Last season, with Barkley embroiled in a series of loud embarrassments, the team slogged to a 35-47 record and missed the playoffs for just the second time in 17 seasons.
"Sure, I'd love to have Charles if everything was right with the team," said new coach Doug Moe, who will implement a high-octane, running game this season. "A couple of years ago, the situation was different. He was different.
"We're excited about the trade because we get a little younger, add some depth. Though you hate to lose a guy with the potential to carry a team to a championship, unfortunately that would have been difficult with what's passed under the bridge."
The package received in exchange for Barkley contains no marquee names. The three players will fit into specific roles and, the Sixers hope, help blend the team into a happy, winning unit once again.
Coming to Philadelphia from Phoenix are:
* Tim Perry, 27, a 6-foot-9 forward who played at Temple University.
* Jeff Hornacek, 29, a versatile 6-4 guard who led the Suns in scoring last season and was in the All-Star Game.
* Andrew Lang, 25, a 6-11 center of modest offensive ability whose specialties are shot-blocking and rebounding.
Barkley was declared not a Sixer on the same day he was found not guilty of battery and disorderly conduct by a Milwaukee jury. The trial stemmed from an incident in December in which Barkley broke the nose of a Milwaukee man who followed him out of a bar late at night.
Barkley received word of the trade shortly before leaving Milwaukee last night.
"It's very difficult. . . . I don't know whether I'm happy, sad or
indifferent," Barkley said after arriving in Philadelphia. "This is business. I always enjoyed Philadelphia. The fans were good to me. The people who don't like me, I just can't worry about them."
The 76ers quietly accepted Barkley's barbs and controversies during most of his tenure here. But as this season progressed he became more of a distraction, according to some of his teammates, and less intent on helping the club win. By the end of the season, the Sixers' locker room was divided and festering.
"I'm a Charles Barkley fan," said general manager Jim Lynam, who gave the final OK on the deal yesterday. "But you have to make difficult decisions in this line of work. It wasn't easy to do, but we had to make changes without a doubt."
"The chemistry had to get better," said owner Harold Katz. "There were many problems that contributed to us winning 35 games. You have to like each other and want to do it together. We didn't have that last year."
Moe said he thought Barkley had lost some of his desire to play in Philadelphia.
"We had to come to some conclusions, and the conclusion we came to was that Charles was unhappy," Moe said. "Let's face it, things just didn't mesh with the group they had. I'd love to have Charles, playing like he did a couple of years ago, when he just buried us (the Denver Nuggets, whom Moe coached then), and have everything right with the team. But we just didn't think it was going to happen."
Barkley averaged 23.1 points and 11 rebounds a game last season for the Sixers. But his statistics declined in almost every significant area. The season before, he had averaged 27.6 points.
Barkley, who was the Sixers' first-round draft choice in 1984, is an amazing basketball player. Although listed at 6-6, he stands just a shade under 6-5.
But with a rock-hard 255-pound frame and an intense desire for the basketball, Barkley is one of the best rebounding small forwards in the history of the game.
He regularly does battle beneath the basket with men much taller and heavier. And, on a remarkably regular basis, he outplays them.
Last season, Barkley was one of only two non-centers to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz was the other.
Barkley, who was named to the U.S. Olympic team last year, will compete for this country at the Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain. The team will begin workouts in San Diego on Sunday.
For all his accomplishments - he holds the Philadelphia 76ers' record for career rebounds - Barkley has never been named MVP and has never taken his team to the highest levels of competition.
As a rookie, playing with the fading 76ers' dynasty that included Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Maurice Cheeks, Bobby Jones and Andrew Toney, Barkley got to the Eastern Conference finals with the Sixers. On his own, with a team built around him, however, Barkley never got that far again.
"We won 35 games with this superstar," Katz said. "Nobody can tell me we won't win more than 35 games next year. There's no doubt in my mind we'll win more."
The Sixers actively shopped Barkley around the league after the season ended. They checked with every other team in the NBA and fielded many offers.
"This, by far, was the best deal offered," Katz said yesterday.
The Suns dickered for more than a week before putting Lang, Hornacek and Perry on the table. The Sixers had attempted to get either point guard Kevin Johnson or swing man Dan Majerle.
Phoenix had to renounce its rights to two marginal players to get below the league's salary cap of $14 million, and be able to send a multiple package in exchange for one player.