BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
To say the Philadelphia 76ers are a terrible drafting team is a broad statement that can be viewed as opinion. However, if one were to say since 1979 the Philadelphia 76ers have drafted only five NBA All-Stars, that opinionated statement now becomes a provable fact.
The list of all-stars includes Andrew Toney (1983 & 1984), Charles Wade Barkley (1987 – 1992), Hershey Hawkins (1991), Allen Iverson (2000 – 2006 & 2010), and Andre Iguodala (2012). Ladies and gentlemen, that is 33 years of ineptitude being rewarded by six figure checks.
You compare that to three all-star selections by the San Antonio Spurs since 1998, four by the Los Angeles Lakers since 1997, five by the Boston Celtics since 1988, six by the Chicago Bulls since 1985 and suddenly 33 years sounds, well……..terrible.
For a franchise that managed to always find itself competing for NBA Championships to now be regulated to duking it out with the Toronto Raptors for the eighth and final playoff spot should be a hard pill for 76er fans to swallow. There has to be a reason or person responsible for such consistent and deliberate miss-fires. It is one thing to draft a player and have him sign with another team in free agency, but it is inexcusable to draft another team’s future 13th man season after season.
The NBA Draft is where championship seasons and dynasties commence. Every championship team from Bill Russell to Paul Pierce’s Boston Celtics, Dirk Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks and LeBron James’ Miami Heat has had a roster with at least two stars. One of those stars was a player the championship team drafted.
Yes free agency and trades are vital ingredients in championship gumbo but they are not the main ingredient. It is essential that your team first, draft well, than everything else will follow. There is no plausible excuse for Philly’s lack of wherewithal in knowing what player will succeed and their abysmal history in selecting similar players.
This pathological desire to be epically horrendous began somewhere during the 1986 – 1987. When the good Doctor was hanging up his Converse, someone thought three-time MVP Moses Malone for Jeff Ruland was brilliant, and the Sixers drafted Chris Welp out of the University of Washington.
Welp is the all-time career points scoring leader (2,073) in Washington Huskies history, but NBA big, he was not. Welp would tear up his knee one night in Chicago and never quite live up to “expectations.” History has been and will continue to be unkind to both Welp and Ruland who were not bad players.
Although, Ruland did have an injury history and should never have been a 76er, but that is a story for another day.
While Welp today looks like a bad draft choice, you have to dig a little deeper. If so, you will find a seven-footer who could shoot and spread the floor, which would have given Barkley and Ruland room to operate in the paint. However, his selection signified a shift in drafting college production over talent.
Injuries and poor trades began to rear their head and the 1987-88 season was one of misery and strife as Philly finished 36-46. A bad year can bring about good results in the form of a top three draft pick, which is what Philly was awarded for their injury riddled season. However, even a gift from King Stern could not rescue the 76ers from themselves.
Ineptitude had set in, and the Sixers were focused on instituting a tradition of idiotic selections. Yet, with every tradition things begin subtle, and this was no different. Injuries cost them the opportunity to see if Welp could be a player, and poor scouting cost Philly a shot at a legitimate Hall-of-Famer in the 1988 NBA Draft.
Pittsburgh’s Charles Smith was selected third overall selection by the 76ers. The former Pitt Panther was immediately traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for Hershey Hawkins who was the fifth pick in that very same draft and Kenny “Avoid the Lane” Payne in the 1989 NBA Draft.
The Hawkins pick stands out because selected right before Hawkins was a player nicknamed “the Rock” and who would go on to have a Hall-of-Fame worthy career. That players name was Mitch Richmond. The former Kansas State standout would go on and play in six straight all-star games and solidify himself as one of the best two guards in the game. While the Hawk would make one all-star appearance and never quite live up to that 36-points per he scored his senior season at Bradley.
Two years and two players who played well in college but whose scoring talent did not transfer to the league, once is an accident twice is a……well you know the rest.
Kenny Payne, who was also included in the trade for Hawkins, did nothing worth mentioning during his three year stint in Philly other then be a part of this trade.
Philadelphia later traded for Jayson Williams who was the first round selection of the Phoenix Suns in the 1990 NBA Draft, but would not appear in the first round again until the 1992. By then they were a dead team playing.
Disaster had struck and there was no way out.
Gone was Charles Barkley, who was traded to Phoenix in the off-season. Luckily the 76ers did not get a first round pick to blow in the Barkley trade. What Philly did get were three players in Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang, and Tim Perry who couldn’t find a way to help a 26 win ball club.
Just as things commenced with the horrific trade that brought Jeff Ruland to Philly and the selection of Chris Welp over Reggie Lewis and Mark Jackson things would hit an all-time high in the 1993 NBA Draft. In basketball “the non-rebounding seven footer” can be a kiss of death for an NBA club. Well the Sixers went for a peck with Welp and a French kiss with Shawn Bradley and both wound up being devastating blows for the franchise.
Frustration comes to mind when you think passing on Richmond for Hershey, Nick Van Exel for Alphonso Ford, and Tracy McGrady for eventually Tim Thomas. Confusion, the audacity, and incompetent all come to mind when Shawn Bradley is selected over Anferenee Hardaway, Jerry Stackhouse over Kevin Garnett, Larry Hughes over Paul Pierce, Clarence Weatherspoon over Latrell Sprewell, Speedy Claxton over Morris Peterson, Samuel Dalembert over Gilbert Arenas and Tony Parker, John Salmons over Tayshaun Prince, and Rodney Carney over Rajon Rondo.
What makes these selections so egregious, so putrid is the fact that each of the players the 76ers should have drafted filled a need on the team. Hershey Hawkins and Jeff Hornacek were shooting guards masquerading as the squad’s starting point guards the year the Sixers choose Bradley. Speedy Claxton was unable to play with the team’s best player in Allen Iverson because of Claxton’s height, so why make those pick.
It appears at times Philly is trying to outdo the previous season’s mistake and sadly have been uncharacteristically successful at doing so. While it is easy to call out Tony DiLeo, the Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations, that will not solve the problem. Just like Harold Katz selling the team to Ed Snider in 1996 did not solve the major issue of talent evaluation.
Sadly, the only way to resolve this issue is to literally fire everyone in the scouting department, starting with DiLeo. 22 years in player evaluation and nothing to show for it is difficult enough to swallow. However, a pattern of missing player after player and trusting the same group of scouts who have failed you pick after pick is the true reason for this call.
Any and every person who has been part of that staff exceeding four years must be replaced with the fierce urgency of now. To be specific both the college and pro scouting departments must be overhauled. Their misses have been catastrophic and frankly comical.
Another epic blunder was the drafting of Mareese Speights over Roy Hibbert and Serge Ibaka when the Sixers had every intention of going after Elton Brand in free agency. These moves aligned with a history of incompetence are too much for any coach or owner to overcome.
The last two drafts have been more of the same for the Sixers.
Last season they drafted University of Southern California’s Nikola Vucevic. The forward added absolutely nothing to the roster this season and eventually was passed in the rotation by second round pick Lavoy Allen.
Vucevic was taken 16th overall which was six spots higher then NBA All-Rookie First Team member forward Kenneth Faried and was taken a full round higher then NBA All-Rookie Second Team members forward Chandler Parsons (taken 38th overall) and guard Isaiah Thomas (taken 60th overall). Once again proving they are unable to identify talent.
For those of you who believe this current regime will be any different or perhaps they will be able to establish and sustain any type of success. Polly on this their first draft pick, Maurice Harkless, is a 6’8 wing player who is athletic but is offensively raw. Athletic swingmen were high on the 76ers draft board considering the core of their team is Jrue Holiday, Elton Brand, and Tony Battie. This would have been a questionable move if the core of the club was say Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, and Evan Turner.
The second first round selection (via trade) Arnett Moultrie is also considered extremely raw.
Seems like the same dry pizza as the last cafeteria. To be honest it is too early to know if Harkless, Vucevic and Moultrie will break the abysmal trend and provide star powered hope to the many of dark nights casted by previous selections.
The NBA Draft is where the foundation to a championship team begins. It is where the Miami Heat grabbed an undersized shooting guard from Marquette and turned him into a two-time champion.
The NBA Draft is where a slender kid from the suburbs of Pennsylvania heads to Los Angeles and becomes arguably the greatest to ever play the position. Lastly, it is where a slick talking bald man gives Ice Capade tickets in exchange for the greatest winner the game has ever known.
The 76er seasons have crumbled so frequently because they have forgotten the importance of building that strong foundation. Hopefully this new group of owners will not continue this oversight. Hopefully this new ownership group will focus on the builders as well as the building.