WASHINGTON - Tony DiLeo made his coaching debut Dec. 13 against the Washington Wizards. Just before tipoff, Ed Tapscott, who was coaching in only his 10th game since replacing the fired Eddie Jordan, walked down to say hello.
"I asked him for some advice," DiLeo recalled before the 76ers beat Wizards again, 109-103, last night in the Verizon Center. "But I forget what he said."
Well, Ed, exactly what did you tell him?
"Try to relax and enjoy it," Tapscott said. "It's always special the first time. Every time after that, it's just as hard."
Tapscott, at least, was sitting behind the bench as a player development and player programs assistant. DiLeo had been (and remains) the senior vice president of basketball operations and assistant general manager.
Neither way is any easier.
"It's very different, as you know, moving into this chair," said Tapscott, a former head coach at American University. "Even though it's only about 36 inches, it's a world away. But to be honest, I've enjoyed it."
He's not necessarily enjoying the Wizards' 4-20 record; they were 1-10 when Jordan was released. But Tapscott hasn't spent a lot of time looking at statistics.
He knows how, for example, to look past Caron Butler (21.4 points per game) and Antawn Jamison (19.9) as the NBA's highest-scoring forward duo and sixth-highest overall duo. He knows what it means to have Jamison on the court despite a strained left thumb that kept him out of the morning shootaround, and what it is like to play without starting center Brendan Haywood (torn ligament, right wrist). And neither Jordan nor Tapscott have had the high-octane Gilbert Arenas (left knee) all season.
"There are lies, big lies and statistics, and statistics can tell you whatever you want them to tell you," he said. "Seeing the chemistry of the team, that's like HD. If you just look at statistics, it's like watching black-and-white . . . [pause] . . . analog TV.
"A player like [injured Sixers forward] Elton Brand gets that connection, [that] it takes a while to come. If you just look at stats and think you know something about the team, you're watching analog television."
Tapscott also has seen enough of Brand to believe that the post-up power forward eventually will blend with the Sixers' running style, once he returns from his dislocated right shoulder. Brand was hurt in Wednesday night's victory over the Milwaukee Bucks and will be out for at least a month.
"I'm a big Elton Brand fan," Tapscott said. "One of the interesting phenomenons in all of sports is the integration of major personnel and major talent that's supposed to happen instantaneously. In a chemical game, and that's what I call basketball, without necessarily playing a scripted offense, that takes time. Elton's a good guy, a heckuva player and a hard worker. That's going to come. It just takes time."
On a somewhat lesser level, the Sixers and shooting forward Kareem Rush have yet to find a way to integrate their skills as well. Rush, added as a free agent largely because of his skill from three-point distance, has barely played; in his last seven appearances, he missed nine of 11 shots, including six of eight triples. Playing with the Indiana Pacers last season, he dropped in a career-high 102 triples.
But, despite hitting both three-pointers last night, and scoring six points in 11 minutes, 18 seconds, he hasn't been able to crack the rotation.
"We're going to try to sometime get him an opportunity," DiLeo said, "but I could not promise him when. It could be any time."
Rush had no problem finding his niche with the Pacers, where former Sixers coach Jim O'Brien has made the triple a staple of his offense.
"He allowed me to go out there and play, do what I do," said Rush, whose younger brother, Brandon, is a Pacers rookie. "He really likes the three-point shot. I got a chance to run up and down and shoot. It was a great system for me. I had a lot of fun there."
He knows Brandon enjoys it, too.
"Any player, especially a rookie, when a coach doesn't get mad at you for taking a shot, that's heaven for you," Rush said.
O'Brien spent one season coaching the Sixers, and was fired with two guaranteed seasons remaining on his contract. Rush said he has heard the stories.
"Some people don't like him," Rush said. "I didn't have any problem with him. He is who he is. You accept that or go somewhere else. He always wanted to get [the games against the Sixers] especially."
The Sixers went into last night's game tied with the Sacramento Kings as the worst three-point percentage team (30.4) in the league.
"The need is there," Rush said.
The Comcast-Spectacor Foundation is requesting that fans bring new, unopened toys to the Sixers, Flyers and Phantoms games, including tonight's Sixers game against the visiting Indiana Pacers. All toys will be forwarded to "Toys For Tots." *