When running a professional sports team, there are thousands upon thousands of choices you are forced to make. All teams–even the very best–have made choices that turned out to be massive mistakes. While it can sometimes be easy to say that you wish a different decision had been made, you have no idea just how much that decision can change the future.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I introduce you to, The Butterfly Effect.
The Butterfly Effect is a popular theory that comes from Edward Lorenz’s Chaos Theory. The Butterfly Effect is the theory that one small change in the past, something as small as killing a butterfly, (hence the name) could change the entire world. The theory was made popular through Hollywood TV shows and movies about time travel. A great example of The Butterfly Effect comes from the Family Guy episode “Back to the Pilot.”
In the episode, Stewie (a baby) builds a time machine and shows it to Brian (his talking dog). Stewie warns Brian about using the machine, due to The Butterfly Effect. Brian does not listen and goes back in time to prevent 9/11 from happening. When Brian goes back to the present, he expects a much better place since he stopped 9/11 from happening. Instead, Brian finds that preventing 9/11 from happening lead to a series of events unfolding that made the world much worse than before.
Now that we all understand The Butterfly Effect, let’s talk about how it relates to the Philadelphia 76ers. Let’s take a look back at some of the worst decisions made by the 76ers since the beginning of “The Process” and how, through The Butterfly Effect, it actually helped put the 76ers in the position that they are in today.
The Dwight Howard Trade
More commonly referred to as “The Andrew Bynum Trade” in the Philadelphia area, The Dwight Howard Trade was a blockbuster trade that turned out horribly for the 76ers. The Sixers traded future Finals MVP Andre Iguodala and future All-Star Nikola Vucevic in return for Andrew Bynum. At the time, Andrew Bynum was a 25-year-old Center coming off of his first All-Star game appearance and the All-NBA 2nd team. He also won two championships as the starting Center of the Lakers. Bynum ended up never playing a single game for the 76ers due to an infamous bowling injury.
The 76ers went from 35-31 the year before (lockout-shortened season) to 34-48 after the Bynum trade. In the short-term, this was clearly a mistake. The team went from making the second round of the playoffs to missing out on the playoffs. They won one less game from the year before, and they played 16 more games!
Yet if we went back in time and prevented this trade from happening, “The Process” would have never happened. Directly after the 2012-13 season that the 76ers went 34-48, the 76ers and then-GM Tony DiLeo left the team, and the 76ers hired new General Manager, Sam Hinkie.
Butterfly Effect: If 76ers do not trade Andre Iguodala and Nikola Vucevic for Andrew Bynum, “The Process” never happens
Hinkie’s very first move was a big one. He sent out 22-year-old first time All-Star Jrue Holiday for the 6th pick in the draft, Nerlens Noel. Noel at the time was seen as possibly the best player in the 2013 draft. Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated had Noel as the #1 pick in his mock draft. This was the first paragraph of Noel’s profile on NBADraft.net:
“One of the best pure shot blockers to come along in a number of years … He’s a more explosive leaper and has better on-ball shot-blocking ability than last year’s UK freshman intimidator Anthony Davis. While Davis had a little better lateral speed and ability to get to shots as a weakside defender, Noel’s ability to deny his man any daylight to the rim and be a rim protector makes him even more dominant, and a potential defensive enforcer for the NBA.”
Noel sat out his entire first year as a rookie and in his two and a half seasons in Philly, he never averaged more than 11 points per game.
How can trading an All-Star Point Guard for a below-average Center be seen as a positive? Without Jrue Holiday on the roster for 2013-14, the 76ers would end up going an awful 19-63. How is that positive? The 76ers’ poor record earned them the #3 pick in the 2014 Draft, selecting Joel Embiid.
Butterfly Effect: If 76ers do not trade Holiday for Noel, the Sixers would not have drafted Joel Embiid.
Drafting Jahlil Okafor
In the 2015 Draft, the 76ers took Center Jahlil Okafor. Like Noel, Okafor would only last two and a half seasons in Philadelphia. Okafor was a talented post scorer, which is what made him so dominant in college. But the athleticism and talent in the NBA is far superior to the NCAA. Okafor was able to overcome being slow and a bad defender in college due to his size and strength. In the NBA, he was exposed for his weaknesses and did more to hurt the team while on the court than to help.
The Sixers could have taken Latvian Power Forward Kristaps Porzingis with the 3rd pick in 2015. Porzingis was one pick after Okafor, going 4th to the Knicks. Porzingis has already made an All-Star game in his young and promising NBA career.
The problem with selecting the much better Porzingis over Okafor is that the 76ers’ record for the 2015-16 season would end up being better than their awful 10-72 record. If the 76ers end up winning more games due to having Porzingis on the roster instead of Okafor, Philadelphia most likely does not end up having the worst record in the NBA that season. That would mean they would not receive the 1st overall pick in the 2016 draft, which was used to select none other than Ben Simmons.
Butterfly Effect: If 76ers do not draft Jahlil Okafor, they do not draft Ben Simmons
Drafting Markelle Fultz
We all know what happened after drafting Markelle Fultz. Actually, correction, NOBODY knows what happened to Markelle Fultz. In case you have been living under the most secluded rock in the world, here is a quick summary.
In 2017, the Philadelphia 76ers had the 3rd pick in the NBA draft. After a now-infamous workout session Fultz had with the Sixers prior to the draft, Philadelphia made it their mission to trade up to the number one pick in the draft in order to select Markelle Fultz. The 76ers traded their third pick along with a 2019 Sacramento Kings’ pick (which turned into Romeo Langford) to the Boston Celtics in order to get Fultz.
Fultz was the consensus top player in the draft and after he was drafted… he forgot how to shoot a basketball. That is not even an overstatement.
Here is Fultz taking a shot in college:
Here is Fultz taking a shot after college:
There are thousands of theories as to what happened to Markelle Fultz. The only facts we can rely on are his stats. He played just 33 games for the Sixers in two years and averaged less than 8 points per game.
Even someone with zero basketball knowledge can tell you that drafting Markelle Fultz was a mistake. How could not only drafting Fultz with the 1st overall pick in the draft but also trading up to do so be considered a positive?
Even though Fultz did almost nothing to contribute to the 76ers’ in his first season, Philly still made the playoffs. It is remarkable in hindsight. Not many teams have the first overall pick be a complete bust and still make the playoffs in the same season. After making the playoffs with their core of; Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, and Joel Embiid, Philadelphia would win its’ first-round matchup against the Miami Heat. In a disappointment, Boston would end up beating the Sixers in the second round.
With that in mind, looking at who the 76ers could have drafted, Donovan Mitchell or Jayson Tatum, things most likely do not turn out the same way the season after. For the sake of clarity, I will say the 76ers draft, Donovan Mitchell. Do the 76ers still lose to the Celtics in the 2018 playoffs with Mitchell on the team? Most likely, but it is still possible they win that series. They would undoubtedly lose to the Cavaliers or be swept by the Warriors if they did win that series though.
What wouldn’t happen would be a need for a trade. When Jimmy Butler demanded a trade for the Timberwolves, he was a real need for the 76ers. An established wing scorer and defender. If Donovan Mitchell is on the team, the 76ers do not still trade for Jimmy Butler. Why risk trading some of the young core when you have Simmons, Mitchell, and Embiid?
If the 76ers do not trade for Jimmy Butler, they most certainly do not trade for Tobias Harris either. The Jimmy Butler trade put the Sixers in a “win-now” mode. If Mitchell is drafted, the fanbase and ownership would most likely be more patient, considering they would have three young stars.
It turned out that Jimmy Butler just wanted to live in Miami, but the Sixers were still able to acquire Josh Richardson for Butler. Also, with the Butler and Harris trades, it opened up cap space for the 76ers to be able to sign Al Horford.
Personally, in a battle of lineups such as…
Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford, Joel Embiid VS Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid
I believe the current lineup with Richardson, Harris, and Horford is better than what we would have if we drafted Donovan Mitchell.
Butterfly Effect: If 76ers do not draft Markelle Fultz, they do not acquire Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, and Al Horford
The Full Butterfly Effect: If 76ers do not make mistakes, the 76ers are not who they are today