THERE WAS NO drama at the 76ers' practice site yesterday. There wasn't a cadre of TV minicams, or even a larger than usual gathering of reporters. The drama of Saturday morning and Saturday night, with Maurice Cheeks getting fired and Tony DiLeo getting hired as the unlikely replacement, had come and gone. This was just another day at work, which is probably the way the Sixers wanted it.
The new coach had the attention of the players, who fully understood they haven't performed anywhere close to anyone's expectations, including their own. That had cost Cheeks, a man they all like and respect, his job. They had already won their first game under DiLeo, but that had come more on adrenaline and the fact that the Wizards, who earlier had replaced coach Eddie Jordan with Ed Tapscott, were off to an even more woeful start.
This, then, was the day when the Sixers began to learn what would be fresh and new, what would remain relatively the same. The rest of the coaching staff remained intact. The fresh voice belonged to DiLeo, a 19-year veteran of the organization who was an Academic All-American at La Salle University and a very successful men's and women's coach in Germany.
As the senior vice president of basketball operations and assistant general manager, DiLeo had made a habit of stepping away whenever reporters were granted access to practice. He wasn't being disrespectful; he just believed it was more important for him to keep a close, critical eye on what the players and coaches were doing. He was almost always on the road with the team; after games, he could always be seen - win or lose - pacing in the hallway adjacent to the team's locker room, usually talking on his cell phone.
Welcome to center stage, Tony.
"We know what we want to do," he said. "We are planning at practices to get better."
He made it clear that his points of emphasis included defense first, then attempting to run as much as possible, even more than the Sixers had down the stretch of last season, preferring early offense to having to revert to halfcourt sets. That, he said, would allow them to use Elton Brand - and perhaps others - more effectively in the post.
"We put in a new offense, or we tweaked an offense, so guys were not as instinctive as they were before," DiLeo said. "They're learning something new, and that'll take a little time. It got sloppy at the end, but they gave a good effort. The thing is, we've got to be able to run, and run consistently. That's what we're going to emphasize in practice."
In halfcourt sets, given the Sixers' inability to deliver three-point shots, Brand had all but become a target in the post. Teams could confidently double-team him, daring the Sixers to try to beat them from the perimeter. In DiLeo's scheme, the players have to be cognizant of crisply finishing plays, making certain the ball moves from side to side, making just as certain the players maintain movement.
"I think it'll be great, because we want to flow into an offense," he said. "If we don't have a three-on-two, two-on-one, four-on-three, then we're flowing into an early offense and we have a lot of options. One of the major options is to post up Elton before the defense gets set."
It would be difficult enough to put in offensive and defensive philosophies during training camp with a roster that has added Brand as a centerpiece, plus five other new faces. Trying to accomplish this 24 games into an 82-game schedule is quite another thing. Trying to accomplish this with someone who has never been a head coach in the league takes the assignment way beyond that.
"Almost by definition, you have the [players'] attention," said assistant coach Jim Lynam, who has been both hired and fired in midstream during his long career. "Here, the players were very fond of Maurice and feel badly this took the course that it did. Usually, the collective mind-set initially is 'C'mon, we've got to do better.'
"Tony's advantage is, he's very familiar with the league. Someone once asked me about the difficulty of a coach moving from college basketball to the NBA and I think I said something to the effect of: 'How about jumping from one side of the Grand Canyon to the other?' "
That isn't the case here. DiLeo has been directly involved in the scouting, drafting and acquiring of the players on the current roster. He has worked as an assistant coach, as a personnel specialist, as a scout, as an administrator. He's a fresh voice in the huddles, but hardly a fresh face.
"It can go either way," Andre Iguodala said. "My whole thing is, it's on everybody. We've got to get it turned around, whether there was a move or there wasn't a move. We haven't been playing up to expectations. We've just got to look at ourselves and try and get it turned around."
was scheduled to meet with reporters this morning at the Wachovia Center. President/general manager
said there would be a job for him in the organization, but it remained unclear whether Cheeks - who has a contract that extends through next season - would be interested . . .
left practice for X-rays after jamming a finger, but he is expected to be available against the Milwaukee Bucks tomorrow night. *
For more Sixers coverage, read the
Daily News' Sixers blog, Sixerville, at