Fred Carter: 1972-73 Sixers better than 2013-14

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Fred Carter: 1972-73 Sixers better than 2013-14

Fred Carter, MVP of the worst team in NBA history and now unofficial caretaker of its legacy, says the current edition of the 76ers is even worse -- and never mind the math.

This year’s Sixers have lost 25 straight games. They can equal the league record for consecutive defeats, established by the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers, with a loss Thursday in Houston. They can surpass it by falling Saturday at home to Detroit.

Still, they are 15-56. The 1972-73 Sixers, for whom Carter was a starting guard, finished 9-73.

Then again, the record book says one thing, the eye test another. Asked Monday to compare the roster of his team with that of this year’s club, he said, “It’s not even close. We were a much better team, but we were in a much stronger league.”

There were only 17 NBA teams then, compared to 30 now.

“The talent,” the 69-year-old Carter said, “was not as thinned-out as it is today. Therefore you have much tougher teams to go up against every night.”

He played so long ago, the players had to wash their own uniforms. And he said he used to expedite the process by wearing his jersey and shorts into the shower after games.

For a very long time, he tried to wash away the stink of that horrid season, too. But finally he came to embrace it, to wear it proudly. As he told me in 2008, “When you go through life, you'd like to be remembered some kind of way. For me, it's 9-73. If someone goes 8-74, you're no longer remembered.”

He put it even more eloquently in May 2013: “The first graffiti was written on the railroad trestles during World War II, and it said, ‘Kilroy was here.’”

That was indelible, unforgettable. So too was 9-73.

The roster that season included, at one time or another, five players -– Hall of Fame guard Hal Greer, guard Tom Van Arsdale and forwards John Block, Bob Rule and Bill Bridges -– who would combine to appear in 18 All-Star Games. (Ten of those appearances were by Greer, who played in just 38 games in ’72-73, the last of his 15 seasons.)

This year’s team has combined for exactly zero All-Star appearances to date.

“There’s a difference in terms of what transpired when I was playing as opposed to what’s going on now,” said Carter, a native Philadelphian who now lives in Plymouth Meeting. “When I was playing [losing] was not intentionally done. For some reason management thought that they had put together a good team that could win games. Unfortunately that was not the case. In the case of the [current] Sixers, this is all by design from Day One.”

He examined the Sixers’ roster at the beginning of this season and figured they might make a run at 9-73 –- which, again, would not be his preference.

“When they got off to that 3-0 start,” he said, “that was settled right then.”

Best effort
That start seems very long ago indeed. The Sixers haven’t won since Jan. 29, and at the trade deadline in February dealt veterans Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen for next to nothing.

First-year coach Brett Brown said a few weeks ago he wonders “all the time” if his team can win so much as one more game this season. More recently he said that while it is not “slit-your-wrist time,” any victory from here on out “would be considered an upset.”

He has been steadfast in pointing out that the Sixers are trying to build a program, a culture. But like sausage-making, it has not been pretty to watch.

Carter said the challenge for a player in such a situation is to keep playing hard, no matter what the scoreboard or standings say.

“You have to have respect for yourself and for the game of basketball,” he said, “and for the fans who paid money to see you play. You walk into a doctor’s office, you expect the doctor to give you his best effort. You walk into a dentist, you expect him to give his best effort. He can’t take the day off. Or you go to a concert -– well, you don’t expect them to take the day off. Therefore your professionalism dictates that you give your best. That’s something they have to learn, because their career depends upon it.”

Of all the Sixers, veteran forward Thaddeus Young has distinguished himself that way. If he was respected before this debacle, that has increased tenfold.

As Carter said, “I feel for a guy like Thaddeus Young.”

Carter, who played collegiately at Mount St. Mary’s, began his pro career in 1969 with the old Baltimore Bullets. It was there that he earned his nickname –- “Mad Dog” –- because, he said, he bit veteran forward Ray Scott during a particularly fierce one-on-one drill. He also played in the 1971 NBA Finals, in which the Bullets were swept by the Milwaukee Bucks of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson.

But in October 1971 Carter was traded to the Sixers, just as their fortunes had taken a downward turn. Most of the players who comprised their 1966-67 championship team -– Wilt Chamberlain, Chet Walker, Luke Jackson and Wali Jones -– were gone. Replacements had not been found; the Sixers’ first-round draft picks between ’67 and ’71 (made by Jack Ramsay, the general manager the first two of those years, and his successor, Don DeJardin) were Craig Raymond, Shaler Halimon, Bud Ogden, Al Henry and Dana Lewis. None of them played more than 74 games for the Sixers, nor averaged more than four points a game.

Ramsay, destined for the Hall of Fame, coached the team for four years, but fled in 1972 for the Buffalo Braves. His replacement, Roy Rubin, was hired away from Division II Long Island University the same day a judge ruled that the Sixers’ star forward, Billy Cunningham, had to honor the contract he had signed with the ABA’s Carolina Cougars three years earlier.

Setting the tone
In the team’s very first meeting, the new coach laid down the law: No smoking in the locker room. Carter protested, saying he needed to light up; it relaxed him. Immediately Rubin caved, pulling Carter aside and saying he was free to do so. “He didn’t say it to everybody, but he let me know that I could,” Carter said.

In another private conversation Rubin told him to shoot every chance he got –- “because,” Carter said, “we had guys that couldn’t score.” Carter averaged over 19 points a game that season, most in his career to that point.

The Sixers beat the Celtics (or, at least, the Celtics’ backups) in a preseason game, and Carter said Rubin “just danced around the locker room afterward and said, ‘Hell with the Celtics. We can beat them. I told you we were going to be good.’” The players were left shaking their heads, knowing full well the team’s shortcomings.

Carter would later tell Sports Illustrated that having Rubin in charge “was a joke, like letting a teenager run a large corporation.” It is a stance he still maintains.

“He was definitely a fish out of water, coming in from a Division II school, LIU,” he said. “Had no idea or concept of NBA basketball. He knew basketball, but on a professional level, NBA level, it’s a totally different game. You’re not dealing with boys. You’re dealing with men, and men who have boys.”

Rubin died in August 2013. He argued over the years, notably in interviews with SI and the New York Times, that he was not the only one at fault. “Why can't someone else take some of the blame?" he asked SI during that season. “I'm not the one who misses the shots, who throws the ball away, who won't box out. They're killing me. They're trying to take my livelihood away from me."

It was reported that he lost 45 pounds during his 105 days on the job, or roughly one for every game he lost (47, in 51 games). Relieved of his duties at the All-Star break, he never coached in the NBA again. One of his players, Kevin Loughery, succeeded him and went 5-26, and would enjoy a long career on the sideline.

The season, which began with a 15-game losing streak and ended with 13 straight defeats, included a 20-game skid (the franchise record before this season). It was so bad, Carter said, the players would slink through airports with the logos on their travel bags turned inward, toward their legs, making it difficult for other travelers to identify them.

“We were the universal health spa of the league,” he said. “Everybody got well.”

He played four more years after that, and eight in all. He also served as the Sixers’ head coach for a season-plus in the ‘90s, and has done some broadcasting.

But more than anything else, he has been the spokesman for the ’72-73 club. Every time a team has been poised to threaten their record, reporters have reached out to him. They did so when Chicago started out 6-42 in 2000-01, when Orlando was 1-19 in ’03-04, when New Orleans opened 2-29 in ’04-05, when New Jersey was 7-57 in ’09-10. None of those teams managed to finish with a worse record than the ’72-73 Sixers. The closest any club has come was 11-71, the records put up by the 1992-93 Dallas Mavericks and the ’97-98 Denver Nuggets.

And while the Charlotte Bobcats went 7-59 in the lockout-shortened ’11-12 season –- thus fashioning the lowest winning percentage of all time (.106) -– 9-73 looms as a record that might not ever be broken.

In Carter’s view, though, a worse team has now emerged. And never mind what the record book says.

NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

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NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

Dragan Bender

Position: Power forward
Height: 7-1
Weight: 225
Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv

Croatia’s latest basketball export is just 18 years old. He won’t turn 19 until November. Like a lot of teenagers, he’s hardly a fully finished product. The kid is raw, but his obvious potential figures to make him a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

Through 38 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, Bender averaged just 12.9 minutes. He took 3.7 shots per game. He shot 42.3 percent from the floor, 33.8 percent from deep (on 2.0 attempts per game) and 71.9 percent from the line. He didn’t get to the line very often, by the way. In fact, he hardly got there at all, taking less than one attempt per game from the stripe.

But Bender’s appeal isn’t about what he is right now; it’s rooted in what he could become with time. There’s a reason why all 30 NBA teams sent someone to watch him play this year, according to DraftExpress. Investing in him could yield a significant return. Also, dude’s name is Dragan Bender. He was destined to become a pro athlete or conquer King’s Landing. Either way, good things ahead.

Strengths
Bender has been on the NBA’s projection radar for a while now. He’s worked hard to develop his shooting. Initially thought of as a non-shooter with wonky mechanics, Bender changed his stroke. It’s more compact and efficient now. Despite the small sample size, Bender had a 54.1 true shooting percentage and a 51.4 effective field goal percentage through 38 games this season.

He could pass more, but when he does he’s pretty savvy — particularly with the full-court outlet pass. Defensively, he’s not a rim protector, but he has a long wingspan (7-2) that should help him be a good pick-and-roll defender with time. In the increasingly switch-everything NBA, that’s a plus.

Also, did we mention his name is Dragan Bender? Donald Bender works in Croatian finance. Dave Bender has a nice B&B on Hvar Island. Dragan Bender is a potential NBA star.

Weaknesses
He’s reportedly put on some weight recently and worked hard to develop a better base, but he’s 7-1 and 225 pounds. Someone needs to feed him lots of sandwiches and protein shakes. Adding muscle for the long-slog NBA season will be important.

In addition to having a still-developing body and skill set, he hasn’t faced top-level international competition yet on a regular basis. He needs minutes against the best in the world, and in order to get those minutes he’ll have to refine his game – particularly his ball-handling and driving, which are still works in progress.

Unlike some other recent NBA imports (Nikola Mirotic and Kristaps Porzingis among them), it’s probably going to take a while before Bender can be a consistent contributor in the league. Any team that takes him has to acknowledge the inherent time commitment.

How he’d fit with the Sixers 
If we’re talking about how he’d fit with the Sixers, who had a long-term plan and weren’t in a hurry to rush anything, the Sixers who embarked on an open-ended journey with no fixed timetable or end point, you could make a case for Bender (but not with the first overall pick). Five or seven years from now, Bender could be a polished product – an outside shooting threat with, perhaps, an expanded offensive game that allows him to put the ball on the floor and optimize his passing and scoring. You could imagine him growing defensively and creating mismatch problems. You could envision it – over time.

The question is whether these Sixers, who keep talking about transitioning from the rebuild into whatever comes next, are about to scrap the slow-and-low approach to cooking their roster in favor of adding on-court heat and off-court PR sizzle. If that’s the case, Bender wouldn’t fit well at all. Not to mention that taking Bender means adding another body to an already clogged frontcourt.

NBA comparison
Lots of people have drawn a parallel between Bender and Porzingis. That’s the easy, reflexive comparison. Both are tall, lanky stretch fours from a not dissimilar region of the world. But really that’s unfair to Bender. Porzingis declared for the NBA draft back in 2014, only to withdraw his name and wait until last year. The wait helped elevate him to more of a known commodity. At that point, he had played three seasons for Sevilla of Liga ACB in Spain, one of the best leagues in Europe that features some of the premiere international talent. Bender isn’t there yet in terms of experience, and their games aren’t one-to-one equivelants anyway. Bender might ultimately shake out as something closer to Andrei Kirilenko (if he can improve his handle) or Nikola Mirotic.

Draft projection
Top five. If he lasts any longer, it will be a surprise.

Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

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Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

As the Western Conference Finals are taking place in Oakland, the Sixers are looking for new talent of their own in California.

This week, members of the Sixers' front office are attending pre-draft workouts organized through multiple agencies, including BDA Sports Management, CAA Sports, Landmark Sports Agency, Octagon and Wasserman Media Group.

While the Sixers hold the No. 1 pick, these workouts are opportunities for them to evaluate players that could be fits for their 24th and 26th selections.

On Thursday, the list of workout participants included projected first-rounders Deyonta Davis (Michigan State) and Cheik Diallo (Kansas), according to the Philadelphia Inquirer

The scouting process takes NBA teams coast to coast. Earlier this week, the Sixers reportedly attended a private workout with Excel Sports Management in New York City, in which Brandon Ingram and Jamal Murray participated.

The Sixers have held two workouts at their own practice facility, bringing in a total of 12 prospects thus far.

As the draft nears, 57 early-entry candidates withdrew their names from the 2016 draft.

NBA Playoffs: Stephen Curry, Warriors fight off elimination

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NBA Playoffs: Stephen Curry, Warriors fight off elimination

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND, Calif. -- "We ain't going home! We're not going home!" Stephen Curry screamed at the top of his lungs.

No, his Golden State Warriors are going back to Oklahoma City, after keeping their title reign and the winningest season in NBA history alive for at least one more game.

Curry scored 31 points, raising his arms in the early moments to fire up Golden State's raucous crowd, and the defending champions staved off elimination with a 120-111 victory over the Thunder on Thursday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.

"We just did what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to win at home," Curry said. "We know what we still have to do going forward. ... We knew if we didn't win we were going home. There's no other motivation you need."

For all the speculation about the current state of Curry's beat-up body -- that troublesome ankle, sore knee or tender elbow -- he did it all.

"I thought he looked like 91 percent," coach Steve Kerr cracked. "He came out and played a really good game. That's all I can tell you. He's going to compete every night. He had an excellent night and helped us get it done."

Led by Curry, the Warriors looked like their old winning selves again.

The MVP made a snazzy layup late and dished out six assists, while Klay Thompson added 27 points as Golden State sent the best the best-of-seven series back to Oklahoma City for Game 6 on Saturday night. The Warriors trail 3-2 and are trying to become just the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 deficit.

"None of us want to go home," Thompson said. "We're having too much fun out there."

Kevin Durant scored 40 points and Russell Westbrook added 31 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and five steals for the Thunder, trying for the fifth NBA Finals appearance in franchise history and first championship since moving from Seattle.

The record-setting, 73-win Warriors, coming off their first back-to-back defeats all season, had been blown out in two losses at Oklahoma City by a combined 52 points.

"We have to take that game and travel," Curry said of keeping momentum.

Durant's 3-pointer with 4:34 left got the Thunder within 103-98, then Curry answered with a three-point play.

Curry scored seven points in a 58-second stretch of the second quarter and hit more big shots late, but the Thunder didn't go away easily.

"I liked our will, I liked our fight," Kerr said. "We were embarrassed in OKC the last couple games."

Trailing 58-50 at halftime, Oklahoma City came out of the break with a 9-2 run. Westbrook's 3-pointer with 6:06 left in the third put Oklahoma City ahead 68-67 for its first lead of the night. But Golden State led 81-77 going into the fourth and began the final period with an 8-0 burst.

"We didn't shoot a particularly good percentage when we got into the lane and got into the deep paint," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "We had our opportunities."

Curry shot 9 for 20 and also had five steals, while Thompson had his 11th 20-point game for the second straight postseason despite shooting 2 for 9 from 3-point range. After struggling the past two games, Draymond Green had 11 points and 13 rebounds a day after receiving some encouraging words from Kobe Bryant on the phone.

"We really relied on the entire team tonight, which is when we're at our best," Curry said.

Kerr figured his Warriors might have an edge against the percentages of teams having trailed 3-1 because they're the defending champs and were playing at home, where they have been nearly unbeatable.

He wasn't surprised to see this team respond so well.

"We played with great desperation," Kerr said. "I knew how we would play. This is a championship team."

Kerr called for center Andrew Bogut to do more and the 7-footer delivered with a playoff career-high 15 points and 14 rebounds for his second double-double this postseason and seventh of his career.

Marreese Speights had a pair of three-point plays on follow shots and a 3 in the second quarter to give Golden State a nice lift off the bench. He had nine points in four minutes during that stretch and 14 points overall for his fifth double-digit scoring game this postseason.

"Their bench came in and made shots, made plays for them," Durant said. "We know we're going home. We can't relax."

Golden State made 31 of 34 free throws.

With his 1,248th career postseason point in the third, Curry passed Wilt Chamberlain (1,246) for second place on the franchise's playoff scoring list.

"That's who he is, that's what he's done, and that's what's made him a very good player," Donovan said.

Tip-ins
Thunder: The franchise lost in the finals in 1977-78, 1995-96 to Kerr and the Chicago Bulls and in `12. ... Steven Adams sat down with his second foul at the 9:34 mark of the first quarter. The Thunder had seven fouls to Golden State's one after the first. ... Oklahoma City took Game 1 at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost only three times all season. ... The Thunder started the game 3 for 14.

Warriors: Green picked up his fifth technical of the postseason. He also has at least one steal in 16 straight playoff games. ... Golden State missed six of its first seven 3s. ... The Warriors supported Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager with "Sager Strong" T-shirts for sale to support awareness and research for leukemia and lymphoma, both blood cancers.