This story is part of ESPN The Magazine's Oct. 12 Owners Issue. Subscribe today!
Title track: 34
Fan relations: 95
Stadium experience: 86
Bang for the buck: 89
Change from last year: +21
It's been a quarter century since the Bad Boys conquered the NBA, and to honor the milestone, the 21st century Pistons lived up to half that moniker. For much of the season, they were just plain bad. Nary a cylinder fired out of the gate last season, with the Pistons stalling at 5-23 before dumping Josh Smith (and his $45 million contract) in the junkyard. So how in the name of Andre Drummond's free throw shooting did the Pistons rise 21 spots in our ranking?
Please refer to Exhibit A: Coach Stan Van Gundy and the principle of addition by subtraction. Sans Josh Smith, who was doing more harm than good in the Pistons' system, the Motown bunch instantly became the hottest team in the NBA. The Pistons beat Cleveland and San Antonio on the road, won seven straight and 11 out of 13, and then ... point guard Brandon Jennings tore his Achilles (insert crash sounds). The Pistons missed the playoffs for the sixth straight season (the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference), but on the bright side, 32 wins was still their best showing since 2009. Add in the fifth-cheapest tickets in the Eastern Conference, more than $15 below league average, and the Pistons played at least some basketball that was worth paying to watch.
Maybe if Jennings hadn't been injured, Detroit's players score could have been different, but fans still aren't convinced by the Pistons' roster. They're ranked 107th, which, while not great, is a jump of 14 slots from last year, when they were next to last. A fan relations score of 95 also improved by double digits but is still nothing to write home about. And while the Pistons have completed a $40 million arena renovation -- upgrading luxury suites, improving Wi-Fi and replacing the scoreboard with one three times as big -- the 27-year-old Palace isn't seen as much of a palace anymore (86th in stadium experience).
The Pistons' on-court improvement is a testament to Stan Van, whose 28-spot rise in coaching marked Detroit's biggest jump of the year. The post-Smith turnaround may have helped that players rank jump, and top scorer Reggie Jackson's five-year, $80 million extension probably didn't hurt, either. Ownership might have gotten a bump (up 12 spots) due to its public consideration of moving out of the burbs and back to Detroit. For now, though, a simple trek above .500 would be the best trip of all.