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.

Sixers know Blazers 'beat our a--' but team needs to move on quickly

Sixers know Blazers 'beat our a--' but team needs to move on quickly

Well, that wasn’t pretty.

Without Joel Embiid, the Sixers were beat up on the boards, 53-33, with 19 of those 53 coming on the offensive glass. They were yet again exposed defensively in the pick-and-roll, allowing a 41-point third quarter. 

It all added up to a 130-115 beatdown by the Blazers at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday afternoon (see observations).

Missing the league’s third-leading rebounder against the league’s second-best rebounding team isn’t ideal, but the Sixers weren’t prepared to use that excuse.

“I think as a team collectively we just didn’t rebound good enough against a team like this,” Ben Simmons said. “It’s a group effort, rebounding, and I think just all of us combined, I don’t think we did enough. Obviously we didn’t do enough.”

The shame of such a dreadful effort is that it took away from one of the best performances of Simmons’ young NBA career. The All-Star made a concerted effort to attack the basket early, posting up on some of Portland’s smaller defenders.

The results were impressive: a season-high 29 points on 11 of 17 shooting, 10 assists and seven rebounds. And those numbers weren’t hollow in the sense that he was excellent from the opening tip. 

Tobias Harris (20 points) and Jimmy Butler (15 points) were also solid. It was the play of the supporting cast that hurt.

JJ Redick made just one field goal on 10 shots. The seven-point performance ended his career-high 64-game double-figure point streak.

After a fantastic game against Miami on Thursday, Boban Marjanovic was exposed mightily against the Blazers. Portland was able to pick on Marjanovic in pick-and-rolls with All-Star guard Damian Lillard and center Jusuf Nurkic. 

Whether it was Marjanovic, Amir Johnson — who oddly supplanted Jonah Bolden in the second half — or Mike Scott when the Sixers went small, it didn’t matter. Nurkic and new backup center Enes Kanter killed the Sixers, combining for 40 points and 18 rebounds.

Despite a significant offensive rebounding gap, the Sixers found themselves down by just three at halftime. Then they allowed the Blazers to shoot 63 percent in a 41-point third period.

Embiid’s absence hurts, but the Sixers had enough talent on the floor to not turn in such a poor defensive effort.

 “Clearly we miss Joel,” Harris said. “There’s no getting around that. He’s a big piece to our team, but we don’t have him right now and we have to be able to get efforts from everybody else on the team.”

In two games against Portland without Embiid, the Sixers have lost by a combined 49 points. 

What can the Sixers take away from a drubbing by the Blazers without Embiid? Not much. They're neck-and-neck with the Celtics and just behind the Pacers for the third seed in the East. 

The only thing they can really do is move on to the Pelicans — who may or may not have All-NBA big Anthony Davis in the lineup — in a road matchup on Monday night. Their focus should be there, not on Portland.

“Learn and get better from it,” Butler said. “Put it behind us. What else can you do? They beat our a-- twice.”

Butler, who was as somber as we’ve seen after a loss, was asked why this lost seemed to sting so much.

“Because they beat our a-- twice. Easily, too.”

On to New Orleans.

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Blazers 130, Sixers 115: Without Joel Embiid, Sixers beat up on glass, scoreboard

Blazers 130, Sixers 115: Without Joel Embiid, Sixers beat up on glass, scoreboard

BOX SCORE

Joel Embiid's absence was certainly felt on Saturday.

Without the All-Star center, the Sixers were beat up on the glass and on the scoreboard in a 130-115 loss to the Blazers in a matinee at the Wells Fargo Center.

This one wasn't pretty. The sold out crowd started clearing their seats with a little over five minutes left in the third.

The loss drops the Sixers to 24-8 at home and 38-22 overall.

Here are observations from the loss.

• Defense — especially from a communication standpoint with new pieces — continues to be an issue at times, but in the first half, the Sixers were solid in this one, holding Portland to 41 percent shooting. In the second half, Blazers coach Terry Stotts exposed more mismatches and the Sixers didn't have answers, letting Portland shoot 63 percent in a 41-point third quarter.

• What hurt most in the first half was the Blazers hitting the offensive glass. Portland grabbed an incredible 14 offensive rebounds before halftime. Overall, the Blazers outrebounded the Sixers, 53-33. Boban Marjanovic seems to struggle in controlling rebounds. What also hurt was when Marjanovic got in pick-and-roll situations with Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic. On those plays, Marjanovic is scrambling defensively, which hurts him on the boards.

• In general, Nurkic gave Marjanovic a hard time. Brett Brown actually went to Amir Johnson, fresh off his stint with the Delaware Blue Coats on Friday night, early in the third quarter to try to mitigate some of the defensive issues … it did not help. Brown also tried tried to go small, going with Mike Scott at the five, also with poor results. It was odd that Brown didn't go back to Jonah Bolden, who was solid defensively in the first half.

Nurkic went for 24 points and 10 rebounds and new backup Enes Kanter went for 16 points and eight rebounds.

• Things normally go well for Ben Simmons when he’s aggressive and looking for his shot early. He did so in this one and picked up where he left off against the Heat, where he punished them in the post.

He attacked Portland’s smaller guards early and often and it seemed to help him get into the flow of the game.

He also took another mid-range jumper from the left wing that was in and out. It looked like he thought about pulling up from three, but took a couple dribbles in and pulled up. In that situation, he’s probably better off taking the three and looking to get the extra point on a low-percentage shot.

Despite the loss, Simmons was good in this one, finishing with 29 points (11 of 17), 10 assists and seven rebounds. It's a shame one of his better NBA performances was wasted in a blowout.

• During the All-Star break, Simmons referred to Tobias Harris as a “silent assassin" while on ESPN’s The Jump. It’s such a perfect way to put it. There’s nothing flashy to Harris’ game, he’s just really, really good.

As much as having an experienced backup five like Boban Marjanovic can help mitigate the absence of Embiid — obviously not on Saturday — it’s even more crucial that the Sixers have another elite scorer like Harris. He’s stepped up with the All-Star center out the last two games. It wasn't enough, but he was also big, recording 20 points (8 of 14, 3 of 7 from three) and eight rebounds.

• Jimmy Butler’s aggressiveness offensively is certainly a good sign for the Sixers. He scored the first two buckets of the game for the Sixers and looked to get to the basket frequently.

The amount of body control he has in the air is insane. On one play, T.J. McConnell attempted an alley-oop but the pass was a little too high for Butler to finish. Butler was able to gather it, come down with it, dribble from underneath the basket and get an easy basket on the other side of the rim.

Butler had 15 points (5 of 9). The Sixers' three stars were all good in this one. Everyone else ... not so much.

• JJ Redick went to the All-Star break playing some of his best basketball, shooting 48 percent from three over the 11 games prior to the break. In his first two after the break, he's really struggled. He was just 4 for 12 (3 of 10 from three) on Thursday vs. Miami. Those struggles continued Saturday as Redick scored just seven points on 1 of 10 (1 of 5 from three).

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