OAKLAND, Calif. - For the better part of this season, Thaddeus Young has been that boxer who has to step up in weight to get fights.
However, unlike a prizefighter who usually makes this decision in search of a bigger payday, Young has been forced to do this out of necessity, and the reward is not quite the same.
Almost on a nightly basis this season, the 6-foot-8 Young, who before the season actually talked about starting at small forward, winds up banging his body against bigger and stronger players, sometimes giving away as much as 50 pounds, because the 76ers simply don't have a better option right now.
On this road trip alone, Young has had to guard bigger and more physical players like Zach Randolph, David Lee, and J.J. Hickson. And with games coming up against the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio, it's conceivable that Young, who often plays center when the Sixers go small, could spend some time in the next few days bodying up against the likes of Dwight Howard and Tim Duncan.
Young is the ultimate willing worker. He's a coach's dream who over the summer heeded the advice of coach Doug Collins and endured long, hot days in the weight room and consumed chalky, pink protein drinks to add close to 15 pounds of muscle to his frame so that he could optimize his role with the team.
After starting just two games last season and posting one double-double, Young - who is averaging career highs in rebounds (7.3), blocks (1.0), and steals (1.8) while scoring 15.2 points per game - leads the Sixers with eight double-doubles after netting 19 points and 10 rebounds (and five steals and four assists) in the team's loss to Golden State on Friday.
Eventually he will wear down under this workload. Young could stand some help, and the perfect guy for the Sixers in this situation would be free agent Kenyon Martin.
Martin, 35 today, played last season with the Clippers. He had a somewhat testy relationship with coach Vinny Del Negro, a possible reason he's still unsigned.
I spoke with agent Andy Miller earlier this month, and Miller indicated that while Martin was once interested in playing just for a few teams, that position has changed. He also said that the Sixers had not reached out to him.
Sixers president Rod Thorn drafted Martin with the No. 1 overall pick in 2000 when he was the general manager in New Jersey, and Martin had the best years of his career with the Nets. There was no bad blood there, ever, and Martin, who's now looking for work, would likely come here on his best behavior.
Martin played 42 games last season for the Clippers, averaging 5.2 points and 4.3 rebounds in 22.4 minutes. He appeared in all 11 of the team's playoff games. Obviously, he's not the same player that he was earlier in his career - especially after having undergone microfracture surgery on both knees - but he was once one of the league's most athletic players.
More important, he plays the tough defense that Collins says he hasn't been getting consistently from the Sixers. Martin has always played with an attitude, something the Sixers are missing. He is vocal on the floor, another element that is lacking on this team, and, most significant, he can probably still provide quality minutes defensively on some of the bigger players Young is forced to deal with so often.
This is exactly why the Sixers traded for Arnett Moultrie. This is the role they have envisioned for him. But Moultrie is not ready yet, hence the vacation in the NBA Development League with the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
Adding Martin would allow the Sixers to deploy more physical lineups - say, Kwame Brown at center, Martin at power forward, and Young at small forward. Just from a versatility standpoint, this would be a boon for the Sixers.
"He's got a reputation that's good and bad," said one Sixers player, speaking anonymously. "His attitude has been an issue for him in certain places. But one thing you know is that he's going to play hard all the time, and he's going to bring emotion. I think he'd help us more than he would hurt."