Philadelphia 76ers

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.

Give and Go: Who will be the Sixers' sixth man?

Give and Go: Who will be the Sixers' sixth man?

With training camp starting next week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com Sixers Insider Jessica Camerato and producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

In this edition, we discuss who should be the Sixers' sixth man going into the 2017-18 season.

Camerato
This role has become a hot topic since the Sixers finally have the pieces to put together a consistent starting five and establish a go-to sixth man. This summer I wrote an article on the starting lineup in which I projected Robert Covington to start and Dario Saric to come off the bench as the sixth man. The Sixers need Covington’s defensive presence at small forward and Ben Simmons likely will start at power forward while running the floor. Not every reader agreed in the comments section and the Saric-as-a-starter sentiment was echoed on social media. 

I still see Saric as the best fit for sixth man. This role is often filled by a starting-caliber player. Saric had 36 starts as a rookie, including all 25 games in which he played after the All-Star Break. Brett Brown wants the Sixers’ sixth man to be on the court to end games. Saric averaged more minutes (7.1) in the fourth than any other quarter last season. 

The key would be getting Saric to buy in to being the sixth man. Saric worked his entire career to be the best player he could be. He is his own toughest critic and became visibly disappointed when he had letdowns last season. There is a shift in mindset going from a starter to the first player off the bench. Saric can thrive in this role, but first he has to embrace it and not looking at it as a demotion. The sixth man can be just as valuable, if not more, than a starter. 

Haughton
With a widely projected starting lineup of Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, JJ Redick, Markelle Fultz and Simmons, the Sixers’ sixth man would appear to be a lock as Dario Saric. After all, Saric is a strong all-around player and coming off an impressive rookie season.

However, that starting five may force Brett Brown to go in a different direction with his first man off the bench.

Sure, Brown’s opening group may have a lot of firepower, but it lacks a necessity of legitimate NBA teams: a proven floor general. With Fultz and Simmons in the backcourt, the Sixers have two players that have yet to take part in an NBA regular-season game. They also will be trying to adjust to playing off the ball (Fultz) and running the team as a full-time point guard (Simmons).

That’s why I believe Brown may opt to go with Jerryd Bayless as his first reserve to combat the expected growing pains of his rookie backcourt. Bayless didn’t exactly wow Sixers fans by playing in just three contests a season ago because of torn ligaments in his wrist, but the veteran still has 513 career games under his belt (29 in the postseason) and knows how to play both guard positions.

It may not be the preferred pick, but Bayless may be the necessary choice as sixth man if the Sixers hope to achieve their goals in the upcoming campaign.

Hudrick
I know it doesn't please some Sixers fans that Saric seems destined to come off the bench, but really, it's a great sign.

Saric has proven to be a good NBA player after a strong rookie campaign, but think about it. This roster suddenly has talent. People are getting giddy and talking playoffs. Do you know what playoff teams have? Good players coming off the bench. It's not a knock on Saric as much as it's a testament to how talented this roster has become.

I will say that Matt's idea of using Bayless as the team's sixth man is interesting. Brown puts such a heavy emphasis on the point guard position. He's referred to it as the hardest position to play in the NBA. And now he's turning the keys over to a 6-foot-10 player that's never truly played the position. 

In the end, I'm going Saric. He should come in and dominate most team's second units offensively. Plus his grit and energy are perfect for the role. The Sixers just have to hope he embraces it.

Sixers Mailbag: Playoffs, winning records and restrictions

Sixers Mailbag: Playoffs, winning records and restrictions

Guess what time it is … just over a week until the start of training camp. Playoffs, winning records and restrictions are on the minds of a lot of Sixers fans. Thanks to everyone who submitted their questions with #CSNSixersMailbag. 

My prediction for this season is 43 wins. That being said, the win total has so much to do with health and restrictions.

The Sixers finished 28-54 last season. Reaching 43 wins would be a significant jump. I heavily considered their 10-5 month of January for this projection. That was the small window last season when the Sixers (finally) had a healthy group to work with and Brett Brown could coach a team, not just a revolving door of players. Based on the potential they showed during that month, a 15-win improvement is not out of the question.

I did factor in the fact the Sixers have 14 sets of back-to-backs. It remains to be seen in how many of those Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons will be cleared to compete. I would expect restrictions to be heavier at the start of the season, when the Sixers’ schedule is stacked with playoff-contending opponents. Even if the team starts out below .500, they will have the opportunity to catch up in the standings in the second half of the season when their schedule is much more Eastern Conference-heavy. 

And if you’re thinking playoffs, the Bulls grabbed the eighth seed last season with a 41-41 record. The competition in the conference has lessened and teams may be able to get into the postseason under .500. 

Good question, and one that will be a hot topic for Simmons and Embiid this season.

The team has not announced minute restrictions for Simmons, who has yet to play in an NBA game because of a right Jones fracture. That will be further evaluated during training camp and into the season. 

I would expect the Sixers to place some type of restriction on Simmons and monitor him carefully as they did with Embiid. Whether that is a limitation on minutes or consecutive games is to be determined. 

Simmons is a key piece for the Sixers’ future, not just the 2017-18 season. They will not rush into playing time just because he is cleared for game action. 

From lottery picks to postseason seedings, yes, we are talking about the playoffs before the season even begins.

The Eastern Conference is wide open for teams to move up in the standings. Trades by the Pacers, Bulls and Hawks have created the opportunity to shake up last season’s top eight. 

I made this prediction earlier in the summer and I’ll stick with it in mid-September: I am projecting the Sixers as the seventh seed in the East. That’s behind the usual five, the Cavaliers, Celtics, Wizards, Raptors and Bucks and … the Hornets jumping back into the playoffs at six. 

Of course, playoff predictions for any team, especially the Sixers, depends on health, player availability and future trades. 

Feels like a while since last season ended, right? Here are some dates to look forward to before Opening Night on Oct. 18 against the Wizards in Washington, D.C.:

Sept. 25 - Media Day

Sept. 26 - Start of training camp

Oct. 4 - First preseason home game against the Grizzlies