WHEN THINGS aren't going well for Jason Richardson on the basketball court, he doesn't need anyone to tell him. No one is more critical of his game than the 34-year-old himself. Well, except for his two sons.
Richardson tells the story of a few years ago, when he was slumping a bit while playing in Orlando. His son told Richardson he was "chillin' like a popsicle," just standing in the corner waiting for the basketball.
No doubt, Richardson was hearing from his boys recently. In the four games prior to Wednesday's win over Detroit, the 14-year vet had shot just 6-for-37 from the floor and totaled 12 points. He had missed all of his 16 three-point attempts during that time. His struggles, while somewhat expected given his 2 years away from game action after a serious knee injury and subsequent surgeries, weren't something he could put aside. So he did the only thing he knows how to do. He worked harder, tried to correct what he believed to be causing the shooting woes, and paid a visit to his head coach.
"He came to me [Tuesday] and he said, 'I want you to know that I don't want you to feel like you have to start me. I will do whatever you want me to do.' Never did I feel like this was any favor," Sixers coach Brett Brown said.
"I'm starting Jason because he helps the team. The last few games he felt like he wasn't helping the team. I just have a lot of continued respect for him and for him to talk to me and look at me and say what he said, it just sort of is another example of how he lives his life and how he acts. He doesn't go away. He puts in time, he wants to fix it and fix it he did."
Brown was referring to Richardson's effort against the Pistons in which he scored 14 points, shot 4-for-7, including 3-for-5 from three-point range. Richardson let the game come to him during his 25 minutes and showed the patience only a struggling veteran can.
"I haven't been playing well, it's not a secret," said Richardson, averaging 9.7 points in his 11 games. "I just had to let [Brown] know that. I feel like there were other guys who were playing well, playing better than me. I'm the type of player that whatever is best for the team. That's always been me and I'm always going to be that way.
"Tired legs, over-thinking, putting too much pressure on myself. You can name a lot of things [that contributes to the slump]. I'm the type of guy that I'm a perfectionist. Once I miss one shot I'm changing my shot. I've been out for 2 years and I'm still not keeping that in perspective that my legs are not going to be there, no matter how many games you play, you still have missed 2 years of basketball."
Richardson is fully aware of the situation here. He knows people are questioning why he is taking minutes away from younger players in a rebuilding process. He knows that he probably isn't one of the puzzle pieces moving forward for general manager Sam Hinkie.
But he also knows that he still has a lot to offer the game. His voice is probably the most respected in the locker room, right there with the head coach. He relishes being a mentor to young kids and, yes, he still wants to prove to himself that he can play the game that he loves at a high level.
Not only does he have to prove it to himself, but to a couple of Richardson boys as well.
"I hear it all day from my two sons," Richardson said. "I'm my own worst critic and they are second in line. They tell me to relax and just shoot the ball. To see the ball go in, that's great. I still have to put it in perspective. It's only my 11th game back. I just have to keep going out there and have fun and not put pressure on myself."
He's got a pair of boys to do that for him.
Point guard Ish Smith started on Wednesday, just the second time the 6-footer has gotten that nod in his 13 games with the team.
A career backup, Smith affords Brett Brown the luxury of having a true point guard run the team. While Isaiah Canaan had manned the role since his arrival at the trade deadline, it is clear that he is not a point guard but rather a small (6-foot) shooting guard. So enter Smith.
"He comes with a package of, as you've heard me say, just a big personality, big charisma," Brown said. "He's got an elite NBA skill in speed. There is an athleticism in him that catches me and others off guard. We want to continue to grow his point guard feel and try to identify perimeter shooters. He really has been a good pickup for us. We have no complaints. He comes with a lot to offer."
In his two starts, Smith is averaging 19 points and seven assists. He has led, or tied, the Sixers in assists in 10 of his 13 games with the team and over the past five games is averaging 14.6 points.