This article was originally published in the Daily News on February 22, 2001.
Admittedly, I flip-flopped on this issue like a politician.
Before I left for the First Union Center last night, I called my editor and said I was going to write that the Sixers should pull the trigger.
Sitting in the media room about an hour and a half before tip-off of the Sixers' game against the Vancouver Grizzlies, I still was leaning in favor of the rumored trade of Theo Ratliff and Toni Kukoc to the Atlanta Hawks for Dikembe Mutombo.
Then, I walked into the
Sixers' locker room.
And I again saw a tight-knit group of hard-working warriors who have overcome obstacle
after obstacle to post the best record in the NBA.
All I could think was, why mess with this?
There's no good reason to make this move - not when your record is 41-14; not when you've clearly established
yourself as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference; not when the trade doesn't dramatically
increase your chances of winning the NBA title, if it increases them at all.
The Sixers aren't broken. There's
nothing to fix. I'm not even sure there's
anything that needs to be tinkered with.
"Any time you're not responsible enough to talk around the league at this particular time, you're doing a disservice to your franchise," said coach Larry Brown, also the team's vice president of basketball operations. "There are things that can happen, and if you think it benefits your club, you go ahead and do it.
"I think it would be unfair if we didn't explore possibilities. "
I'm just not sure the projected benefit of adding Mutombo would equate with the reality of losing Ratliff and Kukoc.
Given the Sixers' current position, a move that would take two core performers out of the mix has to result in a
championship. And getting Mutombo doesn't guarantee the Sixers will win the NBA Finals.
History says a major in-season move won't produce a title.
The only instance I can think of that might remotely qualify was in 1995, when Houston traded starter Otis Thorpe to Portland for Clyde Drexler and Tracy Murray in February and then went on to repeat as NBA champions.
Still, I understand the logic.
Despite his shot-blocking prowess, the 6-10, 225-pound
Ratliff isn't a true center. And in a seven-game series against the likes of Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal, Portland's Arvydas Sabonis or San Antonio's David Robinson,
Ratliff will have a hard time matching up.
The bigger and stronger
Mutombo would certainly give the Sixers a better one-on-one matchup than Ratliff would against one of the Western Conference's elite big men.
But if you believe the Sixers can't beat a Western Conference team in a seven-game series as currently constituted, then swapping Mutombo for Ratliff, while subtracting Kukoc, shouldn't change your outlook.
After all the cards are shuffled, Mutombo doesn't make the Sixers that much better.
The thing is, Brown believes the Sixers can beat the West. Now, he must decide
whether he should risk losing a proven winning hand in hopes of drawing a royal flush.
"I've told you guys [in the media] a
hundred times that I'm thrilled with this team and what it's done," he said. "I just want us to win a championship. If there's something out there that will help us, you think about it. "
I've thought about Mutombo. Don't do it.
Getting Mutombo wouldn't balance the loss of Ratliff and Kukoc.
Mutombo might be an all-world defender and rebounder, but he is offensively
Ratliff's offense might be limited, but he looks like O'Neal when compared with the slow-footed Mutombo, whose offensive effectiveness is restricted to 3 feet from the basket.
And while Kukoc has been inconsistent for most of the season, he finally seems to have found his comfort zone in the Sixers' rotation. A comfortable Kukoc coming off the bench will be a valuable asset during the playoffs.
Eric Snow and Matt Geiger are back from injury and playing well.
Ratliff had successful surgery yesterday to repair a stress fracture of the scaphoid bone in his right wrist. He's expected to return in two to four weeks.
"I want our guys to all get healthy and then see what will happen," Brown said. "I'm convinced that we can beat anybody, but I'm also convinced that if we're not doing it in the right way, we can get beat by anybody. "
That's my entire argument neatly wrapped up.
This team has done it the right way all season. As a result, it has beaten just about everybody.
I don't know what the Sixers might accomplish by adding Dikembe Mutombo, but I've seen what they've accomplished without him.
I'll stick with what I know.