THEY APPEARED together one last time, a final encore after the last act of the worst season in memory.
Brett Brown, the charismatic director; Thaddeus Young, the blossomed star; Michael Carter-Williams, the promising phenom. Today, the money man speaks: billionaire owner Josh Harris, for whom the Sixers are one more property on a Monopoly board.
Oddly, inexcusably, one voice will be missing: the voice of the producer of this lovable mess:
Sam Hinkie, the invisible general manager.
So far, he has generally managed to remain silent.
He destroyed every semblance of the Sixers' core, implemented an evaluation process at least partly based on analytics, the use of which apparently requires an advanced degree in mathematics, a pocket protector and a Merlin hat.
Then - poof! - Hinkie disappeared.
At midday yesterday, Hinkie had yet to complete his meetings with the players, so his absence from the season-ending handshake party was excusable.
That he is not at Harris' side today?
Certainly, Harris will endorse the job done so far by Hinkie, his handpicked Wonderboy, despite these facts:
* The Sixers began the season with four viable NBA starters but finished with just two, one of whom could ask for his walking papers in the next few weeks.
* They tied the NBA record for consecutive losses.
* And they got zero minutes of playing time from their No. 1 post player for the second year in a row.
Wisdom was sought, then, from those less-equipped to dispense it.
Young completed a heroic season uninjured but not undaunted. Selfless, hungry and nearing his peak, Young yesterday dropped the facade he has worn since the Sixers traded away three starters. He said he would insist on knowing the particulars of the Sixers' plan going forward, and, if he didn't like it, or if he was not told, he would ask to be traded.
He also intimated that a fat contract extension might help him endure more seasons of insignificance, since he and his family have become well-settled in Philadelphia during his seven NBA seasons. Young is under contract for next season, which is certain to be another 6 months of building and learning and losing, but he can opt out the following season; in fact, he wielded that option like a theatrical dagger.
"Anything's a possibility. I have a player option next year. I could ask to be traded. I could say, 'I'm all for it, I want to stick around,' " Young said. "I have to put my GM hat on . . . I've had five coaches, four GMs and two ownership groups . . . I just want to win . . . I just want to see how this draft plays out . . . It depends on where we're going and what we're trying to do . . . I'm 26 [in June]. After next season, I'll be 27. A player hits his prime in certain points of his career."
Young, as good a soldier who ever served in this town, has earned this sort of impudence. Hinkie sold off the farm but kept Young to pull the plow, to keep the rows straight, to lead the herd. Young did all of that.
Does Young deserve a preemptive extension?
Only Hinkie can say, and Hinkie's not saying anything about anything.
Did the injured knee of 2013 first-round pick Nerlens Noel heal enough so that he could have played this season? Did journeyman center Henry Sims play well enough to fit into the plans next season? Did Tony Wroten show enough control to be a backup guard? Are Hollis Thomas' rookie three-point numbers a true measure of his value?
If Young leaves, can MCW be the team's MVP?
Certainly, Brown would give anything to keep Young in Philadelphia. Young made this 19-win travesty bearable for Brown, a first-year head coach from a first-rate organization. Brown watched his San Antonio compadres win more games this season than he is likely to win in his first three; but he always had Young to control the locker room and to exhibit how a man plays in a man's league.
For instance: In the finale, Young, a 6-8 power forward, hit the floor three times in 1 minute of play in the middle of the fourth quarter.
That's an entire career's worth of hustle for Charles Barkley.
Brown yesterday called Young a gentleman for about the hundredth time this season, an homage to Young's professionalism, his class and his restraint.
Brown provided a fine example for Young.
Perhaps his presence is the product of his international coaching experience; perhaps it is inherited from his father, also a coach; perhaps he learned from Spurs coach Gregg Popovich the incorrect manner of handling people, and acted opposite.
Whatever the reason, Brown this season uniformly was elegant, honest, sincere, intelligent, engaging. Almost daily, both with his players and the press, Brown displayed a paternal patience inspiring to witness.
Yesterday was no exception, when Brown deftly dismissed an assertion that the Sixers are building solely on those magical analytics.
In that moment, Brown did Hinkie's job.
Brown did that part of Hinkie's job all season, an unnecessary burden as the team regressed into a punchline and Noel never played.
Brown never complained. He did, though, suffer.
Brown admitted yesterday that he spent tortured nights in his bed as the losses mounted, as Hinkie threw ballast overboard in pursuit of salary-cap space and draft picks. Brown's pain would disappear, he said, when he arrived at the gym the next day and found "spirited" young players eager to execute to the extent of their limited abilities; by the end, they invested "over 15,000 man-hours of development work."
Imagine if they hadn't worked so hard.
Brown might not have been able to address players' futures, but he agreed to examine the job he did. Basically, he said, the team needed to play better defense.
Generally, when asking about a worker's performance, one asks his boss.
So . . . Sam?
Oh. Right. Absent.
So, it was left to Carter-Williams to divulge that he will spend the summer working on his three-point shot, beginning it in a deeper crouch to give his stroke more energy with greater lift.
It was left to Noel to divulge that he hoped to gain 5 to 10 pounds over the summer and play at around 235.
It was left to Brown to divulge the "intricate plan," as he called it, for each individual Sixer; a "concierge" approach at offseason work that, under the supervision of coaches, will monitor body fat, diet, rest and recovery; each barbell lifted, every dumbbell dropped.
That will apply to newcomers, too.
Brown, for one, is eager to find reinforcements for the ragged squad, with a rich draft class and two picks among the first 10 in the draft, as well as five second-round gambles.
"I'm doing somersaults waiting to jump back into this thing on the next phase," Brown said.
Somewhere, surely, Hinkie was practicing his cartwheels. In private.
That might be an organizational strategy.
Brown is pleasant-looking and well-spoken, at ease in front of a crowd, flattered by a camera.
Hinkie certainly is smart, organized, and prepared; but then, so was Joe Banner.
Over a 20-year span in Philadelphia, Banner revolutionized the football business market; established a template for an era of NFL transactions; and led the Eagles franchise to its most glorious era.
Nevertheless, Banner's lack of appeal and his inability to suffer fools made him a pariah. At the first chance, Banner was run out of town on a rail.
Perhaps the Sixers are simply protecting their Wonderboy. Hinkie cannot put his foot in his mouth if he keeps his mouth shut.
The team is diminished for that.
So is Hinkie; at least, he is this week, when only one significant voice will be missing.
The only one that matters.
On Twitter: @inkstainedretch