Philadelphia – Tuesday marks the fourth anniversary of the disastrous induction day trading by the 76ers.
Back on June 21, 2018, Sixers picked Villanova’s Mikal Bridges with the 10th pick in the NBA Draft. And like the Sixers fan base, the Pennsylvania producer couldn’t be happier.
But after 38 minutes, the Sixers replaced Bridges to the Phoenix Suns for Zhaire Smith, the 16th selection overall. The Sixers also received the Miami Heat’s first-round pick for 2021 in the trade. The Sixers had always been interested in Smith because of his sport of excellence, and he wasn’t just ranked 10th. His Philadelphia fate was doomed shortly after his inception.
Failing to stay healthy and live up to unrealistic expectations, Smith played in just 13 career games before being traded to the Detroit Pistons on November 23, 2020, for reserve position Tony Bradley.
The Pistons relinquished Smith after seven days. The 23-year-old is looking forward to a return to basketball after suffering a severe knee injury for the past two years. In July, the former Texas Tech Air Raiders, a group of tech alumni, will play in Basketball Tournament, a 64-team singles tournament with a $1 million prize pool.
Meanwhile, Bridges has blossomed into one of the league’s top young stars, with a four-year, $90 million contract extension he received last October.
The young striker was this season’s runner-up in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting. He also received the second-most number of votes for the All-Defensive Team, taking first-team votes on 95 out of 100 ballots.
The 6-foot-6, 209-pounder finished with 96 steals and 36 blocks as a locked defender. Bridges also averaged 14.2 points in his fourth season in the NBA. A solid possession by the Suns, the 25-year-old averaged 11.3 points and 1.3 steals while firing 37.4% on 3 throws in 309 career games with 242 starts.
His success, along with the relationships established with the Sixers, made this trade one the team would have a hard time living in. At the time, Bridges’ mother, Tyneeha Rivers, was global vice president of human resources at Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, and Sixers managing partner Josh Harris and co-managing partner David Blitzer were co-owners. Her office, in fact, was on the compound in Camden where the Sixers practiced and where Bridges worked before the draft.
One has to feel sorry for Smith.
The shooting guard was a poor fit for the Sixers, who never gave him a real chance to showcase his skills. Their takeover of Smith clearly came as a shock to enlistment day and a missed opportunity for both sides.
His tenure with The Sixers ended when he suffered a bone bruise in his left knee in May 2020 and did not travel with the team to Florida for the 22-team resumption of the season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Walt Disney.
As a result, he concluded the season with an average of 1.1 points in seven games. In two seasons, the former high school center averaged 3.7 points and 11 minutes in 13 NBA games with two overs.
The Sixers tried to get something for him on the February 2020 trading deadline before finally shipping it to Detroit ahead of the 2020-21 season.
His inability to stay healthy was the first thing that took him off the field.
Smith suffered a severe fracture to his left foot while camping in August 2018. Smith was expected to return from that injury in December. However, he was kept outside until March 25, 2019 due to a life-threatening allergic reaction to something he ate in September 2018. The reaction left him speechless and 40 pounds lighter.
Even when he was healthy, Smith didn’t get a lot of in-game NBA opportunities to develop into a strong shooting guard.
That’s a far cry from the expected use of then-coach Brett Brown compared to Kawhi Leonard after the 2018 draft.
Leonard was with the San Antonio Spurs when Brown was assistant coach there.
“There are some similarities with his height,” Brown said of Smith at the time. “There are some similarities with his sport. I think when you look at where I think Zhaire could be, there are some commonalities that Kawhi had when we first brought him to San Antonio.”
The first difference is that Smith is listed at 6 feet 3, which is four inches shorter than Leonard. Smith was also a small force forward during his only season at Texas Tech while trying to move into the guard. So it was considered legitimate.
That’s why The Sixers were vilified on social media and on local sports talk radio the moment they traded Bridges to Phoenix on draft night for Smith.
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