Tuesday , Oct , 19 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Philadelphia 76ers 2004-05 Season Preview

=== Philadelphia 76ers 2004-05 Season Preview ===

By Brian Gillespie, Contributing NBA Writer

2003-04 FINISH: 33-49

OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Kedrick Brown (F) – Trade with Cleveland; Josh Davis (F)
– Free Agent; Kirk Haston (F) – Free Agent; Kevin Ollie (G) – Trade with
Cleveland; Brian Skinner (F) – Free Agent; Corliss Williamson (F) – Trade with
Detroit.

OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Greg Buckner (G) – Waived; Derrick Coleman (F) –
Traded to Detroit; Zendon Hamilton (F) – Signed with Milwaukee; Amal McCaskill
(C) – Traded to Detroit; Eric Snow (G) – Traded to Cleveland.

2004 DRAFT PICKS: 1. (9) Andre Iguodala (F/G, Arizona).

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Allen Iverson, SG Willie Green, SF Glenn
Robinson, PF Kenny Thomas, C Samuel Dalembert

COACH: Jim O’Brien

(Sports Network) – The Philadelphia 76ers are set to begin a new era, again.
Philadelphia, which went just 33-49 last year and missed the postseason, has
its fourth different coach in a little over a season in Jim O’Brien. However,
unlike Randy Ayers and interim coach Chris Ford, O’Brien is here for the long
haul.

Like any other recent Sixers coach, O’Brien’s success will hinge on his
relationship with Allen Iverson. So far, so good as Iverson has already
impressed his new coach with his leadership qualities.

“It’s nice to walk out here and have Allen, from the first drill on, be
verbal,” O’Brien said. “He was challenging his teammates to get things right,
communicating on defense. His leadership has been very, very strong for this
camp.”

O’Brien, a Philadelphia native and former Boston Celtics coach, has been
handed a lot of power by Sixers President and General Manager Billy King. The
veteran coach’s input could be seen in King’s offseason moves, as the roster
was adjusted to fit his coaching style, which includes attacking offense and
solid defense.

King did what many people thought impossible, as he turned over a veteran
roster which appeared immovable. The key deal which King pulled off was
sending long time point guard Eric Snow to Cleveland for young forward Kedrick
Brown and journeyman point guard Kevin Ollie. Although neither Brown nor Ollie
are stars, they have much shorter contracts than Snow, whose style didn’t
really fit into O’Brien’s offensive philosophy.

With Snow’s exit, O’Brien has officially moved Iverson to the point. Last
season, Ayers planned on playing Iverson at the point more often, but the
mixed role didn’t work. Iverson now has a clear role in the offense and will
be able to get his hands on the ball much quicker.

After jettisoning Snow, King went on to coax Detroit into sending the Sixers
gritty and talented power forward Corliss Williamson in exchange for forwards
Derrick Coleman and Amal McCaskill. It was a very good deal for Philly, as
Coleman was well past his prime and essentially on his last legs while
McCaskill wasn’t going to be re-signed.

The draft worked out like a charm for the Sixers as well, considering their
main target in Arizona forward Andre Iguodala fell to them at the ninth
selection. Iguodala is extremely versatile with excellent hands and the
ability to play four different positions. His defensive prowess will meld well
in O’Brien’s system.

King tweaked the roster in a few other ways, buying out guard Greg Buckner and
inking forward/center Brian Skinner to a two-year deal. Skinner is back for
his second stint with the Sixers. Free agent swingman Josh Davis might also
make the team.

“I wanted to get more athletic,” King said. “That’s the key in any sport. You
look at the Eagles. They’re very athletic. You look at Detroit [Pistons] in
the Finals, and they were more athletic than the Lakers. In basketball,
especially, athleticism can help you overcome a lack of shooting, for example.
The year we went to the Finals, I think we were just more athletic.”

All told, King did a solid job in transferring the roster for O’Brien’s
benefit. With Iverson at the point, the Sixers should be able to play
O’Brien’s uptempo style while not having a weak link on the offensive end.

BACKCOURT

Iverson and second-year shooting guard Willie Green will likely be the
starting backcourt for the Sixers. Although Iverson will be relied on to
handle the ball more often, O’Brien utilizes a system which leans on many
different players to advance the ball.

With injuries piling up over the years, Iverson, who missed a career-high 34
games last season, hasn’t been the same player. This season, Iverson will
likely register a career-high in assists as he will be relied upon to
distribute the ball more often. O’Brien has been doing a lot of individual
work with Iverson to teach him the subtleties of the point guard position.

“It’s kind of harder than I thought it was,” Iverson said of learning the new
position. “But I’m making it harder for myself. I’m trying so hard to play
like a point guard instead of playing like I usually play, and that’s not what
the coaching staff wants me to do.”

O’Brien stresses a drive-and-kick rotation of the ball, which opens up the
perimeter. Green, a surprising second-year talent, should get plenty of open
looks thanks to Iverson. Last season, the second round pick out of Detroit
took full advantage of his playing time when the season was already on ice,
averaging 14.6 points per contest in April.

“You’ve got to go out there and just give it your all,” Green said. “You’ve
got to compete. You can’t let being a rookie faze you. You’re going to make
some mistakes, but you have to forget about the mistakes and continue to make
progress.”

Depth in the backcourt will be provided by Aaron McKie, John Salmons, Ollie
and Iguodala, McKie, the Sixers’ top reserve for years, must have his minutes
limited for him to be effective. The 32-year-old should play no more than 20
minutes per game, opening the door for Salmons to make his mark in a contract
year. Salmons, who is quite capable of handling the ball and scoring, didn’t
have a great Summer.

FRONTCOURT

The Sixers had high hopes for forward Glenn Robinson last season, but it got
ugly in a hurry. Robinson suffered an early season ankle injury which slowed
him throughout November and things never meshed between him and Iverson. The
“Big Dog”, who missed a career-high 39 games, averaged a career-low 16.6
points while playing little to no defense last season. Although, Robinson
struggled mightily last year, O’Brien has high hopes for the veteran.

“I think sometimes when you have a guy that has had the type of career that
Glenn has had, you’ve got to throw out certain years,” O’Brien said.

Along with Robinson, the Sixers will have steadily improving power forward
Kenny Thomas and upstart center Samuel Dalembert in the backcourt. Thomas
became the team’s go-to-guy while Iverson and Robinson were hurt last year,
averaging 18 points and 11 boards per game. For the season, Thomas was one of
only 11 players in the NBA to average a double-double (13.6 points, 10.6
rebounds).

Meanwhile, Dalembert had a breakout year, becoming a force in the paint for
opposing offensive players to face. Dalembert swatted 189 shots, averaging 2.3
blocks per game (9th-NBA) while posting eight points and 7.7 rebounds per
contest. The native of Haiti still has plenty to learn about the game and a
huge upside.

Philadelphia will likely turn to Williamson first off the bench. The
University of Arkansas product is a hard-nosed player that will provide the
Sixers’ with a consistent post-up threat and a solid rebounder. Williamson,
the 2002 Sixth Man of the Year for Detroit, has the moves to beat much bigger
players in the post.

“We’ve been very clear about wanting to space the court,” O’Brien said. “In
order to do that, you have to have an inside attack. With Corliss, we have
really taken a leap forward as far as our inside presence.”

The Sixers will lean on Skinner to carry some of the load off the pine as
well. Skinner earned his stripes in Milwaukee last season, tallying a career-
high 10.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per contest. Another option at the power
forward position will be Marc Jackson, who is also coming off an injury-
plagued campaign. Jackson is a very good rebounder and can stretch the defense
with his shooting range.

Spelling Robinson at the three will be Iguodala and three-point specialist
Kyle Korver. Iguodala will be in the game when the Sixers need a defensive
stop, while Korver will be planted outside the arch awaiting open jumpers.
Last season, Korver hit 81-of-207 (.391) three-point shots.

OUTLOOK

The early returns have been good for the Sixers, as they got through training
camp without a single injury. Iverson and O’Brien have been working together
brilliantly, making this team look much better than many would have thought a
few months ago. With the NBA realignment, Philadelphia lucked out with
Shaquille O’Neal and the Miami Heat migrating to the Southeast Division.
Although things look good, it will be interesting to see how this team does
during the low points of the year. Don’t be surprised to see them battling New
York for the Atlantic Division crown.

PHI