Dick Vitale and the worst team in Detroit Pistons history

Dick Vitale is the center of this sideline huddle as he confers with his Detroit University players.69g1fk06
Dick Vitale is the center of this sideline huddle as he confers with his Detroit University players.69g1fk06 /
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Dick Vitale
ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale and former Detroit Pistons coach enjoys a moment with Michigan Wolverines fans. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports /

Dick Vitale’s time as Detroit Pistons coach

For his first NBA experience, Vitale brought with him three of his University of Detroit players, John Long, Dennis Boyd and Terry Tyler.

He had a Hall of Fame center in Bob Lanier, and one of the best passers in the league in Kevin Porter Sr. (he averaged a then-NBA record 13.4 assists) and solid shooters in M.L. Carr and Chris Ford.

They could score, but defense was a bit of an issue.

Despite the talent, Detroit lost its first five games in the 1978-79 season and Vitale had to be hospitalized for stress, according to Blue Collar Blueprint. It never got much better. They were 12-28 at their lowest point. Vitale was able to go 18-24 the rest of the way, to most likely save his job.

He finished with a 30-52 record.

It had been a bad debut, and things were about to get worse, due to one of the top, if not the best, executives in NBA history.

How Red Auerbach ended Dick Vitale’s Detroit Pistons career

One of the top scorers in the 1970s in the NBA was Bob McAdoo. He was basically the James Harden of his time.

In the summer of 1979, M.L. Carr signed as a free agent with the Boston Celtics. Having drafted a promising forward named Larry Bird, Boston general manager Red Auerbach was looking to get rid of McAdoo, who at 28 he thought was starting to physically wear down .

Auerbach was a living legend even then. He had won seven NBA titles in eight years (take that Jordan and LeBron!) as a coach/GM and then won three more as the Celtics general manager.

Under the free agent rules at the time, the Pistons were owed compensation for Carr. The Pistons asked for McAdoo.

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Auerbach negotiating with Vitale and Davidson was the equivalent of  toddlers in a ring with a python.

They brokered a deal where the Pistons got McAdoo. Detroit just had to fork over two first-round pick they held in the 1980 draft, and also count this deal as proper compensation for losing Carr.

The result could be called a fleecing by the wily cigar-smoking Auerbach, but that would be an insult to fleece. A total catastrophe would be a more apt phrase.

McAdoo was about as happy in Detroit as James Harden was at the end in Houston, and he played like it. He averaged a career-low 26.1 points in 58 games, and played in only 16 games the following season.

By March of 1981, the Pistons were so unhappy with McAdoo that they simply cut him. He went on to win several NBA titles as a valuable reserve on the Los Angeles Lakers.

What did the Celtics do with those two draft picks? Auerbach fleeced another poor team. He traded the picks to the Golden State Warriors, who used them to draft two players who made little impact.

In return, Auerbach got Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, who combined with Bird for the NBA top frontline of the 1980s.

But going into the 1979-80 season, things seemed to be looking up for Detroit.

They had one of the top scorers in the league, one of the top center’s in Lanier (in an era when having good center’s meant something) and Long and Tyler seemed to be turning into promising players.

Everything was great … until the games actually began being played.