Andrew Unterberger is a famous writer who invented the nickname 'Sauce Castillo' and is now writing for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez, as part of the 'If Not, Pick Will Convey As Two Second-Rounders' section of the site. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AUGetoffmygold and can also read him at Billboard.
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We all have our personal favorite nights of The Process: moments that have been largely forgotten to the average sports fan, and maybe might not even mean that much to the casual Sixers fan, but nonetheless embody what (mostly) made (most of) three years of extremely losing basketball so much goddamn fun to follow.
For me, number one on that list -- even if we win a championship, even if Joel Embiid becomes the first player inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame five years before he retires, even if the next Rocky villain is a conniving daddy’s boy with the last name “Kolangelo” -- will always be the night of July 1, 2015. That was the night that the Sacramento Kings organization, in all their infinite basketball wisdom, decided to trade Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, Nik Stauskas and draft considerations to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for the rights to Arturas Gudaitis and Luka Mitrovic.
The reasons to love this trade as a Process Truster were as infinite as the stars in the sky -- or as infinite as the stars Kings GM Vlade Divac apparently thought he could court to Sacramento with the cap space cleared through this ridiculousness, anyway. My personal favorite, of course, was the Philly-bound presence of my legitimate offspring Sauce Castillo, back when we could still talk ourselves into him being a top-ten draft talent, whose rookie season had merely been submarined by a relentless barrage of DeMarcus Cousins noogies. But the part that’s endured most in Process history has, of course, been those draft considerations: what eventually turned out to be unprotected 2019 first-rounder, and the rights to swap first-rounders in 2016 and 2017.
In 2016, the Sixers were finishing a season so bad there was virtually no chance of the ensuing Kings pick being swappable; as it turned out, we earned the top pick in that draft all on our own. But in 2017, the Sixers finished 28-54 while the Kings were a mere four games better at 32-50 -- they earned the eighth draft slot while we finished fourth. And then during the magical occasion of Lottery Party III on May 16, 2017, Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum reached into that eighth-pick envelope and pulled out the New York Knicks logo -- meaning the Kings had jumped into the top three, likely over the Sixers, who could just kick their feet up and wait to be rolling in the Pickswap.
The consequences of the Kings ultimately landing at No. 3, while the leapfrogged Sixers slid to No. 5, ended up being franchise-altering. The Sixers used that No. 3 pick, in addition to the true first-rounder owed them from Sacramento, to land the No. 1 overall selection that year from Boston, selecting Markelle Fultz with the pick. (Sacramento settled for point guard De’Aaron Fox at No. 5, while Boston took versatile wing Jayson Tatum at No. 3.)
Of course, whether that path ultimately leads to something more promising that outright disaster depends on if Fultz can do a better impression of the player we believed we were drafting in his sophomore season than he did as a rookie. Though at the time the trade was such a triumph for The Process that it triggered Retweet Armageddon -- more on that to come in a future Hall of Fame column, perhaps -- it’s since lost a bit of its luster with each jumper our now-beleaguered point guard prospect takes (or perhaps more acutely, each one he doesn’t take), and with each comparison Bill Simmons makes connecting Jayson Tatum to an NBA Hall of Famer that isn’t even totally laughable.
But the glory of the pickswap cannot be tarnished. Even though it was just two slots’ difference, even though it might’ve led to the biggest non-PR-related blunder of Bryan Colangelo’s tenure, even though Stauskas himself ended up being traded for a pittance mere months after using a Migos meme to mock his old club that draft night. Say the word “pickswap” to any true Process Truster, and it’s guaranteed to bring on the same emotional overload as that food critic biting into the titular dish at the end of Ratatouille. (And yes, “pickswap” is one word, now and forever.)
What is it that makes the pickswap so iconic in Process lore, exactly? Partly, it’s that the payoff was such a long time coming -- we spent two years talking about how hilarious it would be, and then it was. Partly, it’s that it was such vindication for Sam Hinkie and the million outs he always seemed to leave himself in deals in case the main part ended up not working out; of course in this particular deal he was working with just about every kind of draw imaginable, but there was still the small risk of him ending the deal with nothing but overcards. And partly, it’s just always beautiful when a team like the Kings ends up doing our tanking for us, especially when we cheered their GM on draft night two years earlier for no reason other than a Process-wide shared premonition.
Mostly, though, Sixers fans love the Pickswap just because we still can’t get over that it actually happened. The story of The Process involves so many wind-ups without pitches, so many jokes without punchlines, that for actually us to get a setup like the Pickswap deal and then for Mark Tatum to actually yell “THE ARISTOCRATS!” live on our behalf on national TV, to our endless delight and Sacramento fans’ eternal humiliation… it was the ultimate dayenu moment of the post-Hinkie era. When it happened, I had no idea if I wanted them to use the No. 3 pick on Jayson Tatum or Josh Jackson or whoever else I hadn’t done proper YouTube research on yet. I couldn’t stop laughing for long enough to think about it anyway. The picks swapped. Who cares what anyone did with them after?
Of course, some people -- a lot of the same people who thought Fultz was the only thing worth holding out for in the ‘17 draft, and were initially disappointed we only ended up jumping to No. 3 -- will say that the legacy of Pickswap is nonetheless dependent on Markelle panning out from here. Undoubtedly true from a Sixers standpoint, but as far as the Process goes, the status is secure. Draft picks are ephemeral. Players come and go. Pickswap is forever.