Ticket in hand, new Piston coach Doug Collins walked into the
Pontiac Silverdome in September eagerly anticipating the start
of the football game between the Detroit Lions and the San
Francisco 49ers. After making his way through the crowd, he
stopped at a concession stand and plunked down $18 for a
blue-and-silver Lion cap. "He was wearing that cap all night,"
says Piston vice president Rick Sund, who attended the game with
Collins. "He considers himself a Detroit citizen now, so I guess
he wanted to look like one."
Collins, 44, has never been one to keep a lid on his emotions.
Whether showing the hometown fans he's one of their own or
trumpeting the potential of his basketball team, Collins is
always willing to let people know how he feels. "This was an
opportunity to make something special happen," he gushed last
April when he was named to succeed Don Chaney as Piston coach.
"I can't wait to get started."
Collins, of course, has ample reason to be excited. As coach of
the Pistons, he will earn $6.5 million over five years, have
total autonomy over player-personnel decisions and be able to
build the team around one of the game's brightest stars, Grant
Hill. But Collins, who gave up a lucrative deal as a TNT analyst
to get back into coaching, also has a lot of work to do.
Detroit finished 28-54 last season, at the bottom of the Central
Division and out of the playoffs for the third straight year.
The good news for Collins is that he has Hill, the league's
co-rookie of the year last season, along with a strong
supporting cast that includes the reliable Joe Dumars, the newly
acquired Otis Thorpe and the rapidly improving Allan Houston.
Those four give Collins a solid core, one that should enable him
to get Detroit back into the playoffs.
Last season Hill proved himself to be one of the game's supreme
talents, electrifying NBA fans with high-flying dunks and
spectacular all-around skills. Hill's productivity fell off a
bit after the All-Star break, due to fatigue from being the
Pistons' workhorse, but Collins says Hill will be even better in
'95-96. "Grant has only scratched the surface of his talent,"
Collins says. "But he's going to have to get tougher and in
Toward that end, the 6'8" Hill pumped iron every day in the
off-season, adding 10 pounds to bulk up to 225. "I don't know if
I look much bigger, but I sure do feel a lot stronger," he says.
"I even started cutting the sleeves off my shirts."
Muscle was something the Pistons sorely lacked last year.
Detroit ranked 25th in the league in rebounding, ahead of only
the Timberwolves and the Clippers. To solve the problem, Collins
acquired the 6'10", 246-pound Thorpe from the Trail Blazers in
exchange for forward Bill Curley and the rights to rookie guard
Randolph Childress. Thorpe, 33, has been one of the league's
premier power forwards for 10 years and was a member of the
'93-94 Rocket championship team. He's also in the last year of a
contract that pays him $2.6 million this season, so Collins is
betting he'll play hard every night. "We expect him to play his
ass off," Collins says.
The Pistons' backcourt looks equally solid with the 32-year-old
Dumars and the sweet-shooting Houston. Last season Dumars
averaged 18.1 points a game and switched from shooting guard to
the point in December when Lindsey Hunter broke his right foot
and missed 40 games. Although Dumars looked uncomfortable at
times, the move enabled Houston, who averaged 14.5 points per
game, to blossom.
The Pistons, however, still lack a quality center. Oliver Miller
was selected by the Raptors in the expansion draft, leaving the
middle to veterans Terry Mills, Mark West and Eric Leckner.
Detroit also lacks depth on the bench.
Despite those shortcomings, Detroit has reason to be optimistic.
Hill was thinking positively this summer when he took a break
from taping a bit part on the TV show Living Single to play
one-on-one against Michael Jordan at the Warner Bros. studio in
Hollywood. Jordan, who was there filming his movie, Space Jam,
had a court built on the lot and invited Hill to play.
"Surprisingly, I did O.K. against him," Hill says. "When you
play against Michael, you know he's going to make some moves
against you. You can't get discouraged. You've just got to keep
attacking him like he was any other guy on the street."
Don't get discouraged. Keep attacking. Those are sentiments sure
to strike a chord with Motor City fans--as well as with the Motor
City's newest citizen.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH The acrobatic Hill expects to show his new coach more muscle this season. [Grant Hill]
BY THE NUMBERS
1994-95 TEAM STATISTICS
PPG (Rank) FG% (Rank)
OFFENSE 98.2 (21) .461 (17)
DEFENSE 105.5 (22) .476 (20)
AND A ROOKIE SHALL LEAD THEM
The 1994-95 NBA season featured a spirited three-way battle for
rookie of the year honors among Grant Hill, Glenn Robinson and
Jason Kidd. Although Hill and Robinson led their teams in
scoring, it was Hill and Kidd who wound up sharing the award.
While it is unusual for a rookie to lead his team in scoring, it
had been done several times before, and by some pretty familiar
names. Here are the players active in the NBA last season who
led their teams in scoring in their rookie seasons.
Team scoring leaders PPG
1994-95 Grant Hill, Pistons 19.9
1994-95 Glenn Robinson, Bucks 21.9
1992-93 Shaquille O'Neal, Magic 23.4
1989-90 David Robinson, Spurs 24.3
1988-89 Willie Anderson, Spurs 18.6
1986-87 Ron Harper, Cavaliers 22.9
1986-87 Chuck Person, Pacers 18.8
1985-86 Patrick Ewing, Knicks 20.0
1982-83 Terry Cummings, Clippers 23.7
1981-82 Tom Chambers, Clippers 17.2
PLAYER TO WATCH
Piston guard Allan Houston was sitting in front of the TV at his
parents' home in Louisville last February watching teammates
Grant Hill and Joe Dumars play in the NBA All-Star Game, when he
suddenly thought, Hey, I can do those things myself. Simple as
that, Houston went out and played like an All-Star the second
half of the season. He led the Pistons in scoring in 13 of their
last 24 games, improving his scoring average from 7.7 to 14.5
points per game and his shooting percentage from 41.2 to 46.3.
He also set a trio of team records for three-point shooting:
shots attempted (373), shots made (158) and accuracy (42.4%).
Says Dumars of Houston: "His shot is so pretty. Every one looks
like it's going in."
STARTERS 1994-95 Key Statistics
SF Grant Hill 19.9 ppg 6.4 rpg 5.0 apg
PF Otis Thorpe 13.4 ppg 8.0 rpg 56.5 FG%
C Terry Mills 15.5 ppg 7.8 rpg 38.2 3FG%
PG Joe Dumars 18.1 ppg 5.5 apg 80.5 FT%
SG Allan Houston 14.5 ppg 42.4 3FG% 86.0 FT%
G Lindsey Hunter 7.5 ppg 3.8 apg 1.21 spg
F Theo Ratliff Rookie; 18th overall pick, from Wyoming
C Mark West 7.5 ppg 6.1 rpg 47.8 FT%