|Detroit Pistons: 1990 - 2000|
“Outside of Detroit, I think people will be happy they’re not champions any more.” Those were the words of Michael Jordan the day before the Bulls officially ended the Pistons run as NBA Champions. The 4-0 sweep in the 1990-91 Eastern Conference playoffs at the hands of the Bulls signaled the end of the “Bad Boys.” They had accumulated two NBA Championships, three Central Division crowns, five trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, and a five-year record of 339-161. The team would finish with a record of 50-32, second to the eventual NBA Champion Bulls.
If there was any doubt about the Pistons no longer being contenders, the 1991-92 season answered them. The team began the season by trading fan favorites James Edwards, Scott Hastings, and Vinnie Johnson in various trades, receiving Orlando Woolridge, Jeff Martin, and Darrell Walker in return. Though the team would finish the season with a record of 48-34, their first round exit at the hands of the New York Knicks signaled change for the franchise. The Pistons would lose coach Chuck Daly (resignation) and GM Jack McCloskey (resignation).
Daly’s replacement, Ron Rothstein would last less than one full year. The team finished the 1992-93 season with a record of 40-42, and for the first time in nine years, failed to qualify for the playoffs. The changes continued on and off the court. Don Chaney replaced Rothstein, and Billy McKinney was hired to replace McCloskey. The 1992-93 roster included only five players who two years prior had raised the Larry O’Brien Trophy as NBA Champions.
The dismantling would be completed during the 1993-94 campaign. The retirement of Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas, along with the trade of Dennis Rodman to San Antonio for Sean Elliott signaled a new era for the Pistons. The 20-62 effort was the second lowest win total in franchise history. The additions of the Pistons’ first two lottery picks, Lindsey Hunter and Allan Houston, and the third overall pick in the 1994 NBA Draft did, however, offer hope for the future.
In one moment on June 29, 1994, the perception of the Detroit Pistons franchise changed with the drafting of Grant Hill with the third pick in the NBA Draft. Despite missing 12 games with a foot injury, Hill led the Pistons in points and steals, finished second in assists, and finished third on the team in rebounds and blocked shots. He became the first rookie to lead the league in All-Star voting. But not even the Rookie of the Year award he shared with Jason Kidd could get Hill and the Pistons out of the division’s cellar. The Pistons would finish with a record of 28-54.
The Pistons hired former All-Star Doug Collins as head coach in May 1995. Collins’ philosophy of defense and hustle helped the Pistons complete a 46-win season, an 18 game improvement over ’94-95, and reach the playoffs for the first time since 1992. Though the team would exit the 1995-96 playoffs in a first round sweep at the hands of the Orlando Magic, the Pistons had a glimmer of hope for the future.
The glimmer turned into a flame during the 1996-97 season, as the team would finish 54-28, the exact opposite record of when Collins took over. Collins would become the fastest Pistons coach to win 100 games, while leading the Pistons back to the postseason. For the second consecutive season, Hill led the Pistons in scoring, rebounds, assists, and steals, while finishing third in voting for the NBA MVP award, behind Karl Malone and Michael Jordan.
Unfortunately, the 1997-98 season would be another season filled with change. Otis Thorpe was traded to the Vancouver Grizzlies. Terry Mills and Michael Curry left as free agents, and Theo Ratliff and Aaron McKie were traded to the Sixers for Jerry Stackhouse and Eric Montross. In January, with the team fighting to remain around the .500 mark, Collins was fired and replaced by assistant Alvin Gentry. The Pistons would finish the season with a record of 37-45, but the team remained optimistic.
The unthinkable would postpone the beginning of the 1998-99 season. Due to a labor dispute, the season would be shortened to 50 games. The Pistons would continue the revolving door of players. The Pistons fought to finish the season with a record of 29-21 and would face the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. Joe Dumars would end his illustrious Pistons career with an 87-75 loss in Game Five. The summer of 1999 would take the Pistons focus off the court. Grant Hill could opt out of his contract on July 1, 2000 and the team would grant all of his wishes in an effort to keep him. The team would bring back free agents Michael Curry and Terry Mills, and kept Alvin Gentry as coach. Brian Williams changed his name to Bison Dele.