Sixers' Thaddeus Young faces another difficult year with T'wolves

Posted: August 24, 2014

Wayne Ellington and Thaddeus Young are the same age, came out of high school at the same time, and competed against each other in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and Ellington has nothing but sympathy for the situation in which his old friend and rival finds himself.

The 76ers are poised to trade Young to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of a three-way deal that will send Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers, have Andrew Wiggins join Young in Minnesota, and allow the Sixers to acquire another first-round draft pick and clear more salary-cap room ahead of the 2015 off-season. Even with Wiggins, this year's No. 1 pick, the Timberwolves are a safe bet to secure another lottery pick next year. So Young is likely to follow the last of his seven seasons with the Sixers, a season that featured just 19 victories and included an NBA-record-tying 26-game losing streak, with another 82-game slog to nowhere, and all Ellington could tell him was, Been there, man. Been there.

Minnesota drafted Ellington in 2009 - two months after he'd won a national title at North Carolina, two years after the Sixers had drafted Young out of Georgia Tech - and he'd never experienced anything in his basketball life like those dreadful Timberwolves teams.

"I actually went through it," said Ellington, an Episcopal Academy alumnus. "We didn't lose that many in a row, but I came off winning a national championship to winning 15 games and 17 games out of 82 my first two seasons. That's hard, man. When winning is all you know, that's tough. Winning 15 out of 82 is a real reality check."

Now with the Sacramento Kings, Ellington has been in King of Prussia all week, working out at the Competitive Edge Sports Complex there, gaining a sense of how the Sixers' rebuilding process is playing among his friends around the league and those people who follow his hometown team. And of all the moves that general manager Sam Hinkie has made in the name of delivering a better tomorrow for the Sixers, Ellington understood that trading Young might be one of the most difficult to accept. Young averaged a career-high 17.9 points a game last season, was a fine role model for a team so short on experience. Wasn't there something to be said for retaining him? Wasn't he the kind of player who would help you win someday?

"Hey, that's how it's going to be," Ellington said. "Philly fans are tough. They're not the only team in the league that's doing this, but Philly doesn't want to hear that. They want to win, and they want to win now. So it's tough. It's part of the business, and that's the way they've decided to do things."

It's a course of action that leaves little room for sentiment. The Sixers recognized the value of Young's versatility and professionalism, a person with knowledge of the team's thinking said recently, but those qualities didn't justify retaining him at a cost of $9.2 million this season and a $9.7 million player option for 2015-16.

They regarded him less as an inspirational and unifying leader than as a good soldier, and they didn't consider him an ideal fit for the system they want to play - one that, according to their plan, will be predicated on dominant post play (in Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid), guards who can penetrate a defense and push a game's pace, and shooters who can knock down corner three-pointers as a matter of routine.

Besides, the suggestion that the Sixers ought to keep Young presumes that he wanted to remain here through the still-nascent stages of what is supposed to be the franchise's renaissance. Anyone who happened to be in the visiting locker room in Houston's Toyota Center on March 27 - after the Sixers lost their 26th straight game by 120-98 to the Rockets - could see in Young's eyes that he wouldn't have minded a fresh, clean start to his career, and he admitted as much. No one signs up for this, he whispered that night. No one.

"We're all competitors," Ellington said. "Nobody wants to lose. It's really hard, even as a player, to look past where the team's at now and look to the future."

But their future is all the Sixers are concerned with these days, and at his price, with his profile, Young wasn't a part of it. For him, they'll get two players with expiring contracts in Luc Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved (whose deal does include a qualifying offer for 2015-16), that top-10-protected first-round pick for next year, and the thing Hinkie prizes most: flexibility to continue reshaping the roster. And Thaddeus Young, it appears, has one more hard year ahead of him. These are the Sixers under Sam Hinkie. This is the NBA. Sympathy and sentiment don't apply.

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