Bob Ford: Stakes extremely high for 76ers in draft

Posted: June 24, 2010

These chances come along so infrequently for an NBA team - the chance to reverse a falling tide with the buoy of a very high draft pick - that the pressure to get the pick right is nearly overwhelming.

76ers general manager Ed Stefanski and head coach Doug Collins say they are excited and energized by the opportunity presented before them in the NBA draft Thursday night, but they wouldn't be human if there weren't a tinge of nervousness mixed in with the excitement.

With the second pick in the 2010 NBA draft, the Philadelphia 76ers . . . can start rebuilding their decimated season-ticket base, can turn around the horrid slide to a 27-55 record they suffered under coach Eddie Jordan, and can begin to recover an organizational momentum that has been dwindling since Larry Brown ceased to be the coach and Allen Iverson ceased to be relevant.

All of that. If they get it right.

The safe move - and the proper one, apparently - is to take 6-foot-7 Ohio State shooting guard Evan Turner, a player universally rated as the best available once the Washington Wizards lift Kentucky's John Wall from the board.

Turner is big and smart and hard-nosed, a good passer, ball handler, and creator on the court whose gifts mean he will be able to do many things most shooting guards cannot. At the moment - although no one, including Turner, seems too concerned about it - shooting the basketball from range, which is fairly high in the shooting guard's job description, is not one of his strengths.

Still, unless the Sixers have been engaging in an elaborate deception, Turner is going to be the pick, and the hope is that he will help remake the franchise. That is always the hope with picks this high.

A generation ago, in the 1993 draft, the Sixers had the second pick. It was a good year to do so, because three of the top four players taken in that draft - Chris Webber, Penny Hardaway, and Jamal Mashburn - would become all-stars and be selected to at least one all-NBA team. Unfortunately for the Sixers, they maneuvered themselves to get the other guy, Shawn Bradley, convinced he would be a game-changer. They were right. He made all the games worse.

That's not the case here. Turner isn't a reach. He'll be a very good, maybe great, NBA player. But is he the right one for the Sixers?

The team's landscape changed significantly last week when the Sixers traded center Samuel Dalembert to Sacramento for young center Spencer Hawes and veteran swingman Andres Nocioni.

It was interesting timing, because after nine years in the organization, Dalembert had finally become valuable. His $12.2 million salary was going to be removed from the budget after one more season, giving Stefanski some added flexibility in landing free agents.

Instead, the Sixers took on a total of $16 million in guaranteed salaries between Hawes and Nocioni over two seasons, and $20 million if you assume they will extend a $4 million qualifying offer to the 22-year-old Hawes after the coming season. So, when they finally rid themselves of Dalembert and the endless, expensive wait for him to blend into a team concept, there wasn't even a corresponding salary-cap advantage. That means two things: Stefanski thinks the new players can help, and Stefanski was really tired of looking at Dalembert.

For his part of it, Hawes is all right, although he has the look of a career backup, the kind of guy who can eat 16-18 minutes a night and neither kill you nor save you. In Sacramento, his competitive fire was questioned, but he'll have a chance to disprove that here.

It is in Nocioni that the Sixers have an interesting player. He's not young, but the Argentine national can shoot a three-pointer and he's very tough. Nocioni complained he wasn't playing enough in Sacramento, and you wonder why a team would bring a potential malcontent into a situation where it is about to use the No. 2 pick in the draft at the position where he might best fit on this roster.

Unless it isn't about to do that, of course, which adds to Thursday night's intrigue.

Without Dalembert on the roster, it seems certain that Collins will follow through on his desire to give Elton Brand a majority of the minutes at center, using Thaddeus Young at power forward and Andre Iguodala almost exclusively at small forward. This will make the Sixers very small in the frontcourt, but it will also put Iguodala closer to the basket, where his shooting deficiencies will not be as apparent.

If all things and all draft picks were equal, it would make more sense for this team to select a talented power forward or a center to add bulk and promise to that frontcourt. In this draft, the best of the bunch are 6-11 DeMarcus Cousins of Kentucky and 6-10 Derrick Favors of Georgia Tech. Both are going to be taken among the top five in the draft.

But the Sixers don't have the fourth or the fifth pick. They have the second pick of all the eligible players in the entire world, and the pressure is to use it on someone worthy of that status.

Of all the players who began bouncing a basketball when they were tiny, of all the tens of thousands who fell away at each level, of all the players who got this far, and then that far, they want the player who steps onto the stage in Madison Square Garden in the perfect suit purchased just for this moment, slips on a baseball cap with the team's logo, and smiles the smile of the man chosen not just by them, but by the game itself.

He's in that building somewhere, and, boy, do they ever want to find him.


Contact columnist Bob Ford

at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com.

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