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June 12, 2023

The Sixers could make weird franchise history this summer

The Sixers may not draft a single rookie in the coming NBA Draft.

Normally, the month leading into the NBA Draft is a hotbed of rumors and coverage for the local basketball team. 20+ years removed from their last run at a title, it's one of the few times fans have felt real and consistent excitement about the team, which was doubly true during the lean years of the process. And this year, the Sixers could distinguish themselves in franchise history by not being involved in the process at all.

That's an oversimplification — as in any year, the Sixers have a full array of scouts, executives, and front office members working on combing through the amateur ranks for up-and-coming talent. However, a series of trades have complicated their draft future in the years to come. For anyone who has forgotten, here's a refresher on who they owe picks to in the new few offseasons, and why those picks were sent out.

  1. Philadelphia's 2023 first-round pick belongs to the Utah Jazz. The Sixers traded the pick to Brooklyn as part of the James Harden trade, and the Nets then flipped that pick for Royce O'Neale. 
  2. Philadelphia's 2023 and 2024 second-round picks were lost due to tampering charges last summer, stemming from the team's acquisitions of P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr.
  3. Philadelphia's 2025 first-round pick, protected for selections 1-6, is owed to the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of the Al Horford/Danny Green swap from 2020. If this pick doesn't convey in 2025, it is protected 1-4 in 2026 and 1-4 in 2027 before turning into a second-round pick.
  4. Philadelphia's 2025 and 2026 second-round picks are owed to Oklahoma City as part of the three-team trade between the Sixers, Knicks, and Thunder that brought George Hill to Philly. The 2026 pick has some complicated routing potential as a result of separate deals made by the Thunder in 2022.
  5. Philadelphia's 2027 first-round pick, protected 1-8, is owed to Brooklyn as part of the James Harden/Ben Simmons trade. There are a couple of important caveats here — this pick can only convey as soon as two years after the first-round pick conveys to OKC, and it becomes a 2028 second-round pick to Brooklyn if a first has not been conveyed by then. The Nets also have the right to swap this pick or their own with Phoenix's thanks to the recent Kevin Durant trade.

The incoming draft picks are a little more straightforward:

  1. The Knicks will send their 2024 second-round pick to Philadelphia, which the Sixers acquired from the Hornets as part of the Matisse Thybulle/Jalen McDaniels trade.
  2. The Blazers will send their 2029 second-round pick to Philadelphia, which the Sixers acquired as part of the Thybulle/McDaniels trade.

In some respects, this has left the Sixers boxed in for trade moves, as the Sixers can't trade their picks in 2024 or 2026 to avoid infringing on the NBA's rule against trading first-round picks in consecutive years. But there is a small detail that has been lost in the obsession over what they do and don't have. The Sixers are on the verge of making franchise history by not making a single choice in an NBA Draft for the first time since they joined the NBA.

Starting as the Syracuse Nationals in 1946, the franchise originated in the NBL prior to the NBL/BAA merger that resulted in the first iteration of the NBA in 1949. From their first draft in 1950 onward, the franchise has made at least one selection every single year for 73 straight years.

With a much larger and longer draft process in those days — teams would draft until they "ran out" of prospects to select — the Nationals (and later the Sixers) had draft years where they selected 10 or more players to potentially play for the team. Philadelphia's biggest ever draft haul came in 1973, when they made a whopping 19 selections, which included future head coach Doug Collins at No. 1 overall and George McGinnis near the top of the second round.

(Notably, McGinnis was already two years into an ABA career with the Pacers at that time, and there was a brief period where it appeared he would join the Knicks after transitioning to the NBA. Larry O'Brien, the namesake of the championship trophy and new commissioner of the NBA, voided McGinnis' New York deal after the Sixers' owner, Iry Kosloff called the signing "piracy.")

Though the draft shrunk in size during the 1980s, down to seven rounds in 1985 and down to the two-round structure used today in 1989, the Sixers still managed to have some sort of draft selection every year since the draft's inception. The Sixers did not hold onto all of these players, of course, and in many drafts where they made a single choice, they ended up trading said player away. The most recent example of that phenomenon came just last year, when the Sixers drafted David Roddy on behalf of the Memphis Grizzlies in order to trade him (and Danny Green's contract) for De'Anthony Melton. Some other luminaries in the "draft to trade" department include Thabo Sefolosha and Keith Van Horn, the latter of whom (unfortunately) found his way to Philadelphia eventually.

While a pick at the end of the first and/or second round probably wouldn't be the difference between the Sixers winning a title next year or not, the league is putting more pressure on teams to draft well under the terms of the new CBA. As we laid out last week, the next collective bargaining agreement will heavily punish teams who go deep into the luxury tax, limiting their ability to spend their way out of problems. Development of young players will be critical to sustaining contention runs, and as of now, the Sixers are boxed out of this year's draft process to help with that problem.

Could that change over the next couple of weeks? Certainly. Philadelphia will likely have a better idea of the big dominos left to fall by the time we reach draft night, and could end up sliding back into the draft picture with a trade before we know it. But as of this moment, they could own a unique place in franchise history as the only Sixers team to not make a draft selection. Knowledge is power, or something.

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