A Look Back to the Past

It seems so long ago that the Detroit Pistons were the perennial powerhouse in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. What happened to the team that made it to six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals and back-to-back NBA Finals appearances?

June 1 marked the 10-year anniversary of when the Pistons beat the Indiana Pacers 69-65, which sent them to their first Finals appearance since 1990.

Detroit went on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals in five games with Chauncey Billups winning the Finals MVP.

So how, over the previous 10 years, did the franchise that every other team in the league tried to emulate become one that is mocked? How did someone like Joe Dumars, who assembled one of the greatest teams in NBA history, destroy the very thing that he created?

After winning the Championship in 2004, the Pistons continued to have success for the next several years, but were unable to win another title.

Things started to fall apart for Detroit during the 2006 offseason, when superstar center Ben Wallace decided to bolt from Detroit and head to the division rival, Chicago Bulls, in free agency.

That season, the Pistons went on to make the Conference Finals again, but ultimately lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games.

In 2008, the Pistons made it again to the Conference Finals, but lost to the Boston Celtics in six games.

Shortly into the 2008 offseason, Detroit fired head coach Flip Saunders and replaced him with Michael Curry, a long time Pistons player and first time head coach.

That November, the Pistons decided it was time to shake things up by trading Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson.

This was believed to be the start of a rebuilding process in Detroit, as Iverson’s contract expired at the end of the season, and the money coming off the books would allow Detroit the ability to spend big in the upcoming free agency period.

Curry and Iverson led Detroit to a record of 39-43 — the franchise’s first losing season in seven years. However, they did still manage to make the playoffs as the eighth seed, where they were swept by the Cavaliers.

The Billups-Iverson swap will always be remembered as one of Dumars’ worst trades. Billups was a fan favorite and the team had recently signed him to a long-term contract, so the deal was quite puzzling.

During the 2009 offseason, Detroit acted quickly in order to acquire Ben Gordon (five-years, $55 million) and Charlie Villanueva (five-years, $35 million), both being two offensive oriented players.

When the Pistons were at their best, it was because of their hard work on the defensive side of the ball. The Gordon and Villanueva signings showed that Dumars was looking to take the team in a new direction.

That same month, the Pistons went through a couple of other personnel changes. Dumars hired John Kuester to become the new head coach. And long time fan favorites Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess (re-signed with Detroit after being waived by Denver) decided to part ways with the organization.

Later, however, the Pistons did see the return of a familiar face, as Ben Wallace returned to Detroit after a rather unsuccessful stint in Chicago.

With these changes, Detroit recorded their first 50-loss season and their first NBA Lottery appearance since 2001.

Kuester was eventually fired after the 2010-11 season. And since then, the Pistons have had four different head coaches including interim head coach John Loyer and current head coach Stan Van Gundy.

After long-time Pistons owner William “Bill” Davidson passed away in 2009, Detroit’s ownership was in flux and proved to be a problem. Finally, in 2011, the ownership issue was settled when billionaire Tom Gores bought the franchise, The Palace of Auburn Hills and DTE Energy Music Theatre for $325 million.

In order to help give the Pistons some future financial flexibility, Dumars and Gores decided to trade Gordon and a future first round pick to the Charlotte Bobcats in exchange for the expiring contract of Corey Maggette.

By January 2013, the Pistons had also parted ways with all other remaining members of the 2004 Championship team, including Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince.

That following offseason, Dumars was given one last chance to build a contender. However, with a few more poor free agent acquisitions (Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings) and a questionable draft selection (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope), the Pistons and Dumars parted ways.

On May 20, the Pistons learned that they must give the rights of their first round draft pick to the Charlotte Hornets in order to complete the Ben Gordon trade. And with that, Dumars’ lasting legacy as Detroit’s president and general manager came to an end.

Since being swept by the Cavaliers in the 2008-09 season, Detroit has yet to return to the playoffs and has a combined regular season record of 140-254.

On May 14, the Pistons hired Stan Van Gundy to be their new President of Basketball Operations and head coach. Van Gundy has quite the tall task ahead of him, but it appears that Gores and the Pistons are finally headed back in the right direction.

As crazy as it may seem, the Pistons were once a proud owner of a 259-home game sellout streak. The word “sellout” is only used in a joking matter now, but it should not be too long before it regains meaning.

It is hard to believe 10 years have gone by since the Pistons called themselves world champions. Yet, it is harder to believe the series of events that led a once storied franchise to a league bottom-feeder.

The Pistons are about to embark upon their biggest offseason since 2001, with the unknown future of everyone except Andre Drummond. Hopefully fans can look back on June 1 in 2024 and think about how great the last 10 years have been for the restored Detroit Pistons.


Cameron Billes is the host of Horsepower for Impact Sports.


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