Detroit Pistons: 15 players who defined the Bad Boys era

Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images /
8 of 16
Adrian Dantley, Detroit Pistons
Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images /

. Small forward. 1986-89. Adrian Dantley. 9. player. 64

Adrian Dantley is a test case in evaluating star NBA players. A truly dynamic scorer, Dantley made the hall of fame on the back of his sheer volume of points — and array of skills to put up those points. Four times Dantley broke 30 points-per-game for a season, twice leading the entire league in scoring. For his career, the forward averaged 24.3 points per game, 16th in NBA history.

As Detroit made its transition from up-and-comers to Eastern Conference contenders, they looked to make an upgrade at small forward, flipping Kelly Tripucka to the Utah Jazz for Dantley. The 30 year-old Dantley stepped into his role as scorer immediately, averaging 21.5 points per game to lead the team.

Over the next few seasons, Detroit improved every season, losing in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1987 and the NBA Finals in heartbreaking fashion in 1988. Dantley was a major part of that rise, dropping 34 points on the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the 1988 NBA Finals.

The following season Chuck Daly began to give emerging star Dennis Rodman more minutes, decreasing Dantley’s in the process, to better emphasize the team’s defensive identity. Dantley did not appreciate this, still viewing himself as the lead scoring threat on the team.

During one game in the 1988-89 season, Daly signaled to Dantley to sub out for Rodman, and Dantley simply refused. After the game, Daly went to Jack McCloskey and told him the team needed a change.

McCloskey responded by trading Dantley to the Dallas Mavericks for forward Mark Aguirre. The move was a divisive one at the time, as Dantley was well-loved by fans and many of his teammates. Known as “The Teacher” the veteran Dantley had helped to develop a number of the younger players on the team.

Divisive as it was, the move unlocked a more balanced hierarchy for the Pistons. They ripped off a run after the trade that carried them all the way to two titles. Dantley played a key role in Detroit and their ascension into Bad Boys, but it was only with his departure that they reached the mountaintop.