Charles Barkley

Sixers are a 'sleeper' in the Eastern Conference, Charles Barkley says

Sixers are a 'sleeper' in the Eastern Conference, Charles Barkley says

Charles Barkley’s opinion of the Sixers has fluctuated this season.

Back in September, he predicted the team would win the NBA title. By December, he was criticizing Joel Embiid’s effort level and said the Sixers “ain’t got no chance.”

If the NBA is successfully able to execute its plan to finish the season at Disney World, Barkley is back on board with the Sixers. He named the team as one of his two “sleepers,” along with the Portland Trail Blazers, in a video interview Wednesday with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Michael Barkann.

I’ll tell you what, the one team in the Eastern Conference that scares the hell out of me — I don’t want to see Ben (Simmons) and Joel (Embiid) and Tobias Harris,” he told Barkann. “I would not want to play the 76ers in the playoffs. … Other than Giannis (Antetokounmpo) — I want to make sure I don’t leave anybody out — the Sixers are going to have the best two players against any team in the Eastern Conference. With the exception of Giannis, any team they play in the Eastern Conference, they’re going to have the two best players on the court in every series — except against the Milwaukee Bucks. 

"So I think they’ve got a legitimate chance. I’d be surprised if they don’t do well. Ben has had a chance to get healthy. I hope Joel was able to stay in shape — that’s gonna be a biggie — but if those two guys are healthy, the Sixers have got a good chance.

Barkley’s claim that Simmons and Embiid will be the two top players in any Eastern Conference series not involving Antetokounmpo is a bold one, and certainly open to pushback. His point about the Sixers having two stars who’ve had the chance to rehab during the league’s hiatus is not controversial. Simmons had missed the team’s last eight games with a nerve impingement in his lower back, while Embiid’s 30-point, 14-rebound performance on March 11 was his first game back after being sidelined for nearly two weeks with a left shoulder sprain.

Barkley remains wary about the NBA’s plan to play in Orlando during the coronavirus pandemic. He’d said in May that he hoped the league wouldn’t “do something stupid just for money.”

“It’s scary to me,” he told Barkann. “When we’re doing this interview, Florida’s like the hottest spot for the virus in the world. You’re taking 22 teams, a bunch of people. I know the WNBA is going down to Florida. I know MLS is going down to Florida. It’s a scary situation. I hope nobody gets sick, nobody dies.”

In the event that the league plows ahead despite those concerns, Barkley thinks a key factor will be how teams adapt to playing without any fans in attendance. The Sixers were, of course, an NBA-best 29-2 in front of their home crowd at Wells Fargo Center, compared to 10-24 on the road. 

“I think that’s really huge,” Barkley said. “This is when your leaders are going to really have to step up. I think there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on Ben and Joel because they’re going to have to make the rest of the guys play without crowd noise. They’ve just gotta tell guys, ‘We’re gonna play.’

"This is when you’re going to find out who your leaders are. Because your leaders are going to have to make you play hard every day. … It would really suck to play without fans. With this virus and no fans, this is going to be the most interesting playoffs ever.”

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The 10 best Sixers without an NBA title

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The 10 best Sixers without an NBA title

When a franchise hasn’t won a championship in 37 years, it’s going to have some great players who haven’t won titles.

This list ranks the best 10, considering both overall career and performance/impact as a Sixer, with more weight given to the latter. It only looks at players who have never won an NBA championship with any team, meaning names like Andre Iguodala are not included. 

10. Steve Mix 
​​​​​​“The Mayor” was a key piece for some very good Sixers teams throughout the mid-70s and early-80s. He played 668 games with the team over nine seasons, winning three Eastern Conference titles and being named an All-Star in the 1974-75 season. Though he wasn’t a huge scorer, Mix chipped in across the board and was consistently an above average, winning player. 

9. Jimmy Butler 
Butler appears on this ranking mostly because of his accomplishments outside of Philadelphia. Over the last six seasons, he’s averaged 21.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.8 steals. It didn’t work out here, but denying Butler is one of the best players to pass through Philadelphia would be foolish. At 30 years old, the five-team All-Star is searching for his first championship with the Heat. 

8. Ben Simmons
Simmons, a two-time All-Star and Rookie of the Year winner, is easily the youngest player on our list. To be clear, we’re not saying he’s already had a better career than Butler, but that he deserves this spot because of his early impact as a Sixer. It would be a major snub if Simmons does not appear on an All-Defensive Team this season, and he should be in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. 

7. Joel Embiid 
Because of his many injury woes, Embiid has actually played in 12 fewer regular-season games than Simmons. While Embiid isn’t happy with how he’s played this year or what he’s accomplished so far, he’s on a Hall of Fame trajectory, health permitting. He’ll hope to no longer be eligible for this particular list when his career is over. 

6. Archie Clark 
Well before it was the norm, Clark was hitting defenders with shifty crossovers and Euro steps, earning the nickname “Shake and Bake.” A ball handling pioneer, Clark played three full seasons in Philadelphia after being included in the trade that sent Wilt Chamberlain to the Lakers, averaging 18.2 points and 4.7 assists. If you haven’t seen them before, his highlights are worth watching.

5. Doug Collins 
Collins’ career was shortened by injuries, but at his peak he appeared in four straight All-Star Games and posted about 20 points per contest. A tangential note: He should be an Olympic hero and gold medalist. 

4. Dikembe Mutombo 
In his 10th NBA season, Mutombo won his first conference title in 2001 as a Sixer. While he only spent a season and a half here, Mutombo is one of the best defensive centers ever, with eight All-Star appearances, four Defensive Player of the Year awards and that iconic finger wag. He’s also an internationally renowned humanitarian

3. George McGinnis 
A two-time ABA champion with the Pacers, McGinnis came close to a title in his second season with the Sixers, who fell to the Trail Blazers in Game 6 of the 1977 Finals despite 40 points from Julius Erving and a 28-point, 16-rebound effort from McGinnis. He averaged 21.6 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists in three seasons here before being traded to Denver. 

2. Allen Iverson
Given how beloved Iverson is with a single NBA Finals victory on his résumé, just imagine the level of adulation if he’d won a series. As a Sixer, Iverson led the league in minutes per game five times, scoring four times and steals three times. He’s a legend, even without a title. 

1. Charles Barkley 
Regardless of team, Barkley should be one of the first names that comes to mind when thinking about the best NBA players to never win a championship. During a nine-season peak from 1988 to 1996, he scored 24.9 points, grabbed 11.5 rebounds and dished 4.1 assists per game. 

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Moses Malone trade was just part of a dark day in Sixers history

Moses Malone trade was just part of a dark day in Sixers history

In 1985-86, the Sixers finished the season 54-28 and took the Milwaukee Bucks to seven games in the second round. Moses Malone, who missed the playoffs because of an orbital fracture, made his ninth straight All-Star team, posting 23.8 points and 11.8 rebounds a game.

Yet, a year removed from making it to the Eastern Conference Finals and only a couple years removed from winning a title, the Sixers dealt Malone — along with Terry Catledge and two first-round picks — to the Washington Bullets. In return, they got Cliff Robinson and Jeff Ruland. 

The Sixers also traded the No. 1 overall pick — that wound up being North Carolina big man Brad Daugherty — to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Roy Hinson.

''It's the most dramatic day of trading in the history of this organization,'' GM Pat Williams said at the time. ''We're far better equipped to deal at a championship level than 24 hours ago.''

Well, Williams was correct on the first part. The second part … not so much.

Williams was the architect of the 1982-83 title team and made plenty of outstanding moves during his tenure. But on June 16, 1986, he made two of the worst trades in franchise history on the same day.

But what if the Sixers never traded Malone? What if they simply held on to the No. 1 pick and selected Daugherty?

The Sixers were getting older. Julius Erving was 36. Maurice Cheeks was 30. Andrew Toney’s foot issues were severely hindering him. With the Malone trade, the Sixers believed they were getting younger and faster.

Robinson (131 games) and Hinson (105 games) weren’t Sixers for very long and didn’t have much impact. Ruland, who already had knee and shoulder issues, played five games with the team before retiring. He had a brief comeback with the Sixers in 1991 that didn’t last very long.

Malone, on the other hand, went on to make three more All-Star teams while Daugherty made five for the Cavs.

Instead of giving Dr. J a last dance of his own with Malone, Erving’s career ended after a first-round playoff exit in 1987. The 1987-88 season was disastrous as the Sixers finished 36-46 and missed the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. Toney played just 29 games that year and was forced to retire.

With a young Barkley leading the way and under coach Jim Lynam, the Sixers bounced back in 1988-89. They were swept by the Knicks in the first round, but there was hope in building around a budding star in Barkley.

While the team had varying degrees of success, Barkley was carrying far too much of the load in the early 90s, prompting him to eventually ask for a trade. There’s a thought that maybe it didn’t have to get to that point.

“I remember getting a phone call at about 6 in the morning — this is the day of the draft, I might add," Barkley said on the Lowe Post podcast. "It was from [Daily News writer] Phil Jasner in Philadelphia. And Phil calls me, he says, ‘Charles, can you talk?’ I said, ‘Phil, it’s like 6 in the morning.’ He says, ‘The Sixers made a trade. You need to talk about it. I need your opinion.’ I said, ‘Well, what’d they do?’ He said, ‘Traded the No. 1 pick in the draft. ... I said, ‘What? That’s all we got for the No. 1 pick, was Roy Hinson?' And then he says, ‘Oh, and they traded Moses to Washington.’”

“Moses was gonna be a great mentor [for Daugherty], because Moses was like a dad to me. ... That was the beginning of the end, where I could have actually had a really good team. ... That wrecked my entire Philadelphia career. ... That was the biggest disaster of my career, plain and simple.”

It’s fair to wonder what could’ve been if Malone was around for Erving’s final season. Perhaps you get a hyper-motivated version of Malone — miffed that he missed the playoffs the prior season and wanting to allow Dr. J to ride off into the sunset. Maybe he has one more prolific playoff run in him.

This would’ve also allowed Malone to keep mentoring Barkley and also a young Daugherty. As Malone declined, Daugherty’s role could’ve increased. Going into the 1990s, you would’ve been armed with two young All-Stars and arguably the best frontcourt in the NBA at that time.

Maybe that’s not enough to overcome Michael Jordan and the Bulls during that time. Daugherty was also forced into early retirement because of back issues.

But perhaps it’s enough to convince Barkley to stay. Maybe with Barkley and Daugherty in the fold you could attract better talent and maybe make a trade for the right guard to complement them.

Instead, Barkley was traded to the Suns and the Sixers embarked on one of the worst stretches in franchise history. After losing to Jordan in the second round in 1991, the Sixers wouldn’t make the playoffs again until Allen Iverson and Larry Brown led them there in 1998-99.

Could they have avoided that swoon if they held on to Malone a little bit longer? Could Daugherty’s presence have made the team formidable enough for Barkley to never want to leave?

We’ll never know the answers, but it’s fair to wonder.

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