The Detroit Pistons have been one of the most successful franchises in the NBA, winning three titles, tied for 6th most of all time.
But they have been achingly close to further titles several times and have put together some seasons that were outstanding even though they didn’t end in a championship.
When it comes to the best Pistons team to not win a title, there are plenty of entries, most of them from the mid to late 2000’s, when the Detroit Pistons were mainstays in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Most fans would probably say the 2004-2005 team that was a Robert Horry 3-pointer (ugh) away from going back-to-back is probably the best team to not win a title, and they may be right. But I still haven’t recovered from the trauma of that series against the Spurs and am still mentally lying on my living room floor face down with my Rasheed Wallace jersey on. So I’m not going there.
The 2007-2008 team won 59 games and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to the Celtics, who went on to win the title.
The 1996-97 team was a fun group of overachievers led by Grant Hill that won 54 games, but they flamed out in the first round of the playoffs.
But none of them were quite as good as the best Detroit Pistons team to not hoist the Larry O’Brien.
The 2005-2006 Detroit Pistons
My vote for best Pistons team that didn’t win a title is the 2005-2006 squad. It still featured the “Goin’ to Work” starting five and a solid bench that ended up winning 64 games, which is the best in franchise history.
The biggest change for this team was at head coach, as Larry Brown head had started turning (his modus operandi) and he was replaced by Flip Saunders, who was tasked with modernizing the Pistons’ offense, which had finished just 17th in offensive rating in the NBA the year before.
Saunders did the job, the Detroit Pistons played with more pace and ended the season with the 4th- best offense in the league to go along with the 5th-best defense.
They had the second-best overall net rating of any Pistons’ non-title team and probably would have won the title that season if they had not run into Dwyane Wade’s Miami Heat. The Pistons had no answer for Wade, who shot 52 free throws in the series in an NBA Playoffs whose refereeing was later heavily scrutinized for many reasons.
This season will always have a special place in my heart because it was really the best the Pistons (in non-title years) have been on both ends of the court, and it was really the beginning of the end of this era, as it would be the next to last year that the entire Goin’ to Work starting five was still together.
Saunders really unleashed the offense, especially from behind the arc, where Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace started launching over 10 per game combined, giving us a preview of 3-point heavy league that was lingering on the horizon.
Even though they didn’t make it as far as the year before, this team was more fun to watch offensively and still had the same defensive excellence that marked the era. They just couldn’t quite get over the hump of Wade and Shaq, but when you factor in how close they were the year before, it’s arguable that the Pistons were only a few points away from a chance at a three-peat.
That’s how things go in the NBA. The best team doesn’t always win the title, as was the case in 2005-2006, when the best regular season team in the NBA ran into a red-hot Dwyane Wade and fell short of a title they probably should have won.