With some of the recent events surrounding the 76ers' 2017 NBA Draft, it may seem like the team is finally heading into a bright future. In recent years more often than not, the 76ers and their fans have not felt this sense of excitement and intrigue. Instead, there were more "what ifs" instead of a look into future in winning culture.
Before Joel Embiid was finally able to hit the floor and Dario Saric made his way over to the NBA, the last big hit was probably Hall of Famer Allen Iverson. Being in the building last January, there was an electric feeling for the first time since "The Answer" was carrying Philadelphia into the NBA Finals.
It didn't have to be this way, as there were so many misses and poor draft decisions. The likes of Shawn Bradley, Larry Hughes, and more recently Evan Turner and Jahlil Okafor halted the 76ers run of success, and started yet another rebuilding year. We shall now get to look back and some of the players who could have suited up for the Philadelphia 76ers and how far they may have gone, had everything fallen the right way.
15 Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Butler spent a year in junior college before finishing his college career out with three years at Marquette. He was then drafted 30th overall by the Chicago Bulls, 13 picks after the 76ers selected Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic moved on in the dreaded Andrew Bynum trade, and Jimmy Butler has gone on to be a perennial NBA All Star.
Butler became a mainstay in the Bulls' rotation as of the end of the 2012-13 season. Tom Thibodeau used him as a do-it-all perimeter defender who could stack up the minutes, especially in the playoffs. At 27 years old, Butler has been to three All Star Games, been named to a All-NBA Third Team, and garnered three NBA All-Defensive Teams.
14 Penny Hardaway
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Penny Hardaway was drafted 3rd overall in the 1993 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors and immediately traded to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Chris Webber. There, he would join Shaquille O'Neal to form one of the best duos in NBA history, albeit only for a short period of time.
Selected in between Webber and Hardaway was 7-foot-6 inch Shawn Bradley. Referred to as a great athlete with unbelievable size, the upside was huge but the disappointment was much greater. Bradley did set a franchise record for blocks in a season, but due to inconsistent play and a body that couldn't stand up to NBA competition, he was out of Philly after just over two NBA seasons. Although injuries halted what could have been an all-time great career, Hardaway still managed four All Star Games, three All NBA Teams, and a NBA Finals appearance. The 76ers went 67-179 in the three seasons Bradley played a part of.
13 Kevin Garnett
It's a little bit unfair to compare choosing Jerry Stackhouse to choosing Shawn Bradley, being that Stackhouse had a long and successful NBA career. That being said, there was a first ballot Hall of Famer selected two picks after Stackhouse. The 76ers used their 3rd overall pick in the 1995 NBA Draft to select the UNC All-American. The problem was a year later, the 76ers landed their franchise player in Allen Iverson, and the two just didn't fit together on court. In Iverson's rookie year the duo averaged 44.2 points per game but by the 1997-98 season, Stackhouse was moved to the Pistons.
Kevin Garnett was selected 5th overall, and went on to become a 15-time NBA All Star, nine-time All NBA, NBA Defensive Player of the Year, NBA MVP, and NBA Champion. Some superstars simply can't gel, but it seems that Garnett had the game to compliment Allen Iverson.
12 Kobe Bryant
In no way am I not happy with what Allen Iverson was able to provide to the city of Philadelphia. As one of the best Sixers of all time, and one of the best scorers in NBA history, he gave the city and the fans something to watch and be proud of for parts of 12 seasons. But... it is not untrue that Kobe Bryant could have been a 76er.
Kobe Bryant was drafted out of Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania. He was taken 13th overall, 12 spots behind number 1 Allen Iverson. Really, there should be 11 other teams kicking themselves a lot harder than the 76ers should, but its fun to think about.
11 Draymond Green
We all know that every NBA team up until pick 35 passed up on Draymond Green. The Warriors even picked Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli before snagging the Michigan State Spartan. Green has turned into an integral part of two NBA Championship teams, has been to two NBA All-Star Games, made it to two All-NBA Teams, and has become a perennial contender for NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Maurice Harkless never suited up for the 76ers. He, like Vucevic, was part of the trade that brought Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia. In other words, neither Harkless nor Bynum ever suited up for the 76ers, giving them zero value when they could've had someone like Green.
10 Tracy McGrady
There were a few times that Tracy McGrady could have been a 76er. The first time being when the 76ers selected Keith Van Horn with the 2nd pick in the 1997 draft. They ended up trading Van Horn for Tim Thomas which still doesn't make up for missing on McGrady who went 9th in that year's draft.
The second time came in 1999. It was reported that Billy King had a deal in place that would have sent Larry Hughes to Toronto in exchange for Tracy McGrady.
Both Van Horn and Hughes went on to have long NBA careers, but resulted in zero combined All Star Games. Tracy McGrady? Seven-time NBA All-Star (7 straight), seven-time All-NBA, two-time NBA Scoring Champion, and 2017 Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee.
9 DeMarcus Cousins
We're not sure who is going to be mentioned more on our list, Larry Hughes or Evan Turner. The 76ers used the 2nd overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft on Turner. The Sixers were a bottom-of-the-seeding playoff team for most of the mid-2000s and into Turner's time. Perhaps a big man like DeMarcus Cousins would have been a better selection that the National College Player of the Year out of Ohio State.
Turner never became the franchise-changing player some thought he would become, averaging less than 10 points per game until the 76ers' tank started and he put up ballooned stats. DeMarcus Cousins has now been to three straight NBA All-Star Games and has been named to two All-NBA Second Teams.
8 Dirk Nowitzki
Larry Hughes will be mentioned here again. And won't be the last time. Larry Hughes was drafted with the 8th overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft. Apparently coach at the time Larry Brown made a promise to Hughes and his mother that if he was available he would be a Sixer. Well, drafted one pick after Larry Hughes was Dirk Nowitzki, and here's a comparison of how they fared in the NBA.
Larry Hughes' career highlights:
Onetime All Defensive First Team, onetime NBA Steals Leader
Dirk Nowitzki's career highlights:
2011 NBA Champion, 2011 NBA Finals MVP, NBA MVP, 13x NBA All Star, 12x All NBA
7 Paul Pierce
Again, we're going back to Larry Hughes. Hughes was picked 8th, the previously mentioned Dirk Nowitzki was picked 9th, and Paul Pierce went 10th in 1999. It is more of the same here as far as comparisons between the two players. The only difference is we had to watch Paul Pierce become a superstar playing for the rival Boston Celtics. Ultimately he would lead them to a NBA Championship in 2008, and would help eliminate the 76ers in both the 2002 and 2012 NBA Finals. The 2012 seven-game ousting would end up starting the 76ers "tank" era.
Pierce also became a 10-time All-Star and four-time All NBA player.
6 Tony Parker
While it is tough to hit on a pick in the ladder part of the first round and into the second, the 76ers selected Samuel Dalembert with the 26th pick in the 2001 NBA Draft. He was able to become an anchor for the Philadelphia defense during the Andre Iguodala era. Two picks later, the Spurs selected Tony Parker.
Not only a proven winner with four NBA Championships and a NBA Finals MVP, Parker was also a six-time All Star and four-time All NBA player. While he may not had been the player he was playing under Gregg Popovich and beside Tim Duncan, Parker could have eased the 76ers out of the Allen Iverson era more efficiently.
5 Gordon Hayward
We explained Turner before, but again the pick could have went elsewhere and in this case would have been Gordon Hayward. The "Baby Faced Assassin" who took Butler within inches of a NCAA Championship, Hayward went 9th-overall to the Utah Jazz. In the recent seasons we have seen him flourish into a do-it-all All-Star small forward who will be one of the most coveted free agents come next summer's off season. Hayward's scoring has improved each of his seven seasons. This season we saw it jump above 20 ppg for the first time in his career with a stat line of 21.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, and 3.5 apg on 47 % shooting.
4 Manu Ginobili
The 76ers did select Todd MacCulloch 10 picks before Manu Ginobili, who went 57th overall in the 1999 NBA Draft. But even then, let's try to look away from the draft here. During the 2016 offseason, Ginobili was a free agent and he would go on to meet with former Spurs assistant coach Brett Brown who was now the head coach of the 76ers. The Spurs had tried to keep Ginobili around for a reported one-year, $2 million deal before the 76ers drove up the price with a two-year, $17 million offer. The Spurs would go on to up their offer to one year and $14 million, and that is where Ginobili would sign and end his career. And rightfully so. But it still would have been a fun year seeing Joel Embiid kick him some 3s.
3 Paul George
Once again, thanks, Evan Turner. Paul George was selected 10th overall while Turner was selected number 2. After playing behind Danny Granger for most of his first two seasons in the league, George was able to take over being the face of the Indiana Pacers. He appeared in his first All-Star Game in 2013 and has added three more since. With three All-NBA Third Teams, and three All-Defensive Team spots, George also led the Indiana Pacers deep into the NBA Playoffs on multiple occasions, where he would eventually lose to LeBron James and his Heat or Cavaliers.
Like Gordon Hayward, it appears Paul George will be moving on from the team that drafted him come this or next summer.
2 Giannis Antetokounmpo
Recently Michael Carter-Williams has become the subject of praise among Philadelphia 76ers fans. Not because he was able to bring a Rookie of the Year to the city, but because he was traded for what became a Los Angeles Lakers 1st Round Draft Pick. And not only that, but the 76ers were able to flip that pick as part of the deal that will almost certainly land Markelle Fultz in the 2017 NBA Draft.
But still there is the point that Giannis Antetokounmpo was taken 15th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft while Michael Carter-Williams was taken 11th. Giannis has turned into a All-Star guard standing just shy of 7 feet tall. MCW, meanwhile, has turned into an end-of-the-bench journeyman point guard.
1 Kristaps Porzingis
The Sixers used the 3rd-overall pick in 2015 on Jahlil Okafor. The very next pick would be Kristaps Porzingis.
Kristaps Porzingis is the most unproven commodity on our list, but he has been showing flashes of being able to enter All-Star status. He upped his per game averages from 14.3 points to 18.1 and his playing time from 28.4 to 32.8 minutes per game.
Meanwhile, Jahlil Okafor fell out of the 76ers rotation and appears unmotivated to change that. Entering the season, Joel Embiid finally suited up for the 76ers and Okafor began the season as the backup, and usually first man off the bench. By midseason, Nerlens Noel took the role away, and the emergence of Richaun Holmes hindered Okafor obsolete, even when Noel was traded to Dallas. The Sixers and Okafor enter the 2017-18 season full of more unknowns about the center's role and if he will even be on the team.