A Brief History of Trading the No. 1 Pick
1986: Pat Williams’ first foray
The day before the Draft in 1986, Pat Williams got his first taste of trading the top pick. A deal that he may regret and one of the few times that a team pulled the trigger on trading the top pick and did not seem so enthused with the outcome — so far, it seems to have worked pretty well for the team dealing the first pick.
The Sixers were coming off a 54-28 season with Charles Barkley, Julius Erving, Bobby Jones, Moses Malone and Maurice Cheeks. They lost in the conference semifinals. But they won the top pick thanks to a trade of Joe Bryant (aka Kobe Bryant’s dad) to the San Diego Clippers from back in 1979.
The Sixers getting the first pick was gravy. And for a veteran team trying to get back into title contention, they did not need a top pick. Nor did they need a center with consensus top pick Brad Daugherty from North Carolina.
A trade made sense. But Williams would later say he regretted that trade, but that may have to do more with a concurrent trade to move Hall-of-Fame center Malone.
Williams said the 1986 draft was not a particularly strong one, kind of like the 2021 Draft is shaping up to be.
Daugherty had a nice career — 19.0 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game and five All-Star appearances in eight seasons. He was fifth in his draft class in win shares.
The top guys in win shares in his draft class? Jeff Hornacek (taken 46th overall), Dennis Rodman (Hall of Famer taken 27th), Mark Price (taken 25th) and Ron Harper (taken eighth).
All of those players picked up tons of wins by latching onto playoff teams. Rodman won titles with the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls. Hornacek was a key member of the Utah Jazz’s title runs in 1997 and 1998. Harper was a member of the Bulls’ second three-peat.
The Cleveland Cavaliers essentially built their strong run through the late 1980s and 1990s in this draft with both Daugherty, Price (acquired in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks) and Harper.
This turned out to be an OK draft in the end. Although it lacks the true superstar that would have made the 76ers think twice about trading the top pick.
What should become clear is that teams that move the No. 1 pick are teams that do not need the No. 1 pick to build their team. They are teams that had motives beyond taking whatever the draft gave them. They were teams looking to compete.
That is what led Williams to make the deals he made in both 1986 and 1993.