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What were the Sixers thinking?

On the infamous night in 1986 that the Sixers traded Moses Malone and the top pick in the draft, they set the franchise back years.

June 16, 1986, a day in Sixers history that will live in infamy. The Sixers traded away Moses Malone. (Ray Stubblebine/AP file photo)
June 16, 1986, a day in Sixers history that will live in infamy. The Sixers traded away Moses Malone. (Ray Stubblebine/AP file photo)Read moreAP File

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No. 13 in a series of 13

JUNE 16, 1986, a day in Sixers history that will live in infamy.

The Sixers traded Moses Malone, Terry Catledge, the 21st pick in the 1986 draft and a first-round pick in 1988 to the Washington Bullets for Jeff Ruland and Cliff Robinson. They then sent the top pick in the draft, which ended up to be Brad Daugherty, to the Cleveland Cavaliers for forward Roy Hinson and $800,000.

These were trades designed to turn the Sixers into a team on the run, a team to challenge the Boston Celtics.

Instead, they eventually ran the Sixers into the ground.

Trading Malone and Catledge for Ruland and Robinson even up would have been hard enough to justify, but why add the picks?

And the Hinson deal, while not making basketball sense, made business sense in that the Sixers didn't have to pay a top pick's salary and they got $800,000 to pay toward Hinson's.

The force behind the trades, according to general manager Pat Williams and owner Harold Katz, was coach Matt Guokas, who had just completed his first year on the job.

"Matty got exactly what he wanted," Williams told the Daily News at the time. "Both deals were difficult to make, to the point of being gut-wrenching, but Matty wanted them done. He pushed, he never backed down.

"Matty wanted the deals so badly, he could taste them. He was the aggressor. And in the end, we all feel we've done a good thing."

Three days later, Williams left to help Orlando secure an NBA franchise.

Guokas was enamored with the team that had finished the 1985-86 season. Malone had been sidelined with an eye injury and missed the last eight games of the regular season as well as the playoffs. Guokas liked how the team played without its star center, despite being ousted in the second round in seven games by Milwaukee. And despite the fact that Malone led all NBA centers in points per game and was second in rebounds.

But there was more to it than that. Before the start of the Sixers' best-of-five series against the Bullets, Malone, approached by the media at the Saint Joseph's Fieldhouse after a practice, said, the "Sixers are going to trade me."

The reporters who were present couldn't believe what he was saying.

"It's still a good team without me," he said. "They can win 50 or 60 games without me."

Maybe Moses knew something was going on.

"I know Harold; we thought there was a chance for a trade, but Moses' attorney [Lee Fentress] told us not to worry," Malone's wife, Alfreda, said at the time. "Then we get a call at 7 in the morning."

Alfreda didn't hide her feelings after the trade was made.

"My husband isn't the type to let his emotions show in something like this," she told the Daily News' Phil Jasner, "but this has gotten to him. He took the 76ers to the championship [in 1983], but when he hurt his ankle [in 1984], Harold Katz blasted him, and it's been chaos ever since.

"Harold ought to sell the team if he can't afford it. I really think the only reason he got rid of Moses was financial. Players like Moses don't come along every day."

Turquoise Erving was another unhappy Sixers wife.

"This is a good deal?" she said. "My personal opinion is, it's the worst thing to happen to the Sixers since we've been here [1976]. Moses will come back and kill 'em. When we play Washington, I'm staying home."

And Mr. Erving wasn't too happy, either.

"The perception that our team was better and more cohesive without Moses is wrong," Julius Erving said. "People rallied behind us because we overachieved. But if we had Moses, I feel we would have beaten Milwaukee and offered the only real challenge to Boston.

"This [trade] creates a void. Moses was the cog at the center of the wheel. Take him out and it leaves spokes hanging. The rest of us will have to distribute the weight."

John Andariese, WTBS' basketball analyst at the time, suggested before the draft that the Sixers draft Daugherty, add him to the starting lineup and leave him there for 10 years. Incredibly, the Sixers turned up with the top pick via a trade they made in 1979 that sent Joe Bryant to the San Diego Clippers.

"Charles Barkley at one forward, Moses Malone in the middle and Daugherty at the other forward," Andariese told the Daily News, "and the Sixers are a championship contender overnight. No doubt in my mind.

"If I'm Philadelphia, there is no decision to be made. They need a big forward who can help them now, not 2, 3 years from now. Daugherty's the only way to go."

And in his mock draft, Andariese had the Sixers taking Dennis Rodman with the 21st pick.

So, the Sixers could have had a starting lineup of Erving and Maurice Cheeks in the backcourt, Barkley, Malone and Daugherty up front, with Rodman, Catledge, Tim McCormick, Sedale Threatt and David Wingate coming off the bench. Instead, they ended up with Ruland, a center who had missed 97 games in 2 years (and he passed a physical?) and would play in only five games that season, starting two; Robinson, who was with his fifth organization since being drafted in 1979; and Hinson, who played timid and seemed scared playing for a team that was expected to win.

The trades were, in a word, disastrous. One can argue that winning 53 games and the division in 1989-90 was a sign that the team had recovered, but its win total decreased in each of the next six seasons. With a nucleus of Barkley, Daugherty and possibly Rodman, that downward spiral would not have occurred and maybe Barkley would have retired as a Sixer.

Instead, they helped rebuild the Cavaliers, definitely improved the Bullets, and destroyed themselves.

It was not a good day.