves on not having a superstar. But by the 2004-05 season, I think Wallace was pretty close. On the court, he had another fine season, making his third straight All-Star appearance and winning his third straight Defensive Player of the Year Award. He also made the cover of the Sports Illustrated NBA Preview issue and made the SI cover once again in the playoffs. He got to explain his tattoo to SI:

The defensive wiz says his tat was inspired by his 10th-grade history teacher at Central High in Hayneville, Ala., Mr. Calhoun. “We were all doing reports, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Wallace says. “He told me I should check out Big Ben, the tower in England.” Wallace got the stylized lettering first, as a junior at Virginia Union. “I draw all my own tattoos, and I hadn’t come up with a sketch of the tower,” says Wallace, who had the building added in a 2 1/2-hour session a year later. Wallace had the clock set at 10 because in craps “Big Ben” is slang for a roll of 10, and that, says Wallace, “pays the best.”

He got to make fun of the Pistons’ teal uniforms:

What was your most embarrassing moment?

“[In 2000], my first year in Detroit, when we had to wear those teal uniforms and play in front of crowds of about 1,000.”

In a SI player poll, 18 percent of NBA players called Wallace the best defensive player in the game. In another player poll, Wallace was one of only nine players to receive a vote (the others were Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James and Jason Kidd) when NBA players were asked who they would most like to play with on the same team.

Wallace was never a traditional superstar, but by 2005, he had cemented himself as one of the game’s elite franchise players.

Key transaction

Signed Antonio McDyess as a free agent

It’s hard to find any transaction Joe Dumars has made and not be inundated by supporters who want to extoll the genius virtues of said move and detractors who have countless arguments as to what it was lucky/overrated/whatever. I would venture a guess, though, that Dumars’ signing of McDyess might be the most popular move among fans he’s ever made.

After winning the title in 2004, Dumars had to trade scoring sixth man Corliss Williamson to have enough money to re-sign Rasheed Wallace, attempt to re-sign Mehmet Okur and have money for raises that would be due to Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace and Rip Hamilton in coming seasons. The team couldn’t match Utah’s offer to Okur, both in terms of money and an opportunity to start, so losing him and Williamson from the bench would’ve been a huge blow if not for McDyess signing in Detroit to pursue a championship. Here is what McDyess told SI’s Ian Thomsen after signing:

“I was at the lowest point of my life. Basketball is what I live for, and when I kept getting injured, I felt like it was over. But now I’m here, I’m happy and I don’t feel like I have a limit to what I can do.”

McDyess later showed even more loyalty when he agreed to re-sign with the Pistons after they included him in the Chauncey Billups-Allen Iverson trade. McDyess undoubtedly would’ve had his pick of contending teams to sign with, but he came back to a going nowhere Pistons team to finish the season before signing with the Spurs in the offseason. McDyess recently retired, and despite not getting that ring, he seemed like a great teammate and it was truly remarkable watching him reinvent himself in Detroit after suffering devastating knee injuries that sapped him of his unreal athleticism.

Trend watch

Two and out

After the season, Larry Brown became the second straight Pistons coach to win 50 or more games in back to back seasons. He also became the second straight coach to get fired. Rick Carlisle was let go to pursue Brown, who Dumars believed was the coach needed to turn the Pistons from a good team into a title team. That hunch ended up being a good one.

Brown and the Pistons parted ways under more complicated circumstances, though. Brown was getting his trademark itch — he had reportedly talked to Cleveland about a position in the front office and had pined about coaching his hometown Knicks. This did not please Bill Davidson, how paid Brown a lot of money and handed him a championship roster.

The move ended up being not so great for both parties. Brown’s replacement, Flip Saunders, never successfully got the team to play with the postseason discipline and thoughness they showed under Brown. Brown had two unsuccessful coaching stints, first with the Knicks and then with Charlotte, before being reduced to begging for any job that opens up.

Why this season ranks No. 4

The Pistons finished 2004-05 with an identical record as the title-winning team the previous season and actually finished as the East’s top team in the standings as opposed to the second best team the previous regular season, but things always felt just a bit off in 2004-05. The team was still great, don’t get me wrong. But Brown’s health problems caused him to miss some games. In games when he was on the sidelines, he often had to sit in some Mr. Burns-style chair because of his ailing hip.

The team had to adjust to a few new faces, Rasheed Wallace didn’t start the season in the greatest physical condition and the Pistons were just a bit sluggish early. Then, in November, a Ben Wallace-Ron Artest fight led to an idiot fan interjecting himself into the game and touched off one of the ugliest scenes in modern sports (but if you tell me you didn’t laugh a little when Jermaine O’Neal punched Turtle from Entourage, I won’t believe you).

The brawl led to the dismantling of the Pistons’ biggest rival at the time as the Pacers were ruined by suspensions. Miami had thrown together the trial version of its mercenary squad of stars trying to buy a championship, and although the Pistons beat the Heat in seven games in the ECF, it was pretty clear that the O’Neal-Wade combo would break through at some point. And then, in game five of the NBA Finals, Robert Horry capped one of the most ridiculous performances in NBA Finals history with a 3-pointer that resulted on a rare mental lapse on defense by the Pistons, best summed up by Hubie Brown saying ‘Oh No!’ right as Horry was catching the ball to release a game-winning open three.

The season was great, and in some ways, as rewarding as the championship season simply because the Pistons had to go through many obstacles (some self-created) to even get in position to win another title. But it is hard not to look back on the season as a missed opportunity.

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Tags: Ben Wallace Richard Hamilton Tayshaun Prince

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