Dog Days Come to an End
Corliss Williamson is the only Pistons player to win the NBA's Sixth Man Award, which he earned for his efforts off the bench in 2001-02.
Tom Pidgeon (NBAE/Getty)
Tom Pidgeon (NBAE/Getty)
Deadline Deals, Part 2: Swap of gritty forwards boosted Pistons’ transformation
Dog Days Come to an End
by Ryan Pretzer
When the Pistons captured the NBA championship in June 2004, the trade-deadline deal in February for Rasheed Wallace was widely credited - and deservedly so - for making them legitimate title contenders.
While Wallace’s addition put the finishing touches on the Pistons’ championship roster, there was another deadline deal three years earlier that contributed one of the first building blocks: Corliss Williamson.
A 6-foot-7, 250-pound forward, Williamson enjoyed the greatest individual and team accomplishments of his 12-year NBA career in the Motor City. “Big Nasty” became the Pistons’ first and only NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 2001-02 and he concluded his 3 ½-year stay with the ’04 title.
None of it would have been possible without a similarly hard-nosed forward who provided a spark off the bench with his defense and rebounding. Jerome Williams was instrumental in the Pistons’ turnaround in the late ‘90s. Only by dealing him for Williamson, however, was the franchise able to take the next step.
Junk Yard Dog and Big Nasty
Williams was the Pistons’ only choice in the 1996 draft, selecting him No. 26 overall following a 46-36 record in 1995-96. The 6-foot-9, 206-pound forward played in only 33 games his rookie year, averaging 1.5 points and 1.5 rebounds.
Williams’ work ethic and penchant for the dirty work - especially on the boards and guarding players taller and bigger than him - made him a fan favorite in the Motor City. For his scrappy tendencies, Rick Mahorn, the dean of rugged Pistons forwards, called Williams the “Junk Yard Dog,” or JYD. He became a dependable bench contributor and raised his statistics each of the next three seasons.
Before the 2000-01 season, All-Star Grant Hill signed with the Orlando Magic. In the subsequent sign-and-trade agreement, Detroit received forward/center Ben Wallace, who, like Williams, was 6-foot-9 and relied on hustle, rebounding and defending players big and small.
Although Williams (8.4 points and a team-high 9.6 rebounds) had a better season than Wallace (4.8 points and 8.2 rebounds) in 1999-00, it was the newly acquired Wallace that went into head coach George Irvine’s starting lineup. “Big Ben” started to emerge as a dominant force in ’00-01, collecting his first 1,000-rebound season- but he couldn’t replace Hill’s team-high 25.8 points per game.
With Wallace handling the dirty work and the Pistons struggling for any offense behind Jerry Stackhouse’s 29.8 points per game, Williams was dealt to the Toronto Raptors on trade deadline day, Feb. 22, 2001. In exchange for the fifth-year forward and center Eric Montross, the Pistons received Williamson, Tyrone Corbin, Kornel David and a first-round pick. Behind Wallace, Williamson was the second player to arrive in Detroit and still be on the team three years later for the championship.
The add-ons proved negligible but the swap of undersized power forwards benefited both teams. Williamson instantly provided an inside scoring touch and a nice midrange game as well. He averaged 15.5 points the remainder of 2000-01 - second on the team behind Stackhouse.
In his first full season in Detroit, Williamson came off the bench in 71 of 78 games and averaged 13.6 points, for which he was named the 2002 NBA Sixth Man of the Year. The Pistons improved from 32-50 to 50-32 and reached the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time in five postseason appearances. Coincidentally, they beat Williams and the Raptors in the first round.
As Joe Dumars, director of basketball operations, continued to upgrade the roster with talented scorers like Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups, Williamson’s offensive role diminished the next two seasons while the team’s playoff fortunes improved. He averaged 9.5 points in 2003-04. It was the only time he averaged less than 10 points in Detroit - but he had a ring to show for it.
Williams became a fan favorite in Toronto the same way he had in Detroit. In 2002-03 the Junk Yard Dog delivered almost a double-double per game - 9.7 points and 9.2 rebounds, both career highs. He retired with the New York Knicks prior to the ’05-06 season and worked in their community relations department.
The ’04 championship turned out to be Big Nasty’s swan song with the Pistons. Rasheed Wallace re-signed with the team in the off-season and Williamson’s contract - which guaranteed him $18 million over the next three years - became a steep price for a backup forward. He was traded to Philadelphia on Aug. 4, 2004, for Derrick Coleman and an additional player in what turned out to be a cost-cutting move.
"We feel like this is a good trade for our team and our organization as we move forward," Dumars said after the trade. "Corliss Williamson was a very special guy to have on the team for 3½ seasons. We thank him for all of his efforts here on and off the court and we will miss him."
Jerome Williams and Corliss Williamson are not celebrated like some of their Pistons predecessors, but with names like Junk Yard Dog and Big Nasty -- and the games to match - they definitely played for the right franchise.
They were Bad Boys in their own right.
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