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.

Jahlil Okafor relieved deadline has passed; Bryan Colangelo explains why no trade

Jahlil Okafor relieved deadline has passed; Bryan Colangelo explains why no trade

Jahlil Okafor is still a Sixer.

He's not a New Orleans Pelican or a Portland Trail Blazer or a Dallas Maverick. He's not going back home to Chicago or to Indiana to play with Paul George. He's in Philly for at least the next 26 games and he's ready to get to work.

"I was happy that the trade deadline was over with and I knew where I'd be finishing the rest of the season," Okafor said. "After the past couple weeks I couldn't wait until 3 o'clock yesterday would pass, which means I wouldn't have to worry about where I would be and have to deal with all the trade rumors.

"It's a sigh of relief. I'm glad it's over with. I'm still a Sixer so I'm excited about playing tonight."

Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo on Friday spoke at length about the team's future. He's said he's planning to build around the team's "transformational players" in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

He also addressed the deal that sent Nerlens Noel to Dallas for a protected first-round pick, Justin Anderson and Andrew Bogut. With all of the rumors swirling around Okafor, there wasn't much chatter around Noel.

The biggest reason for Noel's departure is his contract. Noel is set to become a restricted free agent this summer. He's a desirable player in today's NBA as a big that can run the floor and offer elite rim protection. Okafor can't become a restricted free agent until 2019.

Colangelo said there was a market for Okafor, but he just couldn't find the right deal.

"The market dictates what’s there and interestingly given our situation with the multiple talented bigs I think it's safe to say people view us as a place to come if they are looking for a big," Colangelo said. "Several bigs were out there and available on the market. A trade went down early. (Jusuf) Nurkic going to Portland. There was some conversation with Jahlil early, some advanced discussions to the point we pulled him out of a game situation just because there was so much at stake given the terms of a proposed transaction."

It seems like Okafor has been on the trade block since the day he was drafted third overall in 2015. With Embiid's emerging as a star and Noel's being the team's longest-tenured big, it had been difficult to see Okafor's long-term fit with the Sixers.

To Okafor's credit, he's taken it all in stride. As Colangelo alluded to, he had "advanced" talks on a deal that would send Okafor to Portland. The talks got serious enough to where Okafor was held out of a win over the Heat and began the handshaking ritual of a player on the move. He was also held out of the next game in Charlotte.

Through all of it, Okafor wasn't bitter. He just quietly kept working.

"I never looked at me being shopped as a negative thing," Okafor said. "It's just part of the business... I am here so there are no hard feelings or anything like that. No, not at all.

"I never felt disconnected from the team. When I wasn't traveling with the team I was still here in the facility with [Embiid and Simmons]. I was never just at home alone or anything like that. I was still with the team. Some of the coaches would stay back so I always felt connected with the Sixers."

Okafor will get his first action of the second half of the season tonight against the Wizards. He's been dealing with knee soreness, a result of a surgery to repair a torn meniscus last March. He said Friday afternoon that he's feeling healthy after the All-Star Break and the Rising Stars Challenge.

After all the speculation and rumors, Okafor just wants to play basketball.

"I think it's something a lot of players in the NBA have to deal with," he said. "We're all basketball players. We want to play well for ourselves and for our team.

"Whatever happens in a few months, we'll see what happens then. Right now I'm just worried about playing these last 26 games and playing well for the city and playing well for the team. "

Colangelo admits mistake when classifying Joel Embiid's injury

Colangelo admits mistake when classifying Joel Embiid's injury

CAMDEN, N.J. -- In retrospect, the Sixers would have done things differently.

For more than a month, the team did not announce a timeframe for Joel Embiid's return from a left knee contusion. After he missed 14 of the last 15 games, the Sixers said on Wednesday Embiid would be out the next four games and are targeting a March 3 return.

The next day, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo addressed the lack of timetable provided. 

"We should have just said 'out indefinitely,' even though the treatment was still day to day," Colangelo said. "But the fact that there was uncertainty, I'll own that."

Embiid's injury goes back to Jan. 22 when he suffered the contusion against the Trail Blazers. After the Sixers held him out three games, he played on Jan. 27 against the Rockets and has been sidelined since.

Embiid was very candid on Thursday in expressing his displeasure of how his injury news had been shared. While he had been optimistic he would return earlier than March, citing a recovery period of less than a month, it didn't line up with the day-to-day status.

"I wasn't too happy with the way it was kind of handled before," Embiid said.

"I saw the day-to-day part. I was told that I was going to miss at least two or three weeks. So I wasn't happy with the way it was handled.

"I thought keeping my name out there was going to just like literally have people think about me all the time instead of just saying when I was going to be back. So I'm happy that they did that today and they said that I'm out for the next four games."

Colangelo addressed that timetable.

"The two-to-three week comment, I think I know where that came from," Colangelo said. "There was a lot of discussion, and despite the fact that we were saying it's day-to-day treatment and evaluation, two to three weeks may have been mentioned as a possibility of what it may be. But a possibility.

"To say that publicly may not have been the best thing at the time because I was also told sometimes it's four to six weeks for a bone bruise to resolve itself."

The lack of clarity on Embiid's return had upset Sixers fans who wanted more transparency. They had been through years of lengthy injuries, including the past two with Embiid, and were frustrated by this recent absence.

"There's never, ever been any effort to deceive fans, to mislead fans, to mislead [media]," Colangelo said. "We give the information as we're given the information. We've got very good medical care, very good medical oversight. Everything is explainable, but injuries are unpredictable is the best way I can describe it."

Embiid isn't the only player whose status was made public this week. On Friday, Colangelo also announced Ben Simmons will miss the remainder of this season. The first overall pick has been sidelined since training camp after suffering a Jones fracture in his right foot.

"There's no deceit, there's no movement toward doing anything to be dishonest here at all. It's quite simple," Colangelo said. "Injuries are a hard thing to manage. Injuries are a harder thing to manage with daily interface with the media, the public, games being played, the schedule, no practice, practice -- it's a sensitive issue. 

"And you're not talking about simple things. You're talking about complex injuries, you're talking about high-level performers and I'm calling them our stars. They're the ones everyone wants to see. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. And they're both out. Nobody is more frustrated than them."

After not committing to injury timetables, the Sixers are committing to taking a different approach. 

"It was our mistake to put out 'day-to-day' opposed to 'out indefinitely,' Colangelo said. "But that mistake will not be made again."