Yesterday afternoon, the second-longest tenured athlete in Philadelphia was traded for a journeyman small forward and an underachieving '07 lottery pick. Drafted weeks after the Lakers put away Allen Iverson's Sixers in the 2001 NBA Finals, Slammin' Sammy has endured 9 years of boos, benchings, and futility along his way to one of the more interesting tenures in recent memory. After the jump, take a look back at Sammy's career, as well as what this trade means for this franchise. Be warned -- it's long.
There's no one over the course of my sports-watching career that has annoyed me more than Samuel Dalembert. Not Donovan McNabb and his worm-killing passes landing yards short of a receiver. Not Pat Burrell watching years of piped fastballs for strike 3. Not Eric Lindros continuing to find ways to concuss himself season after tormenting season. Samuel Davis Dalembert (who knew?) is the single most frustrating athlete of my lifetime.
Coming out of Seton Hall as a freshman drafted 26th overall, the Haitian native drew comparisons to a young Dikembe Mutombo for his raw athleticism, shot-blocking ability, and unpolished offensive game. After playing sparingly as a rookie, Sam was sidelined the '02-'03 season due to arthroscopic left knee surgery to repair two chondral defects. The next season, he shared a frontcourt with Kenny Thomas and Derrick Coleman, starting 53 games and closing out the last two months averaging a double-double. Sam excited the home crowd with his high-flying dunks and statement-making blocks, but the Sixers suffered from Larry Brown's exit and ended the season 33-49. After another promising year in '04-'05 under disciplinarian Jim O'Brien, Sam seemed to be well on his way towards becoming a top 5 NBA Center. Sure, he took some ugly shots, made the occasional awful pass, and seemed to get distracted easily on both ends. But it was his third season, already on his 4th coach, and he hadn't started playing basketball until he was a sophomore in high school -- he was bound to put it together eventually. Right?
On August 2, 2005, Billy King gift wrapped a 6-year contract worth $62 million on which Sam happily signed the dotted line. That proved both the undoing of King's time as GM (among other things) and the patience of Sixers fans tired of waiting for Dalembert to develop. Year in and year out we would see the same mistakes over and over again. Samuel Dalembert and "maddeningly inconsistent" became inextricably linked to one another, and no amount of coaching changes (Brown-Ayers-Ford-O'Brien-Cheeks-DiLeo) could unlock the true potential of this kid. Around mid-season of the '08-'09 season, Sam started complaining about low playing time, claiming he deserved at least 30 minutes per night. With three years remaining on his contract, erratic play, an attitude, and the emergence of rookie Marreese Speights, Sam was getting pushed out the door. There were some even debating a Dalembert for Eddy Curry swap. The smiling kid from Port-Au-Prince was no longer the darling of Sixers fans.
In fact, Dalembert's demise followed the same path as the waning interest of professional basketball in Philadelphia. The boom of the late 90's-early 00's was silent. Brown and Iverson broke up, the Van Horn/Harpring/Webber/Robinson experiments failed, defensive cornerstones like George Lynch, Aaron McKie and Eric Snow were long gone, Andre Miller demanded too much money for an out of shape point guard, Andre Iguodala was getting scapegoated as the problem with the franchise, and 7 coaches came and went. Samuel Dalembert remained, covered in debris from the collapse of the franchise, when tragedy struck.
On January 12th, 2010, hours after he beat the Hornets with a hook shot in the final moments of the game, an earthquake of colossal proportions shook Dalembert's native land, injuring, killing, and displacing millions of his brothers and sisters. Somehow managing to visit Haiti in between games and get back in time for tip-off, Sam played some of his most inspired basketball of his career and lobbied his way back into the hearts of NBA fans everywhere. He went on to have the most consistent season of his career (his numbers are misleading) despite his poor relationship with Eddie Jordan. But the national memory is short, as the media moved onto other stories and America forgot about the wreckage and devastation that left millions homeless in Haiti. Samuel Dalembert was once again an inflated contract with a 15% trade kicker that nobody wanted to pick up.
Until Thursday afternoon.
People around here were beginning to recognize his value to the team, especially to the defense and rebounding, and discussions were being had just last night about how to sign Dalembert when his contract ran out. But around 2:00pm EST, Chad Ford closed the book on Samuel Dalembert's decade in Philadelphia by use of a social networking site that was non-existent when Sam signed his rookie deal.
Scoop: Sixers agree to trade Dalembert to Kings for Nocioni and Hawes. Link coming shortly ...
And that was that. On the breaking news thread, nobody was talking about how Sam always hedged too far on the pick and roll. Nobody brought up his terrible interior passing or lack of a polished post game. There wasn't anyone hoping we got Eddy Curry for him instead. Samuel was a cornerstone of this franchise for the greater part of the decade. And while this blog certainly isn't a sentimental one with teary goodbyes to every player that came through here, Sam's been through it all here, and it's certainly a shame we couldn't win a championship while he was around. He's seen 64 other players come and go in his 9 years (I would know, I counted), and most of them weren't very good.
But as the starting center, a defensive stalwart who's played in 354 straight games through injury, catastrophe, and poor coaching, Samuel Dalembert has been a rock. He will be missed in more ways than one.