The Friday Five: 5 Single-Season Detroit Pistons

The Friday Five: 5 Single-Season Detroit Pistons

Welcome to another edition of The Friday Five! Every Friday I cover a topic related to basketball gaming, either as a list of five items, or a Top 5 countdown. The topics for these lists and countdowns include everything from fun facts and recollections to commentary and critique. This week’s Five is a list of five players who had single-season stints with the Detroit Pistons

So, this might seem like a weird topic for me to cover in The Friday Five! The Detroit Pistons are hardly the only NBA team whose all-time roster includes a number of players who only stuck around for a year. I’m also generally not inclined to focus my content on the Pistons; indeed, as a Chicago Bulls fan, it would be rather unusual for me to celebrate the team from the Motor City! However, I do love basketball and basketball gaming trivia, and it’s fun when real hoops reminds me of something from a video game, or revisiting an old title brings to mind some tidbit about the NBA.

While writing about my Minnesota Timberwolves Franchise in NBA Live 2003 for Wayback Wednesday, I noted that Joe Smith was on the roster, also mentioning his brief time with the Pistons. In the weird way that a mind that enjoys trivia works, I began trying to recall other players who only spent a single season of their career with Detroit, resulting in an often overlooked stint. Some of these players are bigger names than others, but they all have one thing in common, that being multi-year careers in the NBA with only one in Detroit. With apologies to fans of Korleone Young, that disqualifies him from this particular list, but here are five other single-season Pistons!

1. Joe Smith

Joe Smith in his Single-Season Detroit Pistons Stint (NBA Live 2001)

Let’s tip things off with the player that inspired this topic, the aforementioned Joe Smith. Now, Joe Smith played for twelve NBA teams – formerly a record that he shared with Jim Jackson and Chucky Brown, since broken by Ish Smith – so suffice to say, you might picture him in a number of jerseys. It’s a safe bet to suggest that most fans will probably remember him for his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves, or the Golden State Warriors, where he began his career after they drafted him with the first overall pick in 1995. Some might also recall him being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1998, or possibly even suiting up for the Milwaukee Bucks for three seasons.

And of course, most long-time NBA fans will recall the controversy with Joe Smith agreeing to sign consecutive one-year deals below market value to allow Minnesota to make other moves, on the promise that he’d be rewarded with a big contract via his Bird rights. The discovery of this under-the-table deal cost the team dearly, and also voided Smith’s contract, leading to him signing with the Pistons. Smith ultimately returned to the Timberwolves the following season, but it’s interesting to dust off a game like NBA Live 2001 and see him in Detroit. Even if you remember the scandal, Smith’s single-season banishment to the Detroit Pistons can still be easily forgotten.

2. Malik Sealy

Malik Sealy on the Detroit Pistons in NBA Live 99

In addition to playing with Joe Smith in Minnesota during the 1999 and 2000 seasons, the late Malik Sealy had something else in common with his Timberwolves teammate: a single-season stint with the Detroit Pistons. Brief stints are easy enough to overlook, even for bigger names than Sealy, but there are a few other factors overshadowing his short stopover in Motown. He’s obviously remembered for his time with Minnesota, given that it’s who he was playing for when he was tragically killed at the hands of a drunk driver in 2000. The Timberwolves honoured Sealy by retiring his #2 jersey, and Kevin Garnett also wore the number while in Brooklyn as a tribute to his close friend.

Sealy actually began his career with the Indiana Pacers, and then played three years with the Los Angeles Clippers, where he posted his best numbers. I tend to think of Malik Sealy as a Clipper as much as a Timberwolf since that’s who he was playing for when I really got into basketball, and started playing video games such as NBA Jam Tournament Edition. He signed with the Pistons prior to the 1998 season however, coming off the bench for a year before being released when the lockout was lifted, leading to him joining the Timberwolves. Games such as NBA Live 98 and Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside will remind you of his lone season in Detroit’s teal jersey.

3. Sean Elliott

Sean Elliott in NBA Live 95

The list of players who were once traded for each other and then subsequently became teammates would be an interesting one to research, and I’ll keep it in mind for a future article. In the meantime though, a prominent example of such a pair of players is Sean Elliott and Dennis Rodman. Detroit and San Antonio swapped Rodman and Elliott in the 1993 offseason, only to reunite Elliott with David Robinson a year later; more on that in a moment. For one season though, Sean Elliott would become The Admiral’s opponent rather than his First Mate. Elliott led his new team to victory in his first game against his former club, but the Spurs then won the next meeting by 19 points.

That second game serves as a fitting metaphor for Elliott’s 1994 campaign. Despite coming off a fine season in which he was an All-Star, Elliott struggled and the Pistons finished the year 20-62. Infamously, Detroit tried to trade him to the Houston Rockets for Robert Horry; a deal that was voided when Elliott failed a physical, but not before it was included in the fourth revision of NBA Jam TE in arcades. Elliott revealed that he was suffering from kidney problems, an ailment that would eventually lead to him becoming the first professional athlete to return to their sport after a kidney transplant. As for his Detroit Pistons stint, the 16-bit version of NBA Live 95 captures the oddity.

4. Bill Curley

Bill Curley in NBA Jam Tournament Edition PC

So, the Spurs had to give up Sean Elliott to acquire Dennis Rodman. How did they get Elliott back a year later? Well, all it took was Bill Curley – the 22nd pick of the Draft – and a second round pick in 1997! It shows just how little the Pistons valued Elliott, and in their defense, they’d just drafted Grant Hill third overall. Still, the Spurs got the better end of that deal, though a year later they’d undervalue Rodman to the benefit of the Chicago Bulls. Of course, Elliott’s return meant he was able to be part of their first championship come 1999. They also drafted Tim Duncan first overall in 1997, so they didn’t exactly need the second round pick that ultimately became Charles O’Bannon.

As for Bill Curley, he had an unremarkable rookie season, but was nevertheless one of the freshmen that were included in NBA Jam Tournament Edition, appearing on the Rookies squad and then the Pistons after unlocking the expanded rosters. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons that I remember him all these years later! Curley was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers in 1995 for Otis Thorpe, but never played a game for them due to injury. He then missed the entire 1996-1997 season as well, but ended up playing two seasons for Minnesota, thus joining Joe Smith and Malik Sealy as players who both played for the Timberwolves and had a single-season stint with the Pistons.

5. Khris Middleton

Khris Middleton in NBA 2K13

A three-time All-Star and an NBA Champion in Milwaukee, Khris Middleton’s numbers may have dropped since his knee injury in 2022, but he continues to climb the rankings in the Bucks’ all-time leaders in various categories. He’s currently top ten in club history in points (third), field goals (sixth), three-pointers (first), games (third), minutes (second), free throws (sixth), rebounds (ninth), assists (third), steals (fifth), and free throw percentage (fourth). He’s undoubtedly going down in team history as a Bucks Legend, and it wouldn’t be altogether surprising if they retire his #22. His stats, tenure, and role in winning the title in 2021, make him deserving of such an honour.

To that end, Middleton’s accomplishments in Milwaukee can make you forget that he began his career with the Pistons! A second round pick in 2012 and the 39th selection overall, Middleton spent part of his rookie season in the D-League, only appearing in 27 games for Detroit in which he averaged 6.1 ppg. He even wore #32, which hadn’t yet been retired in honour of Richard Hamilton. Middleton was traded to the Bucks before his second season, had a breakout year, and the rest is history. Fire up NBA 2K13 though, and you’ll find a rookie Khris Middleton stuck on the bench for Detroit. It’s a reminder that we shouldn’t be quick to judge players by their freshman seasons.

Do you remember these players and their single-season stints for the Detroit Pistons? Can you recall any other players who had an interesting lone campaign with Detroit, or another team? Let me know in the comments, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.

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