NEW YORK - The 76ers' old front office was dedicated to finding and developing unheralded players.
They prided themselves on taking in undrafted players, coaching them up, and turning them into legitimate inexpensive NBA talent. Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell, and Hollis Thompson are three of those unheralded players the Sixers boast about.
One could argue that Sean Kilpatrick should be on that list. Instead, the Brooklyn Nets combo guard will be facing the Sixers squad he once expected to play for on Sunday evening at the Wells Fargo Center.
These days, Kilpatrick is recognized for being this season's highest scoring undrafted NBA player at 16.3 points per game. The 6-foot-4, 208-pounder has averaged 19.4 points to go with 40.7 percent shooting on three-pointers in his last 12 games.
His highlight during that stretch was a 38-point, 14-rebound effort in a double-overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 29. Twenty of his points came in the fourth quarter. As a result, he became the first Nets player to have at least 38 points and 14 rebounds since Vince Carter on April 7, 2007.
"He's been great," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "He's had a hell of year."
Kilpatrick could have been having that kind of year for the Sixers.
That's because up until he signed a 10-day deal with Brooklyn on Feb. 28, Kilpatrick played for the Sixers' NBA Development League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers. He was far from just an average D-League player. Kilpatrick was the league's top scorer at 26.4 points per game and its No. 1-rated player. Before that, he was a member of the Sixers' 2014 NBA Summer League team in Las Vegas.
Yet, Kilpatrick never got a call-up from then-Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie while with the Sevens.
At the time, it didn't seem to be a big deal, with the Sixers having Isaiah Canaan, Nik Stauskas, and Thompson. Like Kilpatrick, they are all guards who can stretch defenses with their shooting. Passing him up seems crazy now, however, considering how he surpassed the three players from a talent standpoint. Plus, new Sixers president Bryan Colangelo declined to extend Canaan a qualifying offer this summer.
"I don't really remember how it played out," Brown said. "I think Sam with the [front office] group felt like with Isaiah here and other people here . . . I don't really remember how it really played out. I do know that Sam thought highly of him, but obviously not highly enough to bring him in."
That worked out well for the Nets.
They signed him to a second 10-day contract on March 9 before giving him a multiyear deal March 19. His salary for the rest of that season was prorated at $221,000. Kilpatrick is making a fully guaranteed $980,431 this season. His $1 million salary for the 2017-18 season is unguaranteed until June 30, 2017.
The Nets would be foolish not to pick up the tab the ways he's playing.
Kilpatrick - not standout Brook Lopez - has been the focal point as Jeremy Lin missed 18 games with a hamstring injury. As Bleacher Report pointed out, he has the highest offensive rating of any of the Brooklyn starters since cracking the lineup for good on Nov 25. The Nets (7-18) are scoring 105.4 points per 100 possessions when he's in the game compared with 96.2 with him on the bench.
His previous stints on NBA rosters have prepared him for the Nets.
Needing a healthy player, the Minnesota Timberwolves signed him to a 10-day contract during the 2014-15 season. Then he spent the 2015-16 preseason with the New Orleans Pelicans before being waived on Oct. 23, 2015. He went on to sign two 10-day contracts with the Denver Nuggets in January 2016 before latching on with the Nets.
Kilpatrick said he was told at every stop that "if there was another spot on the roster, it was mine. I think that was something that was really a confidence boost, because I knew with those guys saying that and general managers saying that, I knew that I could play on this level. I think that was something that helped me."
A New York native, Kilpatrick realizes that things worked out for him by getting an opportunity to play for the Nets. He's grateful to Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks for proving the opportunity.
There was a time when he thought the Sixers would be his NBA destination. But they never reached out to him. He's not sure if they were even interested in him.
"It did get frustrating," Kilpatrick said. "There were nights when I was wondering what I was doing wrong. Then I just kept saying to myself maybe I would get a different opportunity for me."
But Kevin Young, then the Sevens coach, and Sevens general manager/Sixers executive Brandon Williams did a good job of keeping him level-headed and on the path toward an NBA career.
"His ability to score the basketball is his calling card," said Young, now a Sixers assistant. "That's what he's doing now. He just had such a drive and such a competitive nature. He's just special in that regard."
The special player is the right place for him. He has a great relationship with Marks, and the Nets won't stop raving about his skillset and his competitiveness.
But Kilpatrick chuckled when asked if he would have a good fit for the Sixers.
"Oh yeah," he said, "especially with that team that they have now with the guys that they have surrounding the program with Joel [Embiid] being there and Ben [Simmons] being there.