When the season ended and the offseason began, Thaddeus Young met with the media. He did not meet with them in Cleveland or Indiana or Los Angeles or Miami or some other NBA outpost. He was where he has been his entire professional career: here in Philadelphia, with the Sixers.
That might not be the case much longer. It is no secret that the losses, all 63 of them, weighed on Young. He is only 25, but he has played seven long seasons for the Sixers, many of which ended without any playoff push or satisfaction. But what occurred in the first six seasons could not have prepared him for the seventh – for the losing and the rebuilding and the slog of nightly suffering.
The reflexive exchange at these day-after-the-season press gatherings is for the media to ask a player in Young’s situation if he wants to return and the player to insist that he wouldn’t dream of going elsewhere. The question was asked as expected: Do you want to be back? And then came the answer, which was not as expected.
"It's one of those things that have to be talked about," Young said at PCOM on Thursday. He added: "The biggest thing right now is, me, I just kind of want to see how this draft plays out and then get back into the room and talk a little bit more after the draft.”
It was an honest and understandable reply. Unlike Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes, Young was not granted a reprieve at the trade deadline. He was not sent to play for another team with a better shot at immediate success. He was retained.
He had a career year, posting personal bests in points, assists, steals, field goals attempted, field goals made, three-pointers attempted and three-pointers made per game. But he posted those numbers in part because he was the best option on a team that had very few. He knows it.
He also knows that Turner and Hawes got off easier. As Young put it, “It was one of those situations where you kind of felt left out a bit.” It was obvious enough that Young, like Turner and Hawes, could have been had at the deadline for the right price. But the right price was never offered by the right team.
“I think it was definitely one of those types of situations where we all were being shopped,” Young admitted.
When the shopping was over, Young did not publicly pout. He did not throw a tantrum or use the media to convey his displeasure. He remained, as ever, a professional, and he played well. For that, Young says, head coach Brett Brown thanks him regularly.
All of that is nice enough, but it means little going forward. Young is under contract next year for $9.16 million. That is a fair price for his production, but it’s not quite the bargain it once appeared to be. In the 2015 offseason, Young has a player-option that could make him a free agent -- if he’s still around.
This could unfold any number of ways. Young might like what the Sixers do in the draft. Or he could ask to be traded. Or the Sixers could trade him without asking. Or they could keep him around without giving much thought about what he wants. Or maybe he’ll stay and end up with a new contract.
“Anything is a possibility,” Young said. “I have a player-option that can be played. I can ask to be traded. I can say, ‘Hey, I’m all for it. I want to stick around.’ Or, like I said, I can see exactly how things will play out and take some time to sit back, relax and chill with my family and talk about it later in June.”
Young is approaching the point in his career where he begins thinking about how many contracts he has in front of him and how many years and whether there will be some good postseason wins to balance out all those bad regular-season losses. There is quite a bit to weigh.
If the Sixers want a veteran to contribute on the court and be a positive locker room influence, they have one in Young. He’s proven all that. But that doesn’t mean they’ll keep him. These Sixers have made it plain that they value options above all else. If it makes sense to move him at some point, they will. It is how the organization operates now, and it should not be faulted for it. Young doesn’t fault the franchise for it – which is part of why he can talk openly about his options and what’s best for him and not sound selfish.
Young, more than anything, has insisted that winning is important to him. He is a family man and the money matters, but you get the sense that the losing beats him down. How long, then, until this team is ready to win, and will it happen soon enough for him to consider staying?
“Building a team through the draft, it definitely could lead to something down the line,” Young said. “I’m not sure how far down the line.”
That’s the problem with rebuilding. Even if the blueprint makes sense, no one is ever certain when the construction will end – or who will be around to finish the job.