Despite having three overall No. 1 picks (Derrick Coleman, Allen Iverson and Joe Smith), five Associated Press first-team All-Americas (Coleman, Smith, Iverson, Jim Jackson and Jerry Stackhouse), four former Big 5 players (Tim Thomas, Aaron McKie, William Cunningham and Doug Overton), and a player whose sister is considered an all-time great (Anthony Parker, Candace's brother), the team was awful. Defense was an afterthought and the team didn't have a legitimate center.
About 6 weeks into the season, the Sixers pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Stackhouse, once considered the franchise's centerpiece, and underwhelming center Eric Montross to the Detroit Pistons for McKie, Theo Ratliff and a future first-round pick. It was the first building block for the team that would make it to the NBA Finals in 2001.
IT WAS Dec. 18, 1997, and Larry Brown's 76ers were 6-16. Brown, who had just two losing seasons prior to 1997 in a coaching career that began in 1972, was constantly tinkering with the roster, trying to find a winning combination. During the season, there were seven transactions that brought in new players.
Brown did have a solid, young backcourt in Jerry Stackhouse and Allen Iverson, both future All-Stars, but his frontcourt, except for Derrick Coleman, was weak. Brown brought in a pair of veteran forwards - Terry Cummings on Sept. 4 and Tom Chambers on Nov. 21 - but Cummings was traded to the Knicks on Feb. 19 and Chambers, after playing one game, retired on Dec. 11.
Something drastic needed to be done.
While Iverson and Stackhouse were stars in the making, it was obvious they couldn't co-exist on the court. Neither was a decent defender and both had a penchant for turning the ball over. Iverson, in his rookie year, led the NBA with 337 turnovers (4.43 average in 76 games) with Stackhouse close behind with 316 (3.9 in 81).
Combine Stackhouse's shortcomings with the fact that the offense was being run through Iverson, that Stackhouse's production had dropped from the previous season, and that he would be looking for a lucrative new deal at the end of the season, and it became obvious Stackhouse was playing against a stacked deck.
So, even though Brown had told Stackhouse the team wasn't looking to trade him, he was dealt to Detroit. It soon became apparent that Theo Ratliff and Aaron McKie had found a home in Philly. With Ratliff blocking more than three shots a game, the Sixers went from 18th to fifth in the league in snuffs.
A month later, the Sixers acquired Eric Snow from Seattle and the team began to mold a personality.
Although he was traded midway through the 2000-01 season for Dikembe Mutombo, another building block, the 6-10 Ratliff had become an All-Star. And McKie, who never quite hit his stride in either Portland or Detroit, was a perfect fit in his hometown as the backup point and shooting guard who could also shut down an opponent. And by 2000-01, he was the NBA's top sixth man.
Stackhouse, it should be mentioned, made two All-Star teams (1999-00 and 2000-01) and is still playing in the NBA, with the Brooklyn Nets, his ninth organization.
The Brown era had begun.
Next week: No. 22, the return of "The Kid.''