Sixers' future may be lost on Byron Mullens

Sixers' future may be lost on Byron Mullens
March 9, 2014, 9:00 am
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Byron Mullens has averaged 8.0 points and 3.8 rebounds in six games with the Sixers. (USA Today Images)

Strip it down. Start over. Trade today for tomorrow. Everyone knows the plan, even if we sometimes overlook the details and the attendant sacrifices.

The journey from nowhere to somewhere will be long and difficult for the Sixers, and there’s no guarantee the organization will ever reach the desired destination. There is a guarantee, though, that many of the people who are currently part of the voyage will be cast overboard before it ends. As Brett Brown said, the Sixers must be “ruthless in our assessment of who we want to move forward with.” No mercy or favor will be showed. It is how this works.

Byron Mullens is well aware. This isn’t the first time he’s been on a team that’s drowned at the bottom of the NBA standings. He played for the Bobcats during the lockout shortened 2011-12 campaign. Charlotte won seven of their 66 games that season. It is Groundhog Day for him, only without the hilarious script and feel-good ending.

The Jazz beat the Sixers, 104-92, on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see story). The Sixers have lost 16 in a row overall and 13 straight at home.

“To be honest, it sucks,” Mullens said. “It’s the worst feeling ever to lose so many games.”

Mullens has a player option for next season. If he’s still around after that (and that’s a big and unlikely if), he’ll work somewhere else for someone else. As job security goes, that makes him one of the more fortunate Sixers. Many of the current players won’t be here next year. Some of them might not even be here next month or next week. (Early in the fourth quarter, the Sixers had four players on the court, including Mullens, who weren’t with the team to start the year.) The Sixers have gotten good at shuffling their roster. That won’t stop anytime soon. Neither will the losses, even though Brett Brown remains hopeful that the Sixers have another win in them.

“I feel like if we can buy some time, we’ll play with enough energy where we can go steal a win,” Brown said. “I think that there’s a win in the group. Maybe a few. But I go about my job every day trying to do that.”

Brown has said the losing wears on him. He called it frustrating. But Brown also knows he will be here for a while. That is, at the least, a small comfort. The guys under his command have no such assurances. They go to work knowing that they will lose now so that some other players can replace them in the not-to-distant future and win later.

Here, again, Mullens is uniquely informed about what will happen. Many of the guys he played with in Charlotte during that awful seven-win slog are no longer with the Bobcats. They have been swapped out for better pieces. Do Mullens and the other Sixers discuss that grim eventuality? Do they ask him questions about their unavoidable fates since he’s already been through it once?

“We really don’t talk about it,” Mullens said. “I don’t know if they want to ask the questions or not. We have a lot of young guys on this team. If they want to talk about it, then, yeah, I’ll talk about it. But I’m not going to bring it up.”

It must be strange sensation. They are NBA players, and yet so many of them remain so far from making it in any meaningful sense. The dream about growing up to be professional athletes is at once real and distant for them. That is the cruel reality.

“You hope to grow from it,” Mullens said. “You see where Charlotte is now. They’re in the playoff race. It’s a rebuilding kind of phase, but you have to go through it. Hopefully you get stronger in the draft process. You just have to keep the young guys heads up. Some of them, it’s their first year in the league and this is what they see.”

What they see is what the rest of us see: a team that will look so much different once it’s ready to win. Brown said he frequently reminds himself about the long-term gain versus the short-term pain. Mullens and his teammates probably don’t bother.