The Sixers are cursed, but not by Sam Hinkie or Bryan Colangelo | Marcus Hayes
Josh Harris and Doug Collins doomed the Sixers when they traded a boatload of assets for damaged goods.
As so often is the case, Twitter genius Joel Embiid said it best:
Embiid is referring, of course, to the latest injury to a Sixers first-round pick. When Zhaire Smith broke a bone in his left foot Monday, requiring surgery, it marked the sixth year in a row the Sixers' highest draft pick would miss all or part of his rookie season.
Bad luck? Hardly. Mere misfortune cannot be blamed for this sort of pattern. It has to be a curse.
But a curse from whom? From what?
The most popular theory blames the bad mojo on The Process. Cruel fate decided the Sixers' slash-and-burn, lose-to-win rebuilding plan begun in 2013 by general manager Sam Hinkie. Another theory asserts that Hinkie, who effectively was demoted with the arrival of Jerry Colangelo in December 2015, hexed the Sixers on his way out the door the following spring, which poisoned the well for Bryan Colangelo, nepotism's poster child.
But no. This goes deeper than either Hinkie or Colangelo. Deeper, and higher.
This bad juju is laid at the feet of Sixers owner Josh Harris. Before Silent Sam arrived, and before Bryan and Babs couldn't keep quiet, it was Harris who spat in the face of the basketball gods back in the summer of 2012. Harris, and his pet coach.
This is the Curse of Doug Collins.
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Harris had owned the team for just over a year, more than long enough for him to fall in love. Harris was smitten with Collins, the head coach, a charismatic, decorated player, coach, and TV analyst with deep ties to the Sixers. Collins was (and is) a superb basketball mind; he's currently an adviser for the Bulls, where he once coached Michael Jordan
As such, back in 2012, coming off consecutive runs to the playoffs, Collins knew the Sixers needed a superstar to contend for a championship. That's why Collins had one foot out the door in 2012 when he talked Harris into trading four first-round assets for one lazy, insubordinate center with bad knees, who was entering the final year of his contract: Andrew Bynum.
The deal, consummated Aug. 10, involved four teams, 13 players (including Dwight Howard), and three draft picks. It netted the Sixers the insignificant guard Jason Richardson, but, for Philly, it was all about Bynum, a 7-foot, 285-pound center who liked to shoot three-pointers and hated to diet.
At Bynum's absurd, celebratory public "press conference" at the Constitution Center a few days later, with the audacity of a man painfully unfamiliar with his new business, Harris declared he would extend Bynum's contract with a maximum deal immediately: "Where do I sign?" he said, then channeled Jerry Maguire: "Show me the contract!" This, of course, was lunacy.
Fortunately, no one showed Harris a contract. In September 2012, Bynum injured his chronically bad knees before training camp began and went to Germany to have his blood spun. In October he got a lube job on his knees, which made him feel so good that in November he went bowling, where, of course, he reinjured himself. He got re-lubed in January and finally underwent surgery in March. Bynum never played a game for the Sixers. Collins retired from coaching at the end of the season — sort of.
In his exit interview with the press, Collins revealed he'd actually decided to quit four months earlier, while drinking a glass of wine in his Arizona home.
Things have been rather rocky since Aug. 10, 2012. The next summer Harris hired Hinkie, who hired Brett Brown to coach and made brilliant trades but also created a toxic atmosphere for young players and had a spotty draft record.
All three centers — Nerlens Noel, his first significant acquisition; Embiid, his second; and Jahlil Okafor, his third — have suffered knee problems. Neither Noel nor Okafor has sniffed his potential.
Hinkie was demoted and departed when Okafor was a rookie, but that didn't end the string of misery. Thanks in part to Hinkie's Process, Colangelo had consecutive No. 1 picks, but Ben Simmons missed his rookie year with a broken foot and Markelle Fultz played in only 17 games (regular season and playoff) because of a mysterious shoulder injury that diminished his confidence in his jump shot.
What a waste. It's not that Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday, and Thaddeus Young would have made the Sixers a contender, but just imagine how Hinkie might have better invested those wasted assets. The Sixers would've been using top-10 draft picks on injured players for decades to come, not to mention the 10 or 20 second-round picks he'd have landed.
And just how have the wasted assets fared?
Iguodala, an all-star and Olympic gold-medal winner in 2012, wound up winning three NBA titles and an NBA Finals MVP award as an integral part of the Golden State Warriors' young dynasty.
Nicola Vucevic, a rookie in 2011-12 for whom Collins had no use, became a good center for the Magic, where he averaged 16.0 points and 10.4 rebounds the last six seasons. Those numbers might be inflated by Vucevic's circumstance — the Magic have averaged fewer than 27 wins — but Bynum played just 26 games after he left the Sixers. The Sixers had just drafted slasher Moe Harkless with the 15th pick, and Harkless, who is only 25, has enjoyed a solid NBA career.
Finally, the conditional first-round pick actually made its way back to Philadelphia and wound up with the Kings. They drafted point guard De'Aaron Fox with the fifth pick in 2017 — the result of the Sixers' exercising their right to swap picks to get from No. 5 to No. 3. The Sixers then, infamously, traded the No. 3 pick as well as a conditional first-round pick Celtics so the Sixers could draft Fultz with the No. 1 pick. This let Jayson Tatum fall to the Celtics. Tatum skewered the Sixers in the playoffs. Fultz watched from the bench, his development crippled by — of course — his rookie injury.