NBA Power Rankings: The Top 10 Philadelphia 76ers Of The Decade

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistDecember 28, 2009

NBA Power Rankings: The Top 10 Philadelphia 76ers Of The Decade

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    For a once proud Sixers team that saw Wilt Chamberlain, Dr. Julius Erving, Moses Malone, and Charles Barkley wear its colors in the 1980s and 1990s, the 2000s will likely be a decade to forget.

    Besides one NBA Finals appearance and one MVP who the city will likely never forget, the other Sixers have done nothing to inspire the memories of greatness past.

    The Sixers started off the decade promisingly enough, with Allen Iverson winning the league's MVP award in the 2000-01 season as he single handedly brought the team into the NBA Finals (where they were promptly met by the buzzsaw that was the Showtime Lakers).

    But the wheels for the team came off soon after that, and the New Jersey Nets replaced the Sixers as the cream of the Atlantic Division crop for the next few years.

    Meanwhile, former GM Billy King busied himself by straddling the Sixers with bloated contracts to underachieving players all decade (a 6-year, $58 million extension to Sammy Dalembert comes to mind). His affinity for burning money on crappy players left the Sixers in an unenviable position, as they struggled to turn mediocre talent into playoff teams.

    The Sixers managed to serve as first round playoff knockouts for most of the latter half of the decade, with Andre Iguodala taking over Iverson's role as the Sixers' "A.I.".

    Despite the recent hardships of the team, there were some highlight moments, games, and players that will go down in Sixers lore.

    Here's one Sixers aficionado's retrospective of the past decade:

    (And warning...outside of the Top 5, the selections start to get pretty ugly. It's pretty depressing to think about 6-10 too much.)

No. 10: Willie Green (2003 - Present)

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    - Drafted 41st overall by Sonics in 2003, immediately traded to Sixers for Paccelis Morlende.
    - Career avgs: 9.4 points, 1.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists in 21.8 minutes per game.

    Willie Green has been the consummate professional for Philadelphia for most of the decade—a true role player on a team loaded with huge egos and former No. 1 picks.

    Green came onto the team as a humble second round pick from a small college (University of Detroit Mercy), and he's remained that way ever since, despite becoming one of the longest tenured Sixers.

    Green stepped up into the starting shooting guard slot after the Sixers traded Allen Iverson to the Denver Nuggets during the 06-07 season. Not-so-coincidentally, Green had his three most productive seasons as a Sixer between 06-07 and 08-09, where he started 170 of a possible 246 games.

    While his career numbers won't jump off the page like some of the rest of these Top 10, keep in mind that he accumulated them in spot, reserve minutes. Extrapolating his stats to a 36 min/game average, he would be projected to average 15.6 points, 3.2 rebs, and 2.9 asts.

    Green has been a defensive stalwart on a team otherwise lacking in a commitment to defense in the latter half of the decade, and every coach of the Sixers has raved about Green's professionalism.

    Green's one failure as a Sixer came the day he signed his 5-year, $17 million contract extension after the 2004-05 season. When then-GM Billy King became punch-drunk with money and re-signed Kyle Korver, Samuel Dalembert, and Willie Green for over $100 million total, Green managed to severely injure himself the day he signed his contract. He remained in contract limbo for most of the 05-06 season before finally inking his extension on March 23, 2006.

    With his understanding of his role on the team (and despite his ill-timed injury), Green falls into the No. 10 spot for the Top 10 Sixers of the decade.

No. 9: Thaddeus Young (2007 - Present)

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    - Drafted 12th overall by the Sixers in the 2007 NBA draft
    - Career averages per game: 12.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.2 steals
    - 09-10 stats per game: 15. 3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.0 three-point FGs

    In the summer after trading away Allen Iverson in the 06-07 season, the Sixers were desperately searching for a versatile small forward, and had a late lottery pick to solve their woes.

    By the time the 12th pick rolled around, two of the Sixers' biggest targets were still on the board: Al Thornton out of Florida State and Thaddeus Young from Georgia Tech. Thornton was coming off a great four-year career, where he finished as ACC Player of the Year runner-up (to Boston College's Jared Dudley).

    But the Sixers chose the Thad-man, and haven't looked back.

    Enthralled with Young's potential, the Sixers quickly started giving Thad 20 minutes per game in the 07-08 season, and before season's end, Young had already earned a role in the starting lineup. He also found his way onto the NBA's All-Rookie second team.

    He's responded well to the opportunity, increasing his numbers each progressive season, and has become a reliable No. 2 or No. 3 scoring option for the Sixers.

    Thad earned his stripes as a Sixer by nailing the game-winning shot in Game 3 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last season, giving the Sixers a 2-1 lead over the eventual Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic.

    Young also has the frame (6-foot-8, 215 pounds) to play either small forward or power forward, giving the Sixers a potential match-up nightmare with Young at the 4. New head coach Eddie Jordan has already become enamored with Young's potential at the four—so much so that he's benched 5-year, $80 million Elton Brand in favor of Young as the starting power forward.

    This pick is made with the future in mind, as the Sixers have Young locked up with a 5-year, nearly $10 million deal through the 2011-12 season. With Young outperforming all players except Andre Iguodala on this year's team, getting that production for $2 million per year is an absolute steal, and factors into Young's placement on this list.

    Considering his impact on the team in the past three seasons, Young has rightfully earned the No. 9 spot in the Top 10 Sixers of the past decade.

No. 8: Tyrone Hill (1999 - 2001, 2003)

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    - Drafted No. 11 overall by Golden State Warriors in 1990 NBA draft.
    - Avg. during time with Sixers: 10.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 blocks
    - Traded by Bucks in March 1999 to Sixers (along with Jerald Honeycutt) for Tim Thomas and Scott Williams.
    - Sixers traded Hill to Cavaliers in summer 2001 with Jumaine Jones for Robert "Tractor" Traylor, Matt Harpring, and Cedric Henderson

    Hill earns a spot in the Top 10 list because of his defensive efficiency and because of his role as the starting power forward on the 2000-01 Sixers team that reached the NBA Finals.

    Hill started alongside center Dikembe Mutombo (a first-teamer on the NBA All-Defense squad that year) to give the Sixers a fierce frontcourt that rarely allowed open looks.

    After being traded to the Sixers in March of 1999, Hill added to the defensive mentality being established by George Lynch, Eric Snow, and Aaron McKie.

    The Sixers shocked the Orlando Magic in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs in the 1998-99 season; a year later, they were surprise winners of their first round series again, this time handling the Charlotte Hornets.

    Hill's presence on the upstart late 90s Sixers teams, along with his starting role on the 00-01 NBA Finals team, earns him the right to be remembered as one of the Top 10 players who wore a Sixers uniform this decade.

No. 7: George Lynch (1998 - 2001)

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    - Won national championship with UNC in 1993; drafted 12th overall by Lakers that year.
    - Signed with Sixers as a free agent on Jan. 21, 1999.
    - Traded to Charlotte in 01-02 in a three-team deal that sent former No. 1 overall pick Derrick Coleman to Philadelphia.
    - Averaged 8.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 steals in three years with Sixers.

    George Lynch came to the Sixers early in 1999 and began providing the team with a defensive backbone, alongside guard Eric Snow and center Theo Ratliff.

    Lynch started all but two games of the Sixers' 00-01 season, as one leg of the Tyrone Hill, Dikembe Mutombo and Lynch frontcourt tripod.

    The three combined to become a defensive nightmare for most of the league, allowing the Sixers to run out to a 56-26 record and the top seed in the East that season.

    With an affordable 7-year, $18.2 million contract over the last seven years of his career, the Sixers managed to resist Billy King's undying urge to overpay role players when it came to Lynch.

    His presence on this list, much like Tyrone Hill's No. 8 spot, was dictated by his prominent role on the Sixers' best team of the decade, and his unselfish, team-first playing style.

    Lynch taught by example, and showed the Sixers' young players how to abandon a quest for personal stats in favor of establishing a defensive presence. For that, Lynch earns the No. 7 slot.

No. 6: Samuel Dalembert (2001 - Present)

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    - Drafted 26th overall by the Sixers in 2001 NBA draft.
    - Averages per game: 8.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 1.9 blocks, .524 FG
    - Started every game at center for the Sixers in the past three seasons.

    This one hurt. To think that Samuel Dalembert is the sixth best player to wear a Sixers uniform in the past decade—the same uniform that Wilt, Dr. J, Moses Malone and Charles Barkley once wore—is more than a little depressing. It speaks largely about how badly Billy King screwed the Sixers up over the course of the decade.

    After the Lynch/Hill/Mutombo frontcourt broke up due to trades, Dalembert quickly became one of the Sixers' only defensive highlights.

    Unfortunately, his defensive aptitude appears to come at a cost: he's been lost on offense since the day he stepped on the court, and he's not much better eight seasons later.

    Sammy has only had one season where he averaged a double-double (10.5 points and 10.4 rebounds in 2006-07).

    And Dalembert's 6-year, $58 million contract was Billy King's biggest "eff you" to the Sixers franchise, as he straddled them with an offensively-challenged center for more than a half-decade. (Not surprisingly, no team in their right mind wants to trade for Dalembert. Not even the Grizzlies.)

    Dalembert earns this spot strictly based on his longevity and his surprisingly positive impact on the defensive end of the court. Since the Sixers will likely end up spending a full decade with Dalembert (his contract mercifully expires after the 2010-11 season), there's no choice but to place him in the Top 10 players of the decade.

No. 5: Derrick Coleman (1995 - 1998, 2001 - 2004)

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    - Drafted No. 1 overall by the New Jersey Nets in 1990.
    - Career avgs: 16.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.3 blocks
    - Avg during 2001-04: 10.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.9 blocks
    - NBA Rookie of the Year in 1990-91, NBA All-Star in 1993-94.

    When Coleman was drafted No. 1 overall by the Nets, he was being described as someone who could become one of the best power forwards in the game, along with Karl Malone and then-Sixers forward Charles Barkley.

    Coleman never achieved the level of immortality that Barkley and Malone managed, but he certainly won't go down in history as a No. 1 overall bust.

    He was traded to the Sixers in November of 1995 in a six-man swap with the New Jersey Nets that sent Shawn Bradley to the Nets, and played for the Sixers through the 1997-98 season. (He signed with the Charlotte Hornets as a free agent midway through 1999.)

    But Coleman found his way back to Philly in 2001, being included in the three-team trade that sent George Lynch out of town. Coleman's averages dropped off from his career averages in those next three seasons, but Coleman's presence appeased Allen Iverson's desire to have a reliable No. 2 option (on paper, at least).

    He helped Iverson get the Sixers back to the playoffs for the two years following their Finals appearance, averaging 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists over the course of those two playoff appearances.

    Coleman never did manage to fully live up to expectations, considering the hype surrounding him when he came into the league. Sports Illustrated once labeled D.C. the #17 draft bust, saying, "he did [five All-Star games and Rookie of the Year over a 15-year career] while expending the least amount of effort possible, gliding by on an NBA-ready body and a superior touch."

    While Coleman's attitude, desire, and weight problems left something to be desired from Sixers fans, the fact remains that Coleman had two of the most productive stints with the Sixers in the past 15 years.

    And with that, Coleman breaks in the Top 5 for the Sixers' decade's best.

No. 4: Eric Snow (1998 - 2004)

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    - Drafted 43rd overall by Milwaukee Bucks in 1995 NBA draft.
    - Traded by Seattle on Jan. 18, 1998 to Philly for a second-round draft pick.
    - Averages between 00-01 and 03-04: 11.3 points, 3.5 rebounds. 6.9 assists, 1.5 steals.
    - Starting PG for 00-01 Finals team.
    - 2nd team NBA All-Defensive team in 2002-03.

    Eric Snow was the perfect sidekick to Allen Iverson during his time in Philadelphia—a pass-first, shoot-second guard always looking to make a play.

    For Iverson, who frequently commanded upwards of 20 shots per game, Snow's unselfishness made him an invaluable asset to the 76ers, worth far more than his 7-year, $29 million contract would suggest.

    Besides Snow's offensive mentality, his size allowed him to guard the opposing team's shooting guard, freeing up the diminutive Iverson to match up defensively on point guards.

    After the '01 Finals, Kobe Bryant specifically singled out Snow, saying Snow played the best defense on him out of all the players in the NBA. (He also gave a shout-out to Bruce Bowen, a long-time defensive stopper.)

    Snow anchored the team for the first half of the decade as Iverson's running mate, before the Sixers traded him away in the summer of 2004 to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kevin Ollie in Kedrick Brown. Snow moved from Iverson to a young LeBron James, and it didn't take him long to adapt, as he filled in valuable minutes from the Cavs' bench.

    But Snow's role as Iverson's backcourt buddy for the first four years of the decade earns him the spot as the No. 4 most valuable Sixer of the past 10 years.

No. 3: Andre Iguodala (2004 - Present)

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    - Drafted No. 9 overall by Sixers in 2004 NBA draft.
    - Career avgs: 15.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.9 three-pointers per game.
    - First-team All Rookie in 2004-2005; had a triple-double against Chicago on Mar. 23 of rookie season.
    - 09-10 averages: 19.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.4 three-pointers, 2.0 steals.

    Andre Iguodala was put in the very unenviable situation of having to become the Sixers' new "A.I." after they traded Iverson away in the 2006-07 season.

    Iguodala responded to the added responsibility with three triple-doubles in the season, as if a sign to acknowledge that he was ready to become the Sixers' franchise player.

    Whether Iguodala's got the talent to be a team's No. 1 option (and ESPN's Bill Simmons would beg to differ), GM Ed Stefanski re-signed him to a 6-year, $80 million contract extension in the summer before the 2008-09 season. Along with the 5-year, $80 million signing of free agent power forward Elton Brand, the two players were expected to become the faces of the franchise for the next five years.

    Iguodala has panned out on his end of the deal, as he continues to round out his game each year. He's shown a new intensity on the glass this season, averaging a career-high 6.8 rebounds per game, and his average box score this year is certainly nothing to sneeze at.

    While Iguodala isn't going to turn into the next Kobe Bryant, he's certainly one of the NBA's top 25 players currently. And when he's surrounded by young talents like Thaddeus Young, Lou Williams, Jrue Holiday and Marreese Speights, it's only a matter of time before this season's version of the Sixers turn their misfortunes around.

    After Iverson's departure, Iguodala managed to guide the Sixers into the first round of the playoffs for the past two seasons. The Sixers lost both first round series, but Iguodala knocked down the game-winning shot in the Sixers' series against the Magic this past season, giving them a 1-0 lead on the road.

    While the original A.I. has returned for a victory lap in Philadelphia, Iguodala managed to win over the hearts of Philadelphians pining for their franchise's savior during Iverson's three year hiatus from the team.

    And given his strong all-around game, along with his acceptance to step into a No. 1 role on a leader-less team, Iguodala earned the No. 3 spot for the most important Sixers in the past decade.

No. 2: Aaron McKie (1998 - 2005, Ast. Coach 2008 - Present)

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    - Drafted 17th overall by Portland Trailblazers in 1994.
    - Traded to the 76ers in early 1998 (along with Theo Ratliff) in exchange for No. 3 pick Jerry Stackhouse.
    - Between 99-00 and 03-04: 10.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals.
    - NBA Sixth-Man of the Year in 2000-01 season, first Sixers player to achieve the award since Bobby Jones in 1983.

    Aaron McKie comes in at No. 2 because of his long-lasting impact on the Sixers over the course of the decade.

    He was the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year during the Sixers' run to the Finals in the first year of the decade, providing backcourt support for Iverson and Snow.

    During the 2000-01 season, McKie posted back-to-back triple-doubles (Dec. 30 against Sacramento, Jan. 3 against Atlanta) to give the league notice that Iverson wasn't the only player on the Sixers that demanded respect on the court.

    McKie stuck with the team through the 2004-05 season, before signing with the Lakers in 2005. His 7-year, $35.5 million deal was one of the last reasonable contracts the Sixers' management dished out (re-signed after the Finals season).

    After retiring from playing in the 2006-07 season, McKie decided to rejoin the Sixers in October 2007, this time in an assistant coaching capacity. However, his coaching career was initially cut short, as the Lakers re-signed him, then included him in the Pau Gasol highway robbery with Memphis.

    McKie found his way back to the Sixers' assistant coaching staff in September 2008, where he has remained ever since.

    His spot on the Sixers' coaching staff may have proved instrumental in the return of Allen Iverson earlier this season, as McKie was the assistant coach who went to meet Iverson and prepare him for the Sixers' offense once he signed with the team. (Being Iverson's former teammate couldn't have hurt convincing A.I. to return.)

    With McKie behind the Sixers' bench for the foreseeable future, it's hard to not call McKie the second most important Sixer over the course of the 2000s.

    And that leaves...

No. 1: Allen Iverson (2000-06, 09-Present)

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    - Drafted No. 1 overall by Sixers in 1996 NBA Draft.
    - Career avgs: 27.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 2.2 steals, 1.2 three-point FG
    - 10-time NBA All-Star, won league MVP in 2000-01.
    - Scoring average of 27.0 PPG is sixth highest in NBA history, won four league scoring titles.

    Drafted No. 1 overall out of Georgetown in 1996, Allen Iverson rightfully earned the moniker "The Answer" for his decade of service with the 76ers.

    Iverson won the league MVP award in the 2000-01 season, for a year where he guided the Sixers to the Eastern Conference's top seed. After a brutal second round series against Vince Carter and the Toronto Raptors, and another seven-game slugfest with the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals, Iverson brought the Sixers to a date with the L.A. Lakers in the NBA Finals.

    The defending champion Lakers had swept the Western Conference playoffs, becoming only the second team in NBA history to sweep a conference playoffs (the 88-89 Lakers being the other), and were threatening to go 15-0 en route to a back-to-back title. That is, until Iverson got in the way.

    All 6-foot-nothing of A.I. scored 48 points in Game 1, upsetting the Showtime Lakers in overtime on the road, and giving Sixers fans a brief flicker of hope. Kobe/Shaq immediately snuffed that hope out; despite the Lakers sweeping the next four, Iverson finished the Finals with a 35.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.8 assist, 1.8 steal average.

    Iverson's performance in the Finals reflects his time in Philadelphia. He was the team's MVP from the minute he stepped on the court in '96, and took control of the team for a decade, for better or worse.

    His career average of 27.0 points per game is sixth all-time in NBA history. He was one of the most dynamic, explosive players in the league for a full decade, albeit one who earned a reputation for being a me-first ballhog by some of his critics.

    Iverson worked his way out of Philadelphia during the 2006-07 season, heading first to Denver for a season and a half, then Detroit for a season, and finally Memphis for three games earlier this year before making his not-so-triumphant return to the Sixers in late November.

    Despite his slightly-more-arthritic iteration of Iverson that the Sixers have now...considering Iverson's impact on the NBA, it's a no-brainer.

    Iverson is the Sixers' No.1 player of the past decade, and it's not up for debate.

Honorable Mention: Matt Geiger (1998 - 2002)

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    - Drafted 42nd overall by Miami Heat in 1992 NBA draft.
    - Signed as free agent in Jan. 1999 by Sixers.
    - Averages with Sixers: 9.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 0.7 assists in 18.1 minutes per game.

    Geiger makes this list for one reason and one reason alone (besides being able to look like Moby can play basketball).

    Geiger single handedly kept Iverson in Philadelphia, and therefore, directly affected the Sixers' upcoming trip to the Finals.

    In 2000, the team had come up with a four-team trade that would have sent Iverson to the Detroit Pistons. Pistons GM Joe Dumars was boarding his plane to finalize the deal when he found out that the trade wasn't happening because Geiger refused to waive his $5 million trade kicker. (If he was traded, his contract stipulated that he'd receive a $5 million raise over the course of the contract.)

    Geiger refused, kept Iverson in Philly, and Iverson responded with an MVP season that brought the team to the NBA Finals.

    Meanwhile, Geiger signed a 1-year, $5 million deal after the Finals (as a precursor to some of the awful contracts the Sixers would dish out over the course of the decade), before ultimately retiring in 2002 due to knee problems.

    Geiger's influence on keeping Iverson in Philadelphia gets him a mention as one of the most important Sixers of the decade... indirectly.

Dishonorable Mention (Tie): Chris Webber (2005 - 2007); Elton Brand (2008 - Present),

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    C-Webb Career Stats: 20.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.4 blocks
    C-Webb Sixers Stats: 15.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Elton Brand Career Stats: 19.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 2.0 blocks
    Elton Brand Sixers Stats: 13.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.5 blocks

    Both of these guys were brought to the Sixers with absurdly large contracts (Webber had a 7-year, nearly-$123 million deal; the Sixers signed Brand out of free agency to a 5-year, $80 million deal), yet neither came close to measuring up to their huge bank accounts.

    Both were nearly 20/10 career guys, but neither averaged anywhere close to that during their time in Philadelphia.

    Webber was traded to the Sixers on Feb. 23, 2005 for Kenny Thomas, Corliss Williamson and Brian Skinner; the team waived him on Jan. 11, 2007, after buying him out for $36 million over the next one and a half years. Yes. The Sixers decided to pay someone $36 million NOT to play with them.

    Brand's story hasn't been much better. He came to the Sixers as a career 20/10 guy, one of only four active NBA players with those averages.

    But he also came to the Sixers fresh off a torn ACL, and injures have limited him ever since. Brand has never looked comfortable in the Sixers' run-and-gun offense, as he prefers the traditional half-court sets that he used to run while in Los Angeles.

    Brand's frustrations are quickly reaching a boiling point, as coach Eddie Jordan has moved him to the bench in favor of Thaddeus Young. While Brand has kept the team-player face on so far (he is getting $16 million/year for the next five years, after all), his thinly-veiled criticisms of other Sixers players are only becoming more transparent with each loss.

    Neither signing made a huge impact on the team, despite the considerable hype generated by both.

    And that makes both Brand and Webber the dishonorable mentions of the decade: players who earned far more than they generated on the court.


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