Chevette to Corvette No. 63: The 1979-80 Detroit Pistons



  • Actual record: 16-66
  • Pythagorean record: 22-60
  • Offensive Rating:  101.2 (22nd of 22)
  • Defensive Rating: 108.8 (19th of 22)
  • Arena: Pontiac Silverdome
  • Head coach: Dick Vitale (4-8), Richie Adubato (12-58)


  • Points per game: Bob Lanier (21.7)
  • Rebounds per game:  Bob Lanier (10.1)
  • Assists per game: Ron Lee (5.6)
  • Steals per game:  Ron Lee (2.7)
  • Blocks per game:  Terry Tyler (2.7)

Top player

John Long

Long had a fine season, averaging 19.4 points on a career-best 50.5 percent shooting. He also might be the only top player in this series who didn’t lead Detroit in a major per-game category that year.

That’s just how screwed up this season was.

Key transaction

Pistons trade two No. 1 draft picks to the Celtics for Bob McAdoo

Before the season, the Celtics signed Pistons forward M.L. Carr, and per NBA rules at the time, they owed Detroit compensation. So, Pistons coach and general manager Dick Vitale began negotiating with Boston’s Red Auerbach – a real meeting of the mind (no ‘s’).

Vitale desperately wanted Bob McAdoo, who was just 27 and had been one of the league’s top scorers. So, in his plan to outfox Auerbach, Vitale offered two first-round picks and the rights to Carr for McAdoo. Auerbach accepted, obviously.

McAdoo flamed out in Detroit, where he earned the nickname “McAdon’t.” The Pistons cut him a year and a half after trading for him, to the relief of everyone, especially McAdoo, who never wanted to come to Detroit.

Using the picks they received in the deal, Boston picked up a couple guys named Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. They turned out OK.

And that was supposed to be the Pistons’ compensation for the Celtics signing Carr!

Trend watch

14-game losing streak

The Pistons ended the year on a 14-game losing streak, which began just a week after they had broken  13-game losing streak. To say they gave up on the season would be an understatement.

Why this season ranks No. 63

The Dick Vitale era didn’t feature many sound roster-management decisions. It didn’t feature much quality coaching. It certainly didn’t feature many wins.

But it had a lot of hope. The charismatic Vitale could at least provide that.

By the 1979-80 season, even the hope was gone.

The Pistons fired Vitale after just 12 games, and one of his assistants took over. The season was lost, and it became clear the franchise needed to start over.

In December, the Pistons hired Jack McCloskey, who traded their top player and franchise center, Bob Lanier, to the Bucks in February. Although the Pistons probably needed a fresh start sans Lanier, in the short term, the trade made them unbearably bad.

The Pistons finished with 16 wins – not just the lowest total in franchise history, but the lowest by a full four games.

When you consider Detroit traded away the high first-round pick generated by their league-worst record, this season has no redeeming qualities.