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(The Indy Star) The Indiana...Rockets???

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by xiki, May 17, 2007.

  1. xiki

    xiki Contributing Member

    Jun 18, 2002
    Likes Received:
    (For those of us who have what-if'd Hakeem - Jordan)


    May 17, 2007

    What a coin flip can mean to a team
    Had it come up 'tails,' Pacers history could be different
    By Mark Montieth mark.montieth@indystar.com May 17, 2007

    As what-if moments go, it's a monster -- no less than one of the most influential days in the 40-year history of the Indiana Pacers.

    A simple flip of a 100-year-old silver dollar on May 19, 1983, turned out to have a major impact on the franchise's future. Not so much because of the outcome, but because of a declined trade offer a few days before the draft.
    Imagine a Pacers roster with Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Michael Jordan. It could have happened, if not for a couple of twists of fate.
    The Pacers, who need to finish first, second or third Tuesday in the NBA draft lottery if they want to retain their first-round pick, participated in the coin flip for 1983's top pick after winning 20 games the previous season. Their opponent was the Western Conference's worst team, Houston, which won 14 games.

    That year's draft carried an obvious grand prize. Ralph Sampson, the three-time college Player of the Year, was a new breed of player, an agile 7-4 specimen equally effective inside and out. Nobody else was regarded as a legitimate candidate for the top pick, which is why Houston had made the Pacers an intriguing offer a few days earlier.

    If the Pacers would bow out of the coin flip and guarantee the Rockets the top pick, Houston would turn over its No. 3 overall pick in that year's draft, its first-round pick in 1984 and their choice of Caldwell Jones or Muncie native Allen Leavell.

    Herb and Mel Simon had been approved as the Pacers' new owners by the NBA's Board of Governors on May 9, however, and the sale had not been legally consummated with the previous owners.

    "I didn't even officially own the team," Herb Simon recalled Wednesday. "The papers weren't signed. I had no ability to make any trades or do anything. I was just there for the coin flip."

    Simon and Houston owner Charlie Thomas met in a hotel ballroom at noon on a Thursday in New York, where then-NBA commissioner Larry O'Brien performed the flip before a large group of media members. Both men wanted to call heads, so O'Brien flipped a coin to determine who got to call the flip. He assigned heads to Houston and tails to the Pacers. It came up heads, so Thomas got to make the call for the official flip.

    As O'Brien stood between the owners, he tossed the silver dollar into the air. Again, Thomas called heads. The coin bounced on the carpeting and rolled behind the three men before twirling to a stop. "It is heads," O'Brien said.
    The Rockets took Sampson, while the Pacers filled a need by taking the second-best big man, Steve Stipanovich. Neither choice worked out as hoped long term, however.

    Sampson was voted Rookie of the Year in '84 and MVP of the All-Star Game in Indianapolis in '85, and combined with Hakeem Olajuwon to lead the Rockets to the NBA Finals in 1986, when they lost to Boston.

    He played 41/2 seasons in Houston and nine overall, however. He produced a double-figure scoring average in just five seasons and retired at age 31 because of knee injuries.

    Stipanovich played five seasons for the Pacers, averaging 13.2 points and 7.8 rebounds, before a dead spot in his left knee that prevented blood flow to a bone prompted retirement.

    The agonizing part for Pacers fans is what might have been. Had they taken Houston's pre-flip offer, and assuming Stipanovich had been picked second, they could have taken a good player -- perhaps future Hall of Famer Drexler -- with the third overall pick. Drexler, who was drafted 14th by Portland, went on to average 20.4 points over 15 seasons.

    Worse yet, Sampson didn't have an immediate impact on Houston's record, so the Rockets were back for the coin flip again in '84. They won again after Portland -- which owned a pick acquired from the Pacers three years earlier -- guessed tails and the coin came up heads. The Rockets took future league MVP Olajuwon, who led title runs in 1994 and '95.

    The Pacers could have drafted Olajuwon had they been able -- and willing -- to accept Houston's offer the previous season. They also could have been in position to take Jordan if former coach Jack McKinney had not traded their future first-round pick to Portland in 1981 for journeyman center Tom Owens.
    Random fate. Franchises are built on it.
  2. Easy

    Easy Very Calm
    Supporting Member

    Jul 23, 2002
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    Yeah, the Rockets could have all those players too, had they traded Sampson to Portland for Drexler and the 2nd pick in 84.

    What the article didn't say is that had the Rockets really traded the 84 1st pick to Indiana, they would not have tanked the season and got to the coin flip again. Somebody else would have gotten Olajuwon.
  3. xiki

    xiki Contributing Member

    Jun 18, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Why ruin a fun read about another team's angst with the Hakeem/tank job...and, yes, how oft we have lamented the non-Ralph for Clyde and MJ story.
  4. Brando2101

    Brando2101 Contributing Member

    Apr 20, 2005
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    That is a lot of ifs.

    Why did portland have Indiana's pick in the Hakeem draft? The Pacers should have had the 2nd pick again.
  5. pacertom

    pacertom Member

    Oct 29, 2002
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    The Pacers in 1981 had injuries to their centers and traded away their #1 pick for 1984 to Portland for a stiff center named Tom Owens. So that pick was already gone for nothing (Owens only lasted a year).

    They still had center problems, and that is why they might have been interest in finalizing this 1983 draft trade with Houston to get two #1 picks plus Caldwell Jones (an aging but capable center) for conceeding the Sampson coin flip, but because the franchise was being sold, they couldn't pull the trigger on it.

    Realistically, if the Pacers could have made the trade and had they picked Clyde in '83, they would have had Houston's 1984 pick but not their own since it lwas long since gone in the stupid Owens trade. The 1984 pick would have been used to pick somebody among the clear top 4 of Hakeem, MJ, Sam Bowie, and Sam Perkins.

    Knowing their track record at that time, they would have probably picked Bowie.

    Those were some lean years. The had traded away a young hall-of-famer, Alex English, for next to nothing. They had also traded away a should-be-hall-of famer, Adrian Dantley, for peanuts. Their best young player, Clark Kellogg, was a 20-10 guy who soon suffered a career-ending knee injury. The Pacers lost the coin flip for Ralph Sampson, got Stipanovich, who then also suffered a career-ending knee injury. They would have had the #1 pick to get Patrick Ewing, but the NBA instituted the lottery and the Knicks won it.

    Nothing all all worked right for the franchise until they drafted Reggie Miller in 1987.

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