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Monday, June 24, 2024

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Games People Play 4.19.2006

By Rick Racela

Sixers Season Disappoints Again
It’s time to say goodbye to another season of professional basketball in Philadelphia.
While holding claim to the region’s last major sports championship in 1983, the franchise has done little to inspire its dwindling and ever-apathetic fan base since.  Except for a lonely Finals appearance under odd, but genius-like Larry Brown in 2001, Philadelphia has foundered under the weight of countless poor personnel and upper management decisions.
It’s probably no coincidence that the fan-friendly and public relations conscious Pat Croce was the last beacon of hope for the Sixers.  Croce lost an ill-conceived power struggle with Ed “Mr.” Snyder and it’s been downhill since.   Croce had a way of blending difficult personalities and, most importantly, of learning from his mistakes and preventing repeats of glaring errors.
Croce’s first general manager and head coach hires were disastrous, but the former fitness and diet guru took his lumps like the stand-up guy that he is and righted the ship.  He had a way of getting new school Allen Iverson to work with old school Larry Brown, and vice versa.
Croce concentrated on concourse handshakes and customer service.  He did not mettle in basketball business unless it was necessary, like when he prevented Brown from bringing overweight and lazy Derrick Coleman back to town.
Coleman eventually came back after Croce left.  And when the former Syracuse star wasn’t injured or whining, he was too slow and exhausted to make a difference in the team’s performance.
GQ poster child Billy King, a hand-picked GM of Brown, was left with the keys when dad departed for the Pistons.  King is Duke educated, where, ironically, he was known for his smarts and his defense.  Those two traits are famously lacking in the basketball world of the City of Brotherly Love these days.
Call it bad luck.  Call it mystery.  Call it more bad personal decisions. 
Center Samuel Dalem-bert, a still raw talent, has not developed.  Kyle Korver, an overachieving marksman with a gross lack of defensive capabilities, must find his niche in the rotation, like World B. Free did in the Sixer heyday. 
Dalembert and Korver inked large, long-term contracts despite being vastly unproven.  Willie Green, a scoring machine with explosive potential, blew a tire and was denied guaranteed big bucks, for now.  He’ll have to prove himself again, here or elsewhere, next season. 
Those three, along with Andre Iguodala, were supposed to form the nucleus of the future Sixers, the post-Iverson Sixers.  But Iguodala remains a fine physical specimen who can star in dunking highlights but cannot garner consistency, especially on the offensive perimeter.
The decision to not trade Iguodala for troublesome but super-talented Ron Artest probably cost A. I. his last chance at a title run. 
Chris Webber is a smart player, a good passer and remains a decent rebounder, but the spring in his legs is long gone as evidenced by his reluctance or inability to drive the ball to the basket.  He settles for far too many jump shots.  It’s amazing he wasn’t on the injured list more often this year, but chances are he and his monster contract will be disabled often next season and the year after that.  Ouch.
Fixing broken teams is much more difficult under the NBA’s odd financial rules.  Trades must be equal financially, if not in talent.  The draft appears to be the one true means of improving, but that’s only if you’re in the ping-pong ball lottery and only if you have some idea about how to scout the European market.
 You can get lucky with a late blooming or relatively unknown international player, but that requires patience and dogged scouting, something Philadelphia has rarely demonstrated since the late Jack McMahon carried the clipboard as an assistant coach and scout.  
The only thing less patient than the Sixers is the team’s fan base.  But even the fans would give them a break if they were displaying the type of potential and tenacity that future champions demonstrate.
Maurice Cheeks, the beloved former point guard, appears overmatched as a head coach.  He often looks beaten, defeated, out of answers.  Is he tough enough to turn this team around?
 Speaking of patience, it does appear that high schooler Louis Williams has some talent.  Perhaps he’ll get more chances to show his potential next season, when he turns 19.  There’s nothing to lose, so to speak.
It’s up to King and Cheeks to chart the course.  The Sixer scouts need to find a gem in the lottery pool.  This organization, saddled with fat contracts, needs a shot of fresh talent and attitude, again.
And about Iverson.  Enough with the criticism of this guy.  He gives everything he has every game.  He puts the ball in the basket.  Whether you dislike his body art or his clothes or his early punk days, you cannot deny the man’s ability and his heart.  He’s rarely injured and he wants to win, badly.
Someday he’ll be appreciated for what he brought to the fans every night.  But until the team chemistry and effort improves, Iverson’s talent is wasted. 
Here’s hoping Mr. Snyder and Billy King have something up their sleeves aside from gold watches.

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