At first glance, Thaddeus Young's sprained right ankle - requiring two to three weeks of rehabilitation - appeared to create a gap in the 76ers' lineup they could neither fill nor hurdle.
As word came that Young would not pop right up, as he has done this season after many spinning, off-balance drives to the hoop, the Sixers seemed to walk toward the void and peer into the darkness.
They have faced this before, just not on the last bend of the race, not two weeks before the finish line, not while racing, nip-and-tuck, for the crucial fifth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
After center Jason Smith tore his anterior cruciate ligament in July, the Sixers signed veteran Theo Ratliff.
After Elton Brand tumbled to the court with a dislocated right shoulder, then endured a failed comeback attempt, the Sixers held a news conference, admitted their disappointment, but pointed with confidence toward the guys in the locker room.
The roster went from 14 healthy players to 13 to 12 and then, as Young clutched his wrenched ankle, it hit 11.
The day after Young's injury, the Sixers reacted differently from before: They said they were seriously considering signing a free agent to a 10-day contract.
At first, it seemed like the right move. Everyone nodded as if to say: It must be done; 11 players is too risky.
That might be true. Playing with 11 eligible players is a little like skipping the oil change in your car: You'll probably be fine, but do it too often and you might face an uncomfortable situation.
Like foul trouble.
Now we're a few days removed from Young's injury. The initial rush to action - they must do something - has subsided.
And as Young settles into a rehabilitation routine - ice, stimulation, and resistance movements - the best answer for the Sixers might already be inside their locker room.
If Young can actually return in two weeks, his injury might boost the Sixers' effectiveness.
All season, Sixers fans have worried about what options will work in the playoffs. All season, we've talked about the slow-down, postseason style and wondered if the Sixers possessed the half-court options to contend in a seven-game series.
Exit Young. Enter new starter Reggie Evans, Marreese Speights, Donyell Marshall, possibly even Kareem Rush.
Without Young, the Sixers' offense is altered. No longer do they have a small forward playing power forward, who steps out to the three-point line and swings the ball, creating a quick, athletic lineup. Now they have Evans, built like a pickup truck, banging like bumper cars down on the block; he has few perimeter responsibilities, but is charged with creating some sort of post presence, if only chasing down every rebound. Then they have Speights, his skills similar to Young's, but still unique: He'll shoot the 18-footer, climb an invisible ladder to dunk any lofted pass, and provide an in-between game of turnaround jumper and floater in the lane.
Young's minutes might also fall to Marshall, as a few of them did in Thursday night's win over the Milwaukee Bucks - or to Rush, if the Sixers get caught in foul trouble, move Andre Iguodala to the four-spot, and need a three-guard lineup.
These next two weeks could be like a screen test for the movie Bench Options That Might Work in the Playoffs.
Sure, bringing in a free agent on a 10-day contract is the safe, responsible move. But it's not without its own drawbacks. The guy wouldn't know the system, wouldn't know the Sixers like to guard pick-and-rolls this way, wouldn't know Iguodala likes to break with speed into the open court and needs a straight lane to the hoop cleared, wouldn't know Speights actually can get the alley-oop pass that looks as if it should sail out of bounds.
How much energy would the assimilation take? And for what? Chances are Sixers coach Tony DiLeo would distribute game time to a guy he's watched all season, a guy he has learned to trust. And there is almost no practice time remaining in the season, so the Sixers don't need a practice body.
Adding a random player to a team that has spent a season together - countless hours in the gym, in the locker room, on the plane - is, at this juncture, like adding a stranger to your dinner table.
You would spend too much of your time making sure he's comfortable.
Inside the Sixers:
Read Kate Fagan's 76ers blog, Deep Sixer, at http://go.philly.com/sports.
Blog response of the week
Subject: A tad rad without Thad
Posted by K,M 01:12 a.m., 04/01/2009
Tough one. It really felt like Thad was coming into his own lately. You knew when Marshall and Ratliff had to carry him off that it wasn't good. From the replay, it looked like even the knee buckled out a bit, so it's good news that were just talking about an ankle sprain. I agree they are likely looking at keeping him out till the playoffs at any rate. So it looks like Speights will get some heavy minutes, if not an outright start. Look to see a lot more of Ratliff, Reggie, and Marshall. This will be an interesting test of this team's character.EndText