Data is at the center of most sports coverage these days, turning the discussion of intangibles to a breeding ground for argument. Veteran presence is a hotly-debated topic mostly because it's hard to quantify what that all-encompassing trait really means. Jason Richardson staying in Philadelphia will come down to more than experience, but it's a central theme in evaluating his place with the team.
The Sixers are on a deliberate path to success, refusing to budge from their plan for short-term fixes. That's manifested mainly through their patience and boldness in the draft, but also in their frugality in free agency. There have been no band-aids, and a scarce number of players outside of a specific age bracket.
Richardson was one of the few exceptions to the youth movement. Held over from the trade for The Seven Footer Who Shall Not Be Named, J-Rich struggled in the 19 games he appeared in during the 2014-15 season.
He wasn't starved for opportunity, but his legs clearly were not back under him yet -- the career 44 percent shooter had his worst overall shooting season of his career, and his worst season from three in over a decade. Two years out of hoops can do that to you.
If the Sixers were a team looking to do real damage next season, this would probably be a no-brainer. Replacement-level shooting would be an upgrade on what Richardson just turned in, and one-dimensional shooters can be had for next to nothing. His legs likely aren't coming back, even if a healthy offseason will give him back a little bit of the old springs.
But Philadelphia provides a unique opportunity for Richardson and the Sixers alike. For the wily veteran, it is a place where he can still feel involved with the team, something that might not be true if he were to sign the minimum to hang on with some contender. More meaningful basketball is a carrot for some guys, but the former Dunk Contest champion seems enamored with the energy of the guys he's surrounded by in Philly.
As told to Gordie Jones for CSN Philly:
I'm toward the end of my career. I'm in the twilight years, so I definitely want to win. But being here with these young guys, it gave me a newfound happiness about basketball. I just love the game all over again, seeing their dedication every day in practice, working hard, keeping their heads up.
Something about that relationship pulls at the heartstrings. The liveliness of the young guys gives him extra juice, and in turn there's so much an aging Richardson can share with the team's young guards and wings. He's worn a lot of different hats in his career; he was a member of the We Believe Warriors, the late SSOL Suns and the Dwight Howard show in Orlando. There's a lot to be learned about
adaptability optionality from the guy who went from high flier to knockdown shooter, recent swoon aside.
If the Sixers are trying to build a culture from the ground up, Richardson's presence is also a testament to how will and perseverance pay off. Collecting his checks and riding off into the sunset would have been understandable, but he worked his tail off to get back on the court. On the night of his return to action, he even took the time out to praise the guys who helped him on his journey:
For a team coping with work-ethic questions -- and training-staff clashes -- surrounding Joel Embiid, having players young and old to set the tone is a boon.
The choice may not be in Philadelphia's hands -- Richardson's deal is up and he's free to explore the open market. There would be no reason to tie up extra money in a declining player for immeasurable values, if in fact he gets a decent offer from another team.
If the price is right, however, bringing Jason Richardson back wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Sam Hinkie is calculated in player evaluation, but he isn't blind to the benefits that exist outside the numbers.