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There and Back Again: The History of the Sixers in the NBA Lottery

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Let the ping pong balls bounce!

2016 NBA Draft Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Today is one of my favorite days of the year. I don’t know if that says more about me or about the Sixers (really, it doesn’t a lot about either of us), but the draft lottery has been an event for Sixers fans for the last four years. I’ll be down at Xfinity Live later today with the rest of the lottery party crew getting my picture taken with a cardboard cutout of Vlade Divac and drinking Dirty Shirleys, but before that, I think it’s pertinent to look at the history of the NBA lottery and how it intertwines with the Sixers.

Well, the NBA Draft Lottery began in 1985. During its first two years, all non-playoff teams were given equal odds at selecting the first-overall pick. Each of the seven lottery picks were drawn from envelopes. This led to the infamous “frozen envelope” conspiracy from the 1985 lottery where the Knicks got the top pick and the honors of drafting Patrick Ewing.

This is relevant to the Sixers because the first time they had a stake in the lottery was the following year in 1986. No, not with their own pick, as they had finished third in the East and won 54 games, but with the Clippers pick they owned at the time. The Sixers traded Joe Bryant, father of serviceable swingman Kobe Bryant, to then-San Diego Clippers in 1979 for their 1986 first-round pick.

In that year’s unweighted lottery, the Clippers grabbed the first pick in the draft. It was the perfect transition piece from the Julius Erving and Moses Malone era to the assumed next great Sixers team. Charles Barkley had just finished his second season with averages of 20.0 points, 12.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game and would team-up with this top pick. They would be able to select Brad Daugherty, a future five-time All-Star center out of North Carolina.

On Draft Night, however, the Sixers shipped out the pick that would become Daugherty, the running mate that Barkley severely lacked during his Sixers tenure, for Roy Hinson. That began the descendent of the once-proud Sixers.

The lottery system remained this way until 1987, when the lottery was changed to decide just the top-three picks. The Sixers found themselves in the lottery on their own accord in 1988 and luckily snared the third pick in the draft. They selected Charles Smith with that third pick before dealing him to the Clippers for Hersey Hawkins, who was selected sixth, and a 1989 first. Not a bad move at all for the Sixers, as Hawkins made one All-Star team in Philly in 1991.

The team who finished with the worst record was given the best odds of securing the top pick in an earlier iteration of the current ping pong ball-drawing system beginning in 1990. Here’s how the Sixers finished in the lottery under this format:

1992: ninth-worst record, picked ninth, selected Clarence Weatherspoon

Robert Horry went two picks after.

1993: fourth-worst record, picked second, selected Shawn Bradley

Anytime you can pick Shawn Bradley over Penn Hardaway, you have to do it! The Magic got the top pick this year after getting the first-overall pick and Shaquille O’Neal in the process in the previous draft. They surprisingly won the lottery after finishing with the best record of any non-playoff team, causing the league to change the weight of the odds in the lottery to favor the worst teams more. The league would use those odds moving forward.

1994: sixth-worst record, picked sixth, selected Sharon Wright

Temple legend Eddie Jones went 10th.

1995: fourth-worst record, picked third, selected Jerry Stackhouse

Stackhouse was one of the many players branded the “Next Jordan” in the 90s. Playing for North Carolina didn’t help with that. Simon Gratz graduate Rasheed Wallace went fourth and Kevin Garnett went fifth in this draft.

1996: worst record, picked first, selected Allen Iverson

They obviously hit big on this one. Not much to say that already hasn’t been.

1997: fifth-worst record, picked second, selected Keith Van Horn (traded)

Van Horn was traded on Draft Night along with Lucious Harris and Michael Cage to the then-New Jersey Nets for Jim Jackson, Tim Thomas (picked seventh) , Eric Montross and and Anthony Parker (picked 21st). Tracy McGrady went ninth in this draft. A team with Iverson and McGrady would’ve made my childhood. If they won the lottery, they would’ve had Tim Duncan. Ugh.

1998: eighth-worst record, picked eighth, selected Larry Hughes

One of my brands is complaining about the Sixers taking Hughes over Paul Pierce (ninth) and Dirk Nowitzki (10th).

Due to a successful few years with Iverson as an All-Star, the Sixers wouldn’t return to the lottery until 2004.

2004: ninth-worst record, picked ninth, selected Andre Iguodala

I loved ‘Dre. Great pick, but he was just sort of on the wrong team at the wrong time in Philly. I’m glad he finally got some vindication with that Finals MVP award in 2015.

2006: tied for 12th-worst record, picked 13th, selected Thabo Sefolosha

The Sixers traded Sefolosha to the Bulls for Rodney Carney (picked 16th), a 2007 second rounder and cash. This draft was particularly underwhelming at the time because it was the first time the “one-and-done” rule had been instituted, meaning that the best players from the high school class of 2006 had to wait until the 2007 Draft to enter the league.

2007: tied for 11th-worst record, picked 12th, selected Thaddeus Young

Thad Young: solid player, fan favorite. Never really got to play on a good team anywhere.

2010: tied for sixth-worst record, picked second, selected Evan Turner

Bleh. What a rough year to pick second. Hindsight says they should've taken DeMarcus Cousins (fifth). People talk about Gordon Hayward (ninth) and Paul George (10th) here, but that just wasn’t realistic at the time.

2013: tied for 11th-worst record, picked 11th, selected Michael Carter-Williams

Through the transitive property, they basically might have selected Jonathan Isaac or Malik Monk or Luka Doncic here because of the Lakers pick the Sixers currently own.

2014: second-worst record, picked third, selected Joel Embiid

Goats do goat things. Please stay healthy, Joel.

2015: third-worst record, picked third, selected Jahlil Okafor

Swing and a a miss there, huh?

2016: worst record, picked first, selected Ben Simmons

The case is clearly still out on Simmons, but his debut can’t come quick enough this fall.

In an odd twist of fate, it seems that the implementation of the draft lottery coincided with the fall of the Sixers from their previous stance as the league’s third-most prestigious franchise. Hopefully, with a little luck tonight, this is the last lottery for the Sixers for a long time and it restores them to their former glory.