Draft is a guessing game for Sixers … everyone

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Friday, June 24, 2011
Posted: 2:18 p.m.

By John R. Finger
CSNPhilly.com

Even in the best years when every player is built like a future All-Star and Hall of Famer, the NBA draft is a crap shoot. Change that dynamic to a draft in which the players are viewed as question marks or projects, it still remains the same

The draft is always about luck.

Thats no different for the 76ers after they took Nikola Vucevic, a 20-year old from USC, with the 16th pick in Thursday nights draft. Then again, it was the same scenario last year when the Sixers had the second-overall pick and took Evan Turner. Oh sure, Turner was no stretch as a No. 2 pick, but he was by no means a finished product. After a year in the league, that notion hasnt changed.

That will probably be the same deal for Vucevic, too. After making the clubs first pick in the draft on Thursday night, 76ers general manager Ed Stefanski explained how especially brutal this years pick em was because there was no guessing which player was going to be selected or where.

In this Draft, I think you see a lot of players that you dont know if theyre going to be that impact or star player, Stefanski said. Theres a lot of good rotation players, rotation type of players, but we didnt see in this draft that there were a lot of players that are going to be possible stars or starters.

Back when he was the general manager for the Chicago Bulls, Sixers president Rod Thorn helped start a dynasty when he picked Michael Jordan with the No. 3 pick in the 1984 draft. But even then everything had to go just right for Thorn. He had to hope the Houston Rockets took Hakeem Olajuwon and the Portland Trail Blazers went for Sam Bowie of Lebanon, Pa. at No. 2 before taking Jordan.

This was a draft that after the first four picks was very difficult to gauge, Thorn said of his latest draft on Friday afternoon at PCOM. We needed some luck.

Actually, its always been that way and history proves it. Just look at what happened from 1973 to 1975 where the Sixers had four picks in the top five and six first-round selections. Thats 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. Joes 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 Marvin 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 contractin the middle of his first season, no less. After a few days off the grid (much easier to do in 1974), Barnes was finally located with his agent in a pool hall in Dayton, Ohio.

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 basketball).''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 wasnt so bad that Barnes didnt 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. Thats 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 didnt 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 wasnt 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.

Not bad.

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.

Yeah

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 well 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.

Sigh!

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 couldnt swing a deal for Kwame Brown?

Try this outfrom 1990 to 1999, the Sixers have had 20 top-10 draft picks end up on their roster. Ready for them?

1990Coleman (No. 1 to New Jersey) and Willie Burton (No. 9 to Miami)
1991Dikembe Mutombo (No. 4 to Denver)
1992Jim Jackson (No. 4 to New Jersey) and Clarence Witherspoon (No. 9)
1993Webber (No. 1 to Orlando), Bradley (No. 2) and Rodney Rogers (No. 9 to Denver)
1994Donyell Marshall (No. 4 to Golden State), Sharone Wright (No. 6) and Eric Montross (No. 9 to Boston)
1995Joe Smith (No. 1 to Golden State) and Jerry Stackhouse (No. 3)
1996Iverson (No. 1)
1997Keith Van Horn (No. 2) and Tim Thomas (No. 7 to New Jersey)
1998Robert Traylor (No. 6 to Dallas) and Larry Hughes (No. 8)
1999Brand (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 hasnt 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.
E-mail John R. Finger at jfinger@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JRFingerCSN.

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