Twenty-five years ago, the 76ers had themselves a draft day for the ages. They traded Moses Malone, the Hall of Fame center on the 1983 championship team, to Washington for Jeff Ruland. The teams also swapped a couple of forwards in the deal and - shrewd operators that they were - the Sixers threw in a pair of future first-round draft picks. Not content with that coup, the Sixers then traded the first pick in the draft, center Brad Daugherty, to Cleveland for power forward Roy Hinson.
It was quite a day, and, in some respects, the franchise hasn't recovered yet.
As Rod Thorn, Ed Stefanski, and Doug Collins prepare for Thursday's 2011 draft, they should take heart that if they miscalculate their decisions, even if very badly, there's no way they can break the club record.
For one thing, the current Sixers don't have as much to lose. There isn't an overflow of Hall of Fame players to trade away, and the frontcourt is already a pliable mess, no offense to Spencer Hawes.
If they take a swing with the 16th pick and get either Nikola Vucevic from Southern California or Lithuanian Donatas Motiejunas, both of whom are either 7-foot or very close to it, that's a reasonable move. If they take a half-step down and draft a power forward, such as Tristan Thompson of Texas or Markieff Morris of Kansas, that's all right, but not great. If they drop down further and draft yet another interchangeable swingman - even if Andre Iguodala is going to be traded - that does little to get them closer to a championship.
Making the best move
The Sixers have to be hit by lightning, and, to do so, they need to find a tall tree. If you're going to miss, then miss with a big guy. You can miss with smaller ones, too, by the way. Just ask the team that passed on Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce in order to draft Larry Hughes in 1998. Or the one that took Jerry Stackhouse in 1995 and passed on Rasheed Wallace and Kevin Garnett.
Those weren't great draft days, either, but they don't even compare to 1986, when the team dismantled the best frontcourt in its history. The franchise still is trying to locate the reassembly instructions.
Not only wasn't Jeff Ruland as good as Moses Malone, he wasn't even as good as Jeff Ruland. Malone - dismissed as "an old 31" by owner Harold Katz - would play nine more seasons, compiling another 9,000 points and 5,000 rebounds. Ruland arrived with a bad knee and played five games in 1986-87. He would come back five years later after some voodoo surgery and play 13 more.
The ones that got away
Daugherty averaged 19 points and 9.5 rebounds in an eight-year career for Cleveland. Roy Hinson lasted a little more than a season with the Sixers before being traded to New Jersey for two big men, Mike Gminski and Ben Coleman. Gminski was a serviceable if unspectacular center on a couple of pretty decent Sixers teams. Coleman was just a guy. (Barkley asked Coleman once how many low-post moves he had. Coleman replied that he had three. "When are we going to see the other two?" Barkley said.)
Every team has a few draft-day stories like this. Guys they passed on they shouldn't have. Guys they believed in they shouldn't have. There are a few more examples from the pages of Sixers history, too. They took Kenny Payne instead of Vlade Divac, Clarence Weatherspoon instead of Robert Horry - maybe that's a stretch, but the guy was part of seven championships - and, although they hope not, the list someday might include taking Evan Turner instead of DeMarcus Cousins. Each time, they went smaller, and each time, they defended the decision at the time.
That's the problem. In that moment, it can all seem logical. The vision of how a trade will work in your favor lines up with what actually happens. The mental prediction of how a young player will develop matches the reality of what he becomes. It makes perfect sense.
A quarter-century ago, that wasn't the case, though. That day never made any sense.
Contact columnist Bob Ford at email@example.com. Read his blog, "Post Patterns," at www.philly.com/postpatterns