Based on draft history, Sixers shouldn't tank for top pick

Based on draft history, Sixers shouldn't tank for top pick
March 10, 2013, 1:15 pm
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The season has not exactly gone as planned for coach Doug Collins or the 76ers. With Andrew Bynum anchoring the middle, Collins thought the Sixers could be a 60-win team.

Instead, they are in last place in the Atlantic Division and 8½ games out for the last playoff spot in the East.

Understandably, some fans of the team are aghast at what has happened to the Sixers this season and the suggestion has been made for the team to just suck it up and tank it for the NBA draft. Winning games and slipping into the playoffs doesn’t serve these guys well, the argument goes.

At 23-38 headed into Sunday night’s game in Orlando, the Sixers are 11 games ahead of the Charlotte Bobcats for the worst record in the NBA.

In other words, the Sixers are perfectly in the middle between mediocre and terrible.

So there is some logic to tanking it, 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. Plus, scouts say that this summer’s draft isn’t particularly deep and no No. 1 overall pick has emerged yet.

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.

We know all about the recent picks like Moe Harkless, Nik Vucevic, Lavoy Allen and Evan Turner. There also were solid picks in Jrue Holiday, Marreese Speights, Thaddeus Young, Lou Williams, Andre Iguodala and Sam Dalembert, all of whom are on NBA rosters.

All of those players were selected well out of the top 10 picks (except for Turner and 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 Sixers.

Just look at what happened from 1973 to 1975 when 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, and then snagged Raymond Lewis from California State University at Los Angeles at No. 18.

Collins went on to become a four-time All-Star and scored 22 points per game 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, when 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. It was almost too perfect. During his rookie season with St. Louis, Barnes disappeared for days presumably to renegotiate his contract — in the middle of his first season, no less. After days off the grid (much easier to do in 1974), Barnes was finally located with his agent in a pool hall in Dayton, Ohio.

Don’t 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 in December of 2009:

"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 basketball).''

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 in which 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 Dr. J 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 in a trade 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.

Not bad.

If only the Sixers could have drafted as well when given a top pick. Yes, 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.

Injuries allowed Ruland to play just five games the next season. Those trades made little sense in 1986 and make even less sense now.

If only it ended there. Instead, the Sixers took Christian Welp at No. 16 in 1987 with Mark Jackson (third all-time in assists) and Reggie Lewis (perennial All-Star before his untimely death) on the board. 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.

Wow!

Strangely, the Sixers eventually 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?

Oh, wait … nevermind.

As Brown, picked first overall by the Wizards in 2001, has shown, high picks don't guarantee success. Try this out — from the 1990 to 1999 drafts, the Sixers have had 20 top 10 draft picks end up on their roster:

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)

1996 — Iverson (No. 1)

1997 — Keith Van Horn (No. 2) and Tim Thomas (No. 7 to New Jersey). (They traded Van Horn for Thomas in a multiplayer deal, then reacquired Van Horn in 2002 for Dikembe Mutombo)

1998 — Robert Traylor (No. 6 to Dallas) and Larry Hughes (No. 8)

1999 — Brand (No. 1 to Chicago) and Andre Miller (No. 8 to Cleveland)

Trips to the playoffs during this period? Just two.

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.

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