Notice how whenever the Philadelphia 76ers are missing one player in a game this season, it looks like they spend the whole game scrambling to plug up that hole (and end up leaving new holes elsewhere in the process)? It wasn't supposed to be like that this year.
This was the season we were going to finally have depth, wasn't it? I remember doing those opening night roster exercises and smiling at how the Sixers legitimately went three deep at every position. But this December, you look around at the team and when one or two guys are out, you aren't sure if there are three left that you totally trust.
Of course, there are reasons for this. We did a two-for-one trade of Nik Stauskas and Jahlil Okafor for Trevor Booker, and now Booker is out indefinitely with an ankle sprain. Furkan Kormaz busted his foot. Markelle Fultz is permanently three weeks away from being three weeks away. Other rookies are either overseas or not ready yet. A couple dings here and there and depth dissolves a lot faster than you realize.
But the Sixers' front office has also largely failed this roster in giving them vets that provide stability and reliable late-game playmaking. I don't want to be too tough on JJ Redick, who has had some spectacular fourth quarters for Philly this season, but also some miserable, fumbly, head-scratching stretch runs. Last night against the Chicago Bulls was certainly among the latter group for JJ, as he had two bad turnovers and didn't even take a shot in the final five minutes, as the Sixers choked away an eight-point lead with under four to go and ultimately lost 117-115.
The real problem is with Amir Johnson and Jerryd Bayless, who as Sean O'Connor pointed out repeatedly on Twitter last night, are being paid a combined $20 million this year and are downright unplayable at times. Johnson was leaden last night, putting up just 4 and two in 14 minutes and ultimately proving unable to hang with the ball-swinging, sweet-shooting, perimeter-focused Bulls offense. Bayless looked like he was on his way to heroism in the fourth, converting a four-point play to put Philly up nine, but then he bricked three straight wide open kill-shot triples to potentially put the game on ice (or at least on some sort of cold compression pack) and got burned badly on a crucial defensive possession in the final minute that ended in an open Bulls three.
It's been a common outcry for Sixers fans this season: How are we losing games because of our vets? For the most part, our young guys played well enough to win in this one, even late: Dario Saric in particular had his best game of the season (27 and 8) and was absolutely brilliant down the stretch, keeping the Sixers in it offense, while Ben Simmons and T.J. McConnell made countless huge plays on both sides of the ball. But Bayless and Redick got big minutes late and they largely fumbled the game away for Philly. It's been very frustrating, especially when the Sixers don't have a ton of other options to turn to: Brown's only alternatives are to play our young guys unsustainably huge minutes or look to the very end of a not-that-deep bench for unlikely relief.
Hopefully it won't have to be like this all season: Fultz's healthy return would undoubtedly help, as would at least one of Korkmaz and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot proving consistently playable. But in the meantime, it's Don't Trust Anyone Over 25, and it's on the Colangelos a little for spending so much money on veteran players who thusfar haven't been the reliable Know-How-to-Win fixtures to help our young guys reach their potential, but rather vets our prospects have to hope can just hold the line and not cost them a shot at securing the game themselves.