Even though the 76ers are playing some decent basketball
lately and slowly making up ground for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference
playoff picture, some fans of the team are actually aghast. Winning games and
slipping into the playoffs doesn’t serve these guys well, the argument goes.
There is some logic to that, but not much. Sure, the
Sixers might be able to add a missing piece to help build for the future,
however, even if they lose every game for the rest of the season they have a
small shot at nabbing the top pick.
So what’s wrong with making the playoffs? Based on the
Sixers’ draft history winning ball games and trying to rebuild with free agents
(always difficult to do with the NBA’s salary cap) might be the best tact.
Sure, we know all about the recent picks like Jrue
Holliday, Marreese Speights, Thaddeus Young, Lou Williams, Andre Iguodala and
Sam Dalembert, who are all solid players and should help the team in the
future. All of those players were selected well out of the top 10 picks (except for Iguodala) from
draft classes that weren’t known for being particularly deep, so in that regard
the team did pretty well.
It’s just when the Sixers get into the top handful of
picks where things get crazy. Yes, Allen Iverson was the top overall pick in
1996 and he’s headed for the Hall of Fame, and Charles Barkley was taken fifth
overall in the famous 1984 draft. But for every Iverson and Barkley there is a
Shawn Bradley, Sharone Wright, Charles Smith, Keith Van Horn, Marvin “Bad News”
Barnes and whatever the hell that was in 1986.
Indeed, June hasn’t been the kindest month for the
Just look at what
happened from 1973to 1975 where the Sixers had four picks in the top five and
six first-round selections. That’s where following the NBA-record nine-win
season the team took Doug Collins with the top pick in ’73 (not bad), took
Roman Catholic and St. Joe’s alum Mike Bantom with the fourth-pick before it
was disallowed for some reason,
and then snagged Raymond Lewis from California State University at Los Angeles
at No. 18.
Collins, of course, was a four-time All-Star and scored
22 points per game in during the run to the Finals in 1977. However, injuries
ended Collins’ career before he turned 30. Bantom spent nine seasons in the NBA
before closing out his career with the Sixers in 1982. Instead of latching on
with the ’83 title team, Bantom played in Italy.
The dubiousness of the ’73 draft was trumped in a big way
in 1974 where the Sixers took Bad News Barnes with the second overall pick. It
actually might have been an interesting pick had Barnes not jumped to the
Spirit of St. Louis in the ABA before becoming the poster child for the era of
bad behavior in the 1970s.
In the history of nicknames, Barnes’ was perfect. During
his rookie season with St. Louis, he disappeared for days presumably to renegotiate
his contract—in the middle of his first season, no less. After days off the
grind (much easier to do in 1974), Barnes was finally located with his agent in
a pool hall in Dayton, Oh.
They always turn up in the first place you should look…
Barnes played in just 315 pro games, made the playoffs
once in the ABA and appeared in two ABA All-Star Games. That was when he was in
relative control. When Barnes was in full Bad News mode, it was pretty dark.
Check out this interview he
gave to Fanhouse last December:
"I was making
40 to 50 grand a week [selling] the drugs,'' said Barnes. "I was making so
much money (in the selling of marijuana) it was hard to stay focused (on
Barnes said he served as an investor with drug kingpin Paul Edward Hindelang Jr.,
who would later cooperate with the government and forfeit $50 million in
drug-trafficking proceeds. Barnes said Hindelang's right-hand man was Roosevelt
Becton, a friend of the basketball player whom he describes as the
"godfather'' who "ran St. Louis.''
"Hindelang was the guy who started the 'mother ship,' which would park
five miles away and boats would shoot for the (Colombia) shore,'' Barnes said.
"He got a two-ton freighter a bunch of us (contributed for financially).
Then it would go down and buy two tons of Colombian marijuana.
"It was the
best marijuana. We bought it from the Colombian government for a dollar a pound
… I was investing money (in the operation).''
Talk about wasted talent:
"I was one of the five best players on
the planet, period"
"I would have been one of the 50 greatest players of all time,'' said
Barnes, 57, who now works with at-risk teenagers in his Men to Men program in
his hometown of Providence, R.I., telling them the pitfalls of drugs. "I
was one of the five best players on the planet period (with St. Louis). Just
ask anybody (from) back then … I was kicking some butt. … But I was going
on a downhill spiral. I met drug traffickers in St. Louis and they showed me
another way of life. And that was detrimental to my basketball career.''
Maybe it wasn’t so bad that Barnes didn’t end up with the
Sixers. Imagine Barnes in the frontcourt with Darryl Dawkins and Julius Erving
with a team that featured Collins, George McGinnis, World B. Free, Henry Bibby,
Steve Mix and Caldwell Jones. That’s a team that could have gone 11 deep with
Jellybean Bryant and Harvey Catchings filling roles, too.
Instead, Barnes was a wasted No. 2 pick in a deep
draft where the Sixers could have
snapped up any one of the 18 players who went on to play at least 550 games in
the NBA. This includes Hall of Famer George Gervin.
The team finished up the three-year stretch of top picks
by getting Dawkins with the No. 5 pick before swiping Free in the second round.
In 1975, the Sixers did about just as well as they could do, arguably getting
the two players that went on to have the best careers of the draft class.
Still, the team didn’t really come together until Doc
came aboard in 1976. And despite the loss to the Blazers in the ’77 Finals and
to the Lakers in ’80 and ‘82, the championship squad wasn’t built on top draft
picks, though Andrew Toney was the No. 8 pick in the 1980 draft.
They got Mo Cheeks late in the second round in 1978,
Clint Richardson late in the second in 1979, as well as Franklin Edwards and
Mark McNamara late in the first rounds of the 1981 and 1982 drafts. Otherwise,
the best Sixers’ team was built with trades and signings… Bobby Jones came from
Denver for McGinnis; they bought Doc from the Nets; Marc Iavaroni was signed
after the Knicks waived him; and Moses arrived in a trade with Houston in which
the Sixers gave up Caldwell Jones and their first pick of the ’83 draft.
If only the Sixers could have drafted as well when given
a top pick. Oh sure, Barkley and Iverson were hard to mess up, especially since
two of the greatest players ever were taken ahead of Sir Chuck (Hakeem Olajuwon
and Michael Jordan). But just imagine what could have been if the Sixers had
simply drafted Brad Daugherty with the top pick of the 1986 draft and dropped
him into the frontcourt with Barkley and Moses.
Instead, just before it was their turn to make the No. 1 pick, owner Harold Katz sent it to Cleveland for Roy Hinson (yes, Roy Hinson!) before dealing Moses and Terry Catledge to Washington for Cliff Robinson and Jeff Ruland.
Those trades made little sense in 1986 and make even less sense now.
What were they thinking?
Imagine those three up front with Cheeks and Hersey
Hawkins in the backcourt.
Go ahead… we’ll wait.
Now imagine that the Sixers can knock off the Celtics or
Pistons as the ‘80s end and instead of taking Christian Welp at No. 16 in 1987,
they get Mark Jackson (third all-time in assists) or Reggie Lewis (perennial All-Star
before his untimely death). Sure, the No. 3 pick of Charles Smith and
subsequent deal for Hawkins worked out, but what if the Sixers would have just
kept the pick and taken Mitch Richmond instead. That lineup turns to Moses,
Barkley, Daugherty, Cheeks and Richmond.
Strangely, the Sixers eventually have had a bunch of No.
1 picks in recent years, starting with Iverson, Joe Smith, Derrick Coleman,
Elton Brand and Chris Webber.
What? They couldn’t swing a deal for Kwame Brown?
Try this out—from 1990 to 1999 drafts, the Sixers have had 20 top
10 draft picks end up on their roster. Ready for them?
1990—Coleman (No. 1 to New Jersey) and Willie Burton (No. 9 to Miami)
1991—Dikembe Mutombo (No. 4 to Denver)
1992—Jim Jackson (No. 4 to New Jersey) and Clarence
Witherspoon (No. 9)
1993—Webber (No. 1 to Orlando), Bradley (No. 2) and Rodney Rogers (No. 9 to Denver)
1994—Donyell Marshall (No. 4 to Golden State), Sharone
Wright (No. 6) and Eric Montross (No. 9 to Boston)
1995—Joe Smith (No. 1 to Golden State) and Jerry Stackhouse (No. 3)
1997—Keith Van Horn (No. 2) and Tim Thomas (No. 7 to New
1998—Robert Traylor (No. 6 to Dallas) and Larry Hughes
1999—Brand (No. 1 to Chicago) and Andre Miller (No. 8 to Cleveland)
So the Sixers certainly have had chances to rebuild with
the draft, only it really hasn’t worked out that way. Even the roster for the
2001 run to the Finals was constructed with trades and free-agent moves.
Considering that as recently as 1995 to 1997 that the team had a top three pick
each year and kept one player longer than two seasons explains all one needs to
know about the Sixers in the draft.
Tank it? No t'anks.