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Bob Ford: Sixers interesting; Now they have to get better

The 76ers, as they drift into their most important off-season in a decade, have accomplished the easy part now. They have become interesting again, and, in a departure from recent history, not interesting in a dysfunctional, we-talking-'bout-practice kind of way.

The 76ers, as they drift into their most important off-season in a decade, have accomplished the easy part now. They have become interesting again, and, in a departure from recent history, not interesting in a dysfunctional, we-talking-'bout-practice kind of way.

They are interesting again for the right reasons, because they play hard, have some talent, and are easy to root for. It is a likable bunch. Everyone appears to get along. They listen to what coach Maurice Cheeks has to say - another departure from the past - and there is promise for the future.

You can put all that together, however, stir lightly, bake at 350 degrees, frost it elegantly, and the team was still 40-42 this season. Interesting, yes. Contending, no.

On its own, interesting doesn't last very long, at least not in this town. Interesting better give way to good pretty quickly or it reaches an expiration date. No one realizes this better than general manager Ed Stefanski, who says, "It's a big summer for us," and is intent on making it a successful one as well.

"We've got numerous plans in place," Stefanski said yesterday. "We meet regularly so we don't miss anything. There's a whole list. You don't know if Plan A is going to work."

Unfortunately, Stefanski can't yet share Plan A, or any of the other contingency plans he has formulated. We know the Sixers need a low-post presence and a good perimeter shooter. To fill those needs, Stefanski has some financial flexibility - the Sixers are about $11 million under the salary cap - and he has the 16th player in the draft. He also has a roster full of guys whom he might make available in trade, and he has a future first-round pick acquired for Kyle Korver to use as another possible chip.

So, yes, Stefanski has many moves he can make as he tries to accomplish his vision of constructing a team that has a number of very good parts, can push the ball on offense, can defend rabidly, and plays extremely hard between the whistles.

"I think Detroit is a very good team, with the emphasis on team. It's a team with good players," Stefanski said. "To get a team like that and play the style we like, up-tempo basketball, that would be our goal."

That's aiming high, and a very nice long-term ideal, but approaching the level of the team that dismissed the Sixers in the first round of the playoffs isn't the work of a single summer, or perhaps even a few of them.

In the short term, the Sixers just want to get closer, and if that means eliminating some members of the current core group - a core group that had a losing record, please remember - Stefanski is fine with that. He came in and moved Korver without a second thought, and anyone else on the team who thinks it can't happen to him is very wrong, good chemistry notwithstanding.

"I don't think you can get so concerned with chemistry that you don't make changes. I don't shy away from changes," Stefanski said. "The early changes I made to the team might have been good to shake things up."

Perhaps, but without Korver, the Sixers also couldn't shoot the ball from range at all. They finished last in the league for three-point shooting percentage, a deficiency that has to be addressed quickly. When the Sixers aren't on a fastbreak, they are on a fast train to a missed field goal.

In the modern NBA, $11 million doesn't go as far as it once did. Should Stefanski have to use most of that windfall to get the back-to-the-basket power forward he desperately needs, then the Sixers will have to shuffle down to Plan C or Plan D.

"If the $11 million goes to one player, we'll have to work internally for that [outside] shooting," Stefanski said.

Where it will come from is anyone's guess, however. Andre Iguodala might develop into a better shooter, Stefanski said hopefully, and Rodney Carney and Lou Williams are interesting - there's that word again - and did we mention that perhaps Iguodala might get better?

However good he gets, though, Stefanski gently suggested that Iguodala is not a No. 1 option now and may never be. "Will he get there? I don't know," Stefanski said.

Just as fascinating is Stefanski's hope that burgeoning star Thaddeus Young can develop into a slightly better ballhandler and become the regular small forward, moving aside to make room for the power forward acquisition.

If that happens, what is your first question, class? That's right. Where does Iguodala play?

History tells us it isn't shooting guard. It certainly isn't point guard. The answer might turn out to be: In another city. The possibility that Iguodala is a sign-and-trade candidate grows stronger all the time, particularly with a general manager who doesn't mind change, has a long leash with ownership, and no particular ties to the players of the past administration.

Stefanski sidesteps that one. He'd like to keep Iguodala, but "negotiations are negotiations." That's especially true with a player who already thinks his value is a lot higher than the rest of the world thinks. Here's a suggestion, Andre. When it's time to negotiate again, don't slap the playoff box scores on the desk.

But that's just one more variable in a summer that has quite a few. Stefanski will organize his plans from A to Z and do the best he can to turn this bunch into the Pistons. It should be, well, interesting. And that's a good thing to be. At least for now.