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Feb 28 2014

Thaddeus Young’s Lament

After Monday night’s 20-point thrashing at the dulled antlers of the league’s worst team–or the team that could credibly claim that mantle before administering said thrashing, the Milwaukee Bucks–Philadelphia had lost 11 consecutive games by an average margin of over 20. Now, it’s at 12.

Last Thursday, GM Sam HInkie committed fully to deconstruction by trading away Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner–the team leaders in games started this season. The assets they received in return–Danny Granger and Earl Clark–were bought out and waived, respectively. The season has degenerated into an NBA version of Brewster’s Millions, with Sam Hinkie as Richard Pryor, forced to burn through his team’s current assets in order to be given the keys to bright, shiny free agents and lottery picks later on.

One player he failed to move at the trade deadline, however, was Thaddeus Young, the 25-year-old combo forward who’s only ever known Philly as his NBA home.

Young, 6-foot-8, has never played better as a pro, but nor has he ever been part of a weaker team. When the veteran looks around, he sees a who-isn’t-who of journeymen and young men, players still developing and striving for consistency. Michael Carter-Williams’ efficiency is declining by the month. Tony Wroten is improving but erratic. Nerlens Noel continues to grind out his rehab, but is unlikely join the 2013-14 team.

And then there’s Young, forging forward every night despite increasingly depressing outcomes.

Young couples tremendous physicality with decent range. He’s one of those players who seems quick enough to guard threes and strong enough to bang with fours. He’s unique. Which makes his predicament such a shame.1

Before Friday’s game against the Mavericks, Young was honest with reporters. “This situation, I don’t know how much worse it could get,” he lamented. He might be deliberately dulling his imagination because, to me, this certainly seems like a situation that can get worse.

The Sixers lost to Dallas, in spite of Young’s 30 point, 13 rebound, seven steal, and six assist effort. (He’s the second player since 1986 to record those numbers in a single game. The first: Hakeem Olajuwon in March of 1987.)

And while the Bucks managed to score 73 points in the first half on Monday, Young once again delivered. This time it was a much more efficient 11-19 from the field with 28 points, seven rebounds and six steals.

Tanking/rebuilding narratives often make sense when you look at the balance sheet, but more and more I’ve grown curious about the impact of record-setting losses on players and coaches. On guys like Thaddeus Young.

Maybe Young is part of the long-term plan. It’s more likely, though, that he doesn’t make it through this re-organizing; hopefully, for his sake, he is soon sent to greener pastures.

But at the same time it’s a raw deal–a downside of the not-so-raw $42 million deal–that he’s forced to endure this long, slow walk down the hoops version of skid row. He’s another casualty of an NBA rebuild.

I can only guess at some of the messages exchanged between him and Turner as Evan packed his bags for the last time–I envision it being something like a jailed man bidding his fellow prisoner adieu after a commuted sentence. “Good luck, buddy. See you on the other side.” Meanwhile, Young shows up to work with his younger and more hopeful (naïve?) teammates, pressing on in Hinkie’s-world where tomorrow is the thing and today is just one step closer to the future.

1. Not that much of a shame. He’s still making $9 million….