By Mary Cunningham
The 2015 NBA draft is a month and a half away, and the Sixers are poised to grab another hot-rock collegian to go with Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid.
But the 1998 draft continues to haunt the haunted Sixers.
Paul Pierce used to put himself through vindictive shooting drills to remind himself of all nine players drafted before him that year. While he drained outside jumpers, he would shout the name of each player selected in front of him, one by one.
Pierce should have had two fewer names to shout. Only a Larry Brown promise kept Pierce from joining the Sixers as the eighth pick in the 1998 NBA Draft.
During an interview with 97.5 The Fanatic on Wednesday, Brown (above with Allen Iverson) remembered that the 76ers actually ranked Pierce as the No. 2 prospect in 1998. After the forward fell on draft night, he was still available when the 76ers made their selection. But Brown, Philly’s coach at the time, wanted to keep his word.
“We took Larry Hughes (with the eighth pick) because we thought we had a need,” he said. “But the reason we took Larry is I promised him when we interviewed him — we knew we were getting the eighth pick — I promised him if he was there at (No.) 8 we would take him.”
Pierce, of course, went to Boston with the 10th pick and became a 10-time NBA All-Star. Imagine if he had spent his early years with Allen Iverson, on a 76ers squad that had all types of defense, with Larry Brown as the coach, irritating his stars while coaxing so much out of them.
Despite what could have been, Brown said he feels “good that we honored our commitment,” and believes Hughes would have “worked out great” for the 76ers if he had been more patient with playing time early in his career. Still, Philadelphia passed on a future Hall of Famer — who, in the year 2015, is still inspiring a playoff team and infuriating opposing fan bases — for a long-armed journeyman who shot just a tick greater than 40 percent for his career. To further rankle 76ers fans, Dallas drafted Dirk Nowitzki immediately after Hughes.
Ultimately, the ill-advised promise changed Brown’s draft strategy.
“I always think you should take the very best player,” he said. “Whatever we wrote on the board, we used to write by position during the draft the best players, then we would write needs, and then we would write the best players period. And I always used to tell our staff, we’ve gotta go for the best player period and not even think about our needs, unless they were very, very close.”
Wisely, the coach added, “I would never do that again.”
The Truth and the Answer could have been a whole lot of fun. But yeah, of course, the Celtics should call and thank Larry Brown.