It was sturdy enough in the weather of an NBA season to win 40-45 games and make the playoffs, but never a whole lot more than that. If a postseason opponent happened to be missing, say, its starting center and point guard, the Sixers might even win a round and threaten to win another. That happened for Doug Collins and the Sixers in 2011-12, and it seemed for a brief moment that the old tree might just need a little pruning to truly compete for a championship.
They called in Dr. Andrew Bynum for the surgery, but not only couldn't he cut the tree properly, he couldn't even get his hair cut properly. So, here we are, with Thad Young being the last one to earn his parole. It really didn't take that long to get from there to here, but it probably felt long enough to Thad.
When the Sixers took Boston to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2012, the limbs on the tree spread out like this: Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, Evan Turner, Lou Williams, Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes, Lavoy Allen, and Young. Those eight players were on the court for 1,600 of the 1,680 minutes against the Celtics, and it was a great series. It wasn't until Rajon Rondo made a three-pointer with two minutes to play that Boston was in position to ice the series at the foul line.
That was also the most recent worthwhile moment in the last 27 months, as the Sixers have suffered through two lost seasons - one by accident and one intentional - and a combined 53-111 record.
One by one, the limbs fell away. Collins waived Brand, didn't re-sign Williams, and sent off Iguodala in the Bynum trade. The new regime of general manager Sam Hinkie completed the job as he traded Holiday, Turner, Hawes, and Allen in the process of stripping down the team last season, and, on Saturday, as he moved Young to make sure the coming season isn't much better.
The Sixers will hold two first-round draft picks, assuming they don't make the playoffs, and, even with the addition of Nerlens Noel, there is no reason to look at the current roster and think they have any shot at that. Neither of their two lottery picks from the 2014 draft, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, will likely play this season, which is all part of the plan. Getting value for Young, who can opt out of his contract and become a free agent after this season, was part of the plan, too.
At the moment, the longest-tenured player on the roster is Arnett Moultrie, who will be entering his third NBA season and has more positive drug tests (three) than career starts (two). Moultrie arrived in a 2012 draft-day deal engineered by Collins that cost the Sixers a second-round draftee named Justin Hamilton and a conditional first-round pick they hope to retain by tanking again this season (at the price of two second-round picks, instead).
The other value obtained by trading away Young is a pair of Minnesota reserves, Alexey Shved, a shooting guard who made 32 percent of his shots last season; and Luc Mbah a Moute, a Cameroonian prince who turns into a frog on the court.
Neither guy will improve the Sixers very much - precisely! - but Mbah a Moute can serve as a mentor for Embiid, whom Mbah a Moute helped discover as an unpolished talent at a Cameroon basketball camp barely four years ago.
As for Thaddeus Young, he might not have found exactly the right spot yet, either. He goes to the Timberwolves just as they also acquire Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, the top picks in each of the last two drafts. Both are Canadians, which is an odd coincidence, but both are also 6-foot-8, just like Young. They leave Cleveland to make room for Kevin Love, the linchpin of the trades, and they will almost certainly take up some room and some minutes that might otherwise go to Young.
Thad probably deserved better after these last couple of years. He was a good soldier who never acted out or complained about the hand he got.
"I didn't go south," he said when last season ended. "I continued to stay on the path, to stay on the course."
Yes, he did, but the path takes another turn now, and he wasn't invited along for the ride. Instead, he will become the last falling limb from the old tree.
The new management has planted another - one of those slow-growth deals - and it will be interesting to see how it takes root. There isn't much shade yet, though. That will take a while. In fact, it will take a while to even grow as tall as the old one.