Sixers will learn the hard way

Posted: October 16, 2013

The longest-tenured Sixer had to shake his head Monday night over just how callow and curious some of his younger teammates are. At 25, Thaddeus Young is hardly a graybeard himself, and it's a testament to how inexperienced the Sixers will be this season, how little will be expected of them, that Young has emerged as a sage in the team's scouting meetings.

"The other guys, they don't know," Young said. "They just played college basketball, and they barely watched the NBA." So he answers their questions with as much patience as possible, even when they betray an almost incomprehensible ignorance of one of the sport's superstars. As the Sixers prepared for their preseason game Monday against the Brooklyn Nets, for example, Young found himself offering the most basic of insights into Kevin Garnett.

"They're like, 'Tell me about KG. I don't know what he does,' " Young said. "So I have to accept it and be like, 'He's a pick-and-pop jump shooter. He likes to set a lot of screens, then stand at the free-throw line and shoot jump shots. He's an intimidator. He's a guy who's going to try to get in your head from the jump.' You have to give detail."

This rudimentary understanding of Garnett's game could be picked up from watching 30 seconds worth of SportsCenter highlights, and to another team in another situation, such shallow knowledge of such an accomplished opponent would be downright alarming.

But the Sixers don't have to worry about their weaknesses costing them an opportunity to win a championship, or even a shot at a .500 record. They lost, 127-97, to the Nets, and they know they're going to get thumped like this on a lot of nights and that their record will be an unsightly thing. And this knowing, truth be told, is the most appealing and interesting aspect of them and their season.

It's refreshing to see the Sixers so honest and up front about their collective decision to put their long-term goals ahead of their short-term desires. There's a lack of pretension to it that one has to admire, even if it took more than a decade and a change of ownership to reach this point.

In the aftermath of their magical 2001 run to the Finals, the Sixers pedaled the same stationary bike that the Phillies have been riding for two years now and the Flyers for even longer. Instead of recognizing how far they really were from competing for a championship, they kept trying to patch holes. They made move after move in the name of winning now, and over time they ended up crippling themselves: trading for the likes of Chris Webber and Andrew Bynum, signing a past-his-prime Elton Brand and billing him as a franchise centerpiece, sticking with Allen Iverson after it had become obvious that building a true title contender around him was a task too great for even the most brilliant basketball mind.

The relative apathy that has developed around the Sixers can be traced to that disconnect. They tried to sell hope when the public recognized there was no hope to be sold.

They were never all that close to challenging the Detroit Pistons of the mid-2000s, Garnett and the Boston Celtics in the late 2000s, or LeBron James and the Miami Heat of today.

Based on a Wells Fargo Center that was, at minimum, three-quarters empty Monday, that disconnect no longer exists. No one's under any illusions anymore, and no one should be. This ugly loss was an indication of what's ahead, a season that will serve as something of an open tryout for a new era.

"A lot of guys on the team now are of interest," general manager Sam Hinkie said, "but you're not sure how their careers are going to pan out. We'll have to see."

Here's what's already apparent: The Sixers are at their best in the open floor, on the move. But they struggle to create shots in a half-court offense, and they're wispy as willows. The Nets outrebounded them, 54-31, and maybe now Young's naive teammates have a better idea of what Garnett, Brook Lopez, and Joe Johnson can do.

"This is reality," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "You go, and you see the level of talent. You look at the level of experience and the physical stature of their players. It's clear that our physical stature is not going to change. We'd better spend a lot of time in box-out drills, or trying to run is not going to pay the dividends that we need it to pay."

By the end of the game, Brown said, he saw an emotional letdown among his youngest players, saw heads dropping as they got an inkling of what a team loaded with talent and experience looks and plays like.

"We have so many guys who don't actually know," Young said. "We're in teaching mode." Monday was a hard lesson. It's the best thing for them. It's the only thing.


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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