Relax, Parade Lovers

We're talkin' bout patience as Sixers make picks

Posted: June 28, 2007

NO, NO, THIS isn't the draft in which the 76ers strike it ridiculously rich, add a dozen victories to their total and climb into the upper echelon of the talent-challenged NBA East.

As you watch the first round unfold, keep telling yourself that patience and realism should be the keynotes of the evening. Barring a trade of blockbuster proportions, the Sixers, holding Nos. 12, 21 and 30 in the first round and No. 38 in the second round, aren't likely to unearth a franchise-changer. They might not necessarily even address their primary needs, a muscular power forward and a wing shooter, depending on the talent still on the board.

They are equally unlikely to come away with four players. They almost certainly don't want to take on three fully guaranteed contracts, each for a minimum of two seasons; they have been attempting to package picks and perhaps a player to move up several spots from both No. 12 and No. 21. That could possibly create a yield of two players who could be in an eight-man rotation, providing some of the depth they lacked last season.

In essence, tonight will set the stage for Phase II of the 3-year plan that was set in motion when president/general manager Billy King, with the blessing of chairman Ed Snider, traded Allen Iverson to the Denver Nuggets, bought out the remainder of Chris Webber's bloated contract, kept the payroll out of luxury tax territory and created a situation whereby there could be precious salary cap space available after next season, allowing for the pursuit then of a star-quality player.

In an age that too often demands instant gratification, that has been a difficult blueprint for a portion of the team's fan constituency to swallow. Those are the people (you know who you are) who wanted the Sixers to lose, lose, lose down the stretch of this past season. The more losses, they reasoned, the better odds of a more prime spot in the lottery. Never mind the development of Andre Iguodala, et al, not to mention the sheer integrity of the sport. (Ask Boston, Memphis and Milwaukee exactly how that worked out for them.)

We've heard all the rumors, and King has heard some beyond that. He got one call last week telling him the word was that he was acquiring Kevin Garnett from Minnesota, and another saying he was trading all three first-round picks.

"Wow, I didn't know that," was his reply.

In a perfect world, the Sixers might love to get their hands on Jeff Green, the Georgetown forward, or Spencer Hawes, the 7-foot, 19-year-old freshman center from Washington who volunteered to shoot three-pointers after his workout and knocked down seven of 12. In a perfect world, we would also know what the Sixers really think about Yi Jianlian, the 6-11 Chinese mystery man: Is he a star in the making, or just a finely tuned, marvelously trained athlete who dazzles you in a private workout?

But the top 12 picks in the first round are anything but a perfect world. That's why Julian Wright, the Kansas forward who can defend multiple positions, and Sean Williams, the Boston College forward who was kicked off the team after multiple violations, were brought in for 11th-hour workouts, and why Arron Afflalo, the UCLA guard/forward, and Glen "Big Baby" Davis, the Louisiana State forward, were brought back for second visits.

After Ohio State center Greg Oden goes to Portland and Texas forward Kevin Durant lands with Seattle, or maybe even the other way around, just about anything seems possible.

The biggest wild card in the group could be Yi, who put up imposing numbers in the Chinese Basketball Association, albeit against lesser competition. The closest thing to NBA-level opposition came from Wang Zhi-Zhi, whose Bayi team defeated Yi's Guandong Southern Tigers for this season's championship. The Sixers sent a three-man contingent to China to scout Yi, then sent a four-man contingent to Carson, Calif. to observe one of his workouts.

Tonight's moves are critical in the sense that they will help create the product that hopefully will eventually attract a player of major significance in 2008 free agency.

"I think every draft is critical, because if you make a mistake that's a wasted draft," King said. "What you want is a guy who has skill, who can play in the league, because then you have an asset. That's why you get the most talented player [rather than necessarily addressing a specific need]."

Mock drafts are pieced together by everyone, from high school kids to presidents of teams to, gulp, reporters. More than a few have penciled in Al Thornton, the fifth-year senior forward from Florida State who Boston exec Danny Ainge has described as "the second best offensive player in the draft" as a major possibility at No. 12. But someone will fall through the cracks. Someone always does.

That's what happened in 2004, when the Sixers, at No. 9, privately coveted Arizona's Iguodala. They knew they would need help to get him, and tried to trade up as high as No. 5 with Dallas, but were unable to strike a deal. But Atlanta cooperated by taking Stanford's Josh Childress, a player not among the Sixers' top eight, at No. 6. And Toronto shockingly took Brigham Young's Rafael Araujo. The Sixers' Plan B was Latvian big man Andris Biedrins, who had spent nearly 6 weeks in Philadelphia training with summer league instructor John Hartnett.

If the opening round goes to form, and it rarely does, the Sixers could be looking at a menu including Texas A & M point guard Acie Law IV, Georgia Tech point guard Javaris Crittenton or even Boston College's Williams or Kansas' Wright.

At this point, they all think they'll be in the top 10. The Sixers won't reveal their own private top 10, but they have to hope that the teams ahead of them like a different guy or two. That will push their primary target down to them. Or they will try to trade up.

Let's be honest here: No one doing a mock draft really knows that answer. Only the Sixers do. And they won't say until they definitely, absolutely, positively have to.

That would be tonight. *

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