PHILADELPHIA -- Twenty-five years ago, give or take a few days, the 76ers' world pivoted violently. With all good intentions -- isn't that always the way? -- the franchise made two trades designed to secure the future. The moves were big and bold and when viewed both as a whole and individually, they made sense in the moment.
The events, days in the discussing, were unveiled on the evening of the NBA's 1986 draft. Moses Malone and Terry Catledge were traded to Washington for Jeff Ruland, Cliff Robinson and two first-round draft choices. Then the first overall selection in the draft -- who turned into Brad Daugherty -- was traded to Cleveland for forward Roy Hinson and $800,000.
The Sixers thought they were getting younger and more athletic. Instead, they were getting taken.
Ruland wasn't healthy, played only five games and retired (before making a brief comeback, years later). Hinson was a bad fit stylistically and was soon traded. The team not only sank as a result, but in the quarter-century since, the Sixers have never been able to find a center who could consistently dominate.
Instead, there has been this endless searching.
Call it the Curse of Moses.
Jeff Ruland ... Mark McNamara ... Tim McCormick ... Mike Gminski ... Kurt Nimphius ... Rick Mahorn ... Manute Bol ... Andrew Lang ...
Malone, of course, had been the "Fo', fo', fo" hero of the 1983 championship team. His acquisition was the difference for the franchise and everyone acknowledged as much. Three years later, though, age was starting to become an issue (he was 31, but with 12 pro seasons on his resume), as was a dual conflict with coach Matt Guokas (who wanted to play at a faster tempo than Mt. Malone could handle) and owner Harold Katz (who had not yet renegotiated Malone's contract).
It also was 3 years after the championship, and they were hoping to build a bridge to the future, and assemble a cast to surround emerging star Charles Barkley.
In Ruland, they would be getting a mobile, athletic center. In Hinson, they would be getting an up-and-coming forward. Passing on Daugherty made sense to the braintrust because the NBA wasn't entirely in love with Daugherty -- and, besides, if you already had Ruland, what would you do with him?
The world did not applaud as the moves were announced, mostly because Moses was still Moses, after all, the giant of 1983. But the arguments for the trade did make some sense.
Then two things happened. One, Ruland broke down after five games. The Sixers knew he was coming off knee surgery and had built into the deal a two-week window to call off the trade if the medical people weren't happy -- and, as it turned out, the team orthopedist was not happy. However, two other doctors assured the Sixers that the knee was OK, and they stuck with the trade.
The second thing that happened was Hinson becoming one in a long line of players who had trouble fitting in with Barkley, the small forward who did all of the big-forward things on the court. Everybody realized it pretty quickly and Hinson was traded the next season to New Jersey in a deal that brought the Sixers Gminski, who turned out to be one of the better centers they have had since Malone.
But it was the start of a search that has not ended.
Armen Gilliam ... Shawn Bradley ... La Salle Thompson ... Mike Brown ... Theo Ratliff ... Eric Montross ... Matt Geiger ... Stanley Roberts ...
In 25 years, the Sixers have had only seven centers who started at least 100 games. Only three started more than 200 games -- Samuel Dalembert (491), Gminski (239) and Ratliff (211). Only twice in those 25 years have they had a center who finished in the top 10 in the NBA in rebounding (Dikembe Motombo in 2001-02 and Dalembert in 2007-08). They have done better with shot blockers -- Dalembert, Ratliff, Motombo, Bol, Lang and Bradley all had that skill -- but the entire package has been elusive.
Bradley was a spectacular bust; Geiger, too. Todd MacCulloch was diagnosed with a rare illness and retired. Ratliff was nicked and traded, controversially, during the great 2001 run. Motombo was already old when they got him. Bol was always kind of a freak show. Gilliam is best remembered for a slanted haircut reminiscent of Gumby. Dalembert had a heart of gold, if not a lion. Most of the rest just kind of passed through.
The game has changed and the position has changed while the scarcity of quality big men remains a constant. It isn't as if everybody in the business except the Sixers has had a dominant center.
But they haven't come close to finding a long-term answer in the middle. They are still looking, a quarter-century later, as another draft approaches.
Eric Leckner ... Nazr Mohammed ... Todd MacCulloch ... Dikembe Motombo ... Marc Jackson ... Samuel Dalembert ... Steven Hunter ... Spencer Hawes ...