Inside the Sixers: Veterans could help, may not be good fit

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The SIxers are young, but that's the plan in place. (Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports)

The 76ers are, at times, hard to watch.

A 110-103 loss to Dallas Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center was their franchise-record 16th straight setback to open the season.

The Sixers' futility has generated new debates about "tanking" - the practice of making a team worse in the short term in order to be good in the long term.

Some believe the tactic is unethical. Others folks swear that without a lot of luck, it's ineffective.

But those were the old debates. The new one is: Are the Sixers taking it too far?

General manager Sam Hinkie assembled a roster that guarantees his team will be hard-pressed to win seven games this season.

Of the 12 healthy players Saturday, only Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams were first-round picks. Luc Mbah a Moute, K.J. McDaniels, and Jerami Grant are second-rounders, while the remaining seven players are undrafted free agents.

But perhaps what is most noticeable is the lack of veteran leadership.

Jason Richardson (a 14-year veteran) and Mbah a Moute (seventh year) are the only Sixers with more than two years of experience. Meanwhile, there are six rookies and four second-year players on the 15-man roster.

Richardson is injured and doesn't travel, so Mbah a Moute is the lone veteran on the road. And that's where you need veteran leadership the most.

Ten-plus-year veterans could tell Carter-Williams to calm down and display better body language. They could take Noel out to dinner for no-holds-barred conversations about the hard work needed to become a superstar. And they could also erase the sense of entitlement the young Sixers sometimes display even though they haven't accomplished much.

But, as strange as it may sound, a bunch of veterans could be more toxic than helpful.

"If you had older players who have been around 10 years or so, boy, it would be tough to get them on the court, because all they care about at this point is winning," said Billy Cunningham, who played and coached for the Sixers.

"A lot of these kids today [on the Sixers] are playing for contracts, personal goals that they have for themselves," he added. "They haven't gotten to the point where they understand what it's all about - coming together to contend for a championship. So they all have their personal itineraries."

Cunningham should know, having gone through something similar with Miami. In 1988, he joined the then-expansion Heat as a minority owner. That first team had four players with five or more years of experience.

The youthful Sixers have to buy in because the franchise is dangling playing time in front of them. They sometimes participate in grueling practices the day before a game, knowing they will get crushed the next day.

Most veterans wouldn't do it - not on this team.

You can hear those hypothetical veterans: "Coach must be crazy if he thinks I'm going to run through a wall and we're going to lose by 30 tomorrow. Please!"

But as the losses mount, the youthful Sixers appear to give coached-up responses that downplay crushing setbacks even though their frustration is visible.

A veteran group would be a public-relations nightmare, being truthful and voicing displeasure. Veterans might even question Hinkie's rebuilding plan or call out coach Brett Brown for his lineup or an in-game miscue.

It wouldn't take long before the younger players followed their lead.

But with this young squad, the Sixers can preach having good days at practice and staying together amid the losses without being interrupted.

"That is one of the benefits of having youth," Brown said. "They are all-in. They come with spirit and energy. They are not deflated easily. And with a senior team, a more veteran team, I would not want that.

"I think that is far more challenging on many accounts."

 


kpompey@phillynews.com

@PompeyOnSixers

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