On May 10, 2012, Andre Iguodala hopped onto the scorer’s table at Wells Fargo Center, celebrating the Sixers’ dramatic Game 6 win in the first round over the Bulls, the franchise’s first playoff series victory since 2003.
Three months later, he was a Denver Nugget.
Game 6, which will re-air Wednesday night on NBC Sports Philadelphia, is memorable on its own, a low-scoring thriller. The Sixers’ season ended with a Game 7 loss in Boston, the conclusion of a series later featured in Uncut Gems. Adam Sandler’s character, a desperate jeweler/gambler named Howard Ratner, encourages Kevin Garnett to “step on Elton Brand’s f---ing neck.”
There aren’t yet any movies that we know of about the trade that sent Iguodala to the Nuggets and brought Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia, but it’s a deal that invites re-examination. In the four-team, 12-player trade, the Sixers received Bynum and Jason Richardson, and they gave up Iguodala, Moe Harkless, Nikola Vucevic and a protected first-round pick.
The clearest takeaway from the trade is that the impact was, on the surface, borderline disastrous. Bynum never played a game with the Sixers because of injuries, including a bowling-induced setback. Richardson only played in 52 games. Harkless, now in his eighth season, is a solid NBA player. Vucevic was an All-Star last season with the Magic and has averaged 17 points and 10.7 rebounds since leaving the Sixers. Iguodala won three championships with the Warriors and earned a Finals MVP award.
The trade’s failure also expedited the beginning of “The Process.” With Bynum out, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen started at center. Kwame Brown even started 11 games in his final NBA season. The team finished 34-48 and missed the playoffs, and Doug Collins resigned as head coach. Sam Hinkie took over in May, trading Jrue Holiday on draft night in exchange for Nerlens Noel and the Pelicans’ 2014 first-round pick. He hired Brett Brown in August.
If the Sixers had never traded for Bynum, they likely would have been a playoff team in the 2012-13 season, even after Lou Williams — their leading scorer in 2011-12 — signed with the Hawks. Iguodala was coming off an All-Star year, while a rookie Harkless would presumably have had a good shot at taking minutes from players like Dorell Wright and Nick Young. Collins removed Vucevic from his rotation in the playoffs the year prior, but it seems very possible his opinion of the big man would have shifted.
“How many teams can give up Andre Iguodala, Moe Harkless and Nik Vucevic and have nothing in returning playing?,” Collins asked after a February loss to Orlando. “That’s tough to overcome, right? That’s just the facts. … Nik Vucevic had 19 rebounds tonight. Spencer had one. I think Lavoy had two.”
Allen had four rebounds that night, but that’s obviously besides the point.
Collins would have been coaching a team with hopes of making a run. Though the Sixers had been fortunate in that first-round series against Chicago the year before, with the Bulls suffering injuries to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, their aspirations wouldn’t have been entirely delusional. Any notion of winning the Eastern Conference or pushing for an NBA title would have been absurd — the Sixers weren’t going to win a series against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat. But, at a bare minimum, they would have been a step or two above mediocre. They could’ve easily convinced themselves it wasn’t necessary to do anything drastic, that they were on the right track.
The team traded for Bynum instead, and Hinkie came in unconcerned with immediate, conventional respectability. He accumulated assets, played the odds and gave himself chances to select players like Joel Embiid. His approach turned off many fans who didn’t enjoy watching fringe NBA players set historic losing streaks.
Without the Bynum trade, the Sixers probably never would have considered that path, and they likely would have stayed the course on a different, more traditional process built around Igoudala, Holiday and Vucevic. It would've been so much easier to justify hovering a couple of rungs below title contention, remembering that night Iguodala leaped on the table and hoping it wasn't a fluke.
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