Chevette to Corvette No. 15: The 1996-97 Detroit Pistons



  • Actual record: 54-28
  • Pythagorean record: 57-25
  • Offensive Rating: 110.6 (5th of 29)
  • Defensive Rating: 104.4 (11th of 29)
  • Arena: Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coach: Doug Collins


  • Lost (3-2) in the first round to the Atlanta Hawks


  • Points per game: Grant Hill (21.4)
  • Rebounds per game: Grant Hill (9.0)
  • Assists per game: Grant Hill (7.3)
  • Steals per game: Grant Hill (1.8)
  • Blocks per game: Theo Ratliff (1.5)

Top player

Grant Hill

Grant Hill was Detroit’s best player by a wide gulf every year he was on the team. It’s kind of pointless to keep reiterating, Dan and I, along with Hill’s stats, have said just about all there is to say about the Grant Hill era. He did everything he could to help the Pistons become relevant again. He was a legitimate national star, he started All-Star games, he got endorsement deals, he was a fantastic teammate and he even wined and dined the likes of Chris Dudley trying to convince someone, anyone, to sign with the Pistons and provide some help.

This wasn’t Hill’s best scoring season, but it might’ve been his best all-around. He had career-highs in assists and steals, he averaged more than 9 rebounds per game for the second straight season and he began to become more of the vocal leader Doug Collins had been insisting he become. The effort paid off, as the Pistons won 54 games, their best season of Hill’s Pistons career.

Key transaction

Traded two first round picks and two second round picks to the Atlanta Hawks for Stacey Augmon and Grant Long

This season’s transactions were notable because none made much of a contribution. Augmon was traded for to take over for departed Allan Houston. Plastic Man was a great athlete and a fantastic defender, but Houston was such a fit with the Pistons because he was the team’s one true long distance threat and he helped spread the floor for Hill to attack and slash. Augmon was a terrible perimeter shooter and he and Hill never developed much chemistry. Long, an Eastern Michigan product and cousin of then-Piston Terry Mills, had a few OK seasons as a role player. Thankfully, none of the draft picks given up in this trade amounted to anything for the Hawks.

The team also busted on signing free agent point guard Kenny Smith. Smith won two titles with Houston and was expected to make up for some of the shooting they lost when Houston left. Smith was released in just two months after he couldn’t crack the rotation.

Trend watch

First round and out

The Pistons turned into an exciting up and coming team in the regular season, but playoff success never accompanied Hill despite the many successes he had in Detroit. The Pistons lost in the second round to the Hawks, a team they were pretty evenly matched with in the regular season. It was the second straight year they’d lose a first round series. They’d lose in the first round four times in the Hill era.

Why this season ranks No. 16

In two seasons, Collins won 46 and then 54 games with the Pistons. They’d re-established themselves as a solid defensive unit, had one of the most bankable young stars in the league and most assumed after a successful 96-97 campaign that they’d emerge an East contender whenever Jerry Krause decided to go with his plan of blowing up the Bulls.

The fact is, 96-97 could’ve been miserable. The team lost Allan Houston to free agency. Houston was expected to be the long-time complementary star Hill would need and suddenly, the Pistons had to replace his shooting and scoring. Lindsey Hunter improved, Joe Dumars had a stellar season despite his advanced age and Hill once again effectively controlled the offense. People were starting to believe in the Pistons again. Hill even made the cover of the Sports Illustrated NBA Preview the following season. But unfortunately, this would be the best team of the Hill era.