Thursday, December 25, 2014

BYNUM BUST BRINGS BACK A BAD MEMORY

Twenty-seven years ago, the Sixers made another deal for a center with a bad knees -- and the franchise has yet to recover

BYNUM BUST BRINGS BACK A BAD MEMORY

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The Sixers ought to forget about big men.

Outside of Moses Malone and WIlt Chamberlain -- and even they were gone shortly after leading the team to NBA titles -- the team's history of men in the middle has typically been one Manute Bol-sized disaster

 Andrew Bynum now joins a lengthy list of lengthy stiffs that includes Shawn Bradley, Samuel Dalembert and a miscast cast of dozens who, for reasons of infirmity or inability, flopped here.

Bynum, unable to play this season because of knee problems, brings to mind a similar case from 27 years ago.

On June 16, 1986, draft day in the NBA, the Sixers acquired Ruland in a series of disastrous deals in which, among other things, they traded away Malone, forfeited a chance to get Brad Daugherty and imported a lame Ruland.

 Malone, Terry Catledge and two No. 1 draft choices were sent to Washington for Ruland and Cliff Robinson, and another No. 1 (the first overall choice that yielded Daugherty) was shipped to Cleveland for Roy Hinson.

The trades were made even though nearly everyone knew of the problems the 6-10 Ryuland was having with his feet and knees.

 Apparently, there were serious concerns expressed about his health by the Sixers' medical staff, who conducted pre- and post-trade physical examinations..

 Pat Williams, whose tenure as 76ers general manager ended that day, said in 2008 that the last element in any trade or signing, then as now, was a successful medical exam.

"The big thing everyone always wanted to know was how much time it was going to take for the physical," Williams said.

Jeffrey Lorber, the 76ers' team physician at the time, said that same year that he recalled doctors giving the deal a thumbs-down.

"It was a long time ago," said Lorber, "but to the best of my recollection, in Jeff's case we recommended that they not take him. They took him anyway, of course, but that was an administrative decision and not a medical one."

Lorber said that he gave Ruland a thorough general physical before the deal was approved and that because of his history of knee and foot problems, the frontcourt star almost certainly was sent to the team's orthopedist, Michael Clancy.

Clancy, who is retired from Temple University's health system, could not be reached for comment.

However, the late Al Domenico, the Sixers' trainer at the time, said in 2008 that if the team's brass had any concerns with Ruland's health, those were assuaged by the player's appearances against them as a member of the Washington Bullets in the playoffs during the 1985-86 season.

The 6-foot-10 center, coming back from arthroscopic knee surgery that season and continuing foot woes, played limited but effective minutes. He averaged 14 points and five rebounds, but Philadelphia took the best-of-five series, three games to two.

"Everybody thought he looked good," said Domenico, "so they weren't that worried."

Ruland, who had had knee surgery in his final Washington season, broke down after a handful of games with Philadelphia. He would play no more that season and not at all the next four.

Overall, he appeared in just 18 games for the Sixers, five in 1986 and 13 during an aborted comeback in the 1991-92 season. He played in only 11 games with Detroit the next season, then retired.

To make matters worse, Hinson and Robinson also arrived with injuries that severely limited their careers and statistics.

"All three were damaged goods," Williams said.

That infamous draft-day dealing  was widely believed to be the brainchild of Harold Katz, then the Sixers' owner.

"On paper, it looked like a great deal," said Williams, who went to work for the fledgling Orlando Magic after leaving.

According to Williams, Katz might have been the deals' instigator, but the team's personnel people all signed off on Ruland.

"Matt Guokas, Jim Lynam, Jack McMahon and I all agreed to bring Ruland here," he said. "But as for the medical exams and whatever came later, I was already gone."

Ruland said in 2008 that when his knee was surgically repaired in Washington the previous season, the doctor assured him he would be able to play on it without problems for an additional five seasons.

"But he was wrong," Ruland said. "I played a few games and I couldn't go. That's when the degenerative arthritis really started to set in."

Ruland could not recall how much he was insured for. But he said he paid for the lloyds of London policy with money the Sixers gave him for that purpose.

"Insurance policies weren't all that unusual even back then," Williams said. "I know when we gave Moses Malone $13 million, which was a huge contract at the time, we had insurance."

 

Frank Fitzpatrick Inquirer Sports Columnist
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About this blog
Reporter Frank Fitzpatrick, a 2001 Pulitzer Prize finalist, is covering his eighth Olympic Games and has yet to win a medal in anything except caffeine consumption. He has also been the beat writer for the Phillies, Eagles and Penn State football.

Frank Fitzpatrick Inquirer Sports Columnist
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