THE RULES OF engagement didn't come down from a mountaintop, didn't come etched in calligraphy, sealed on parchment. The way Eddie Jordan remembers it, the basic precepts of the Princeton offense were handed to him "on an old piece of paper, a place mat from a bar/diner in New Jersey."
They came from Pete Carril, the old Princeton coach who designed, developed and refined the motion offense that involves crisp passing, smart decisions and a series of screens and backdoor cuts to the basket. Carril was never one to be scientific, but he remains a unique, innovative figure in basketball.
The rules of engagement, Carril insisted, came from his bar buddies over several rounds of beer and conversation. Jordan had had success playing for Rutgers against Princeton in the 1970s, and absorbed all he could while he and Carril were together on the staff of the Sacramento Kings.
"He gave me all those rules from his bar friends," recalled Jordan, officially introduced yesterday as the coach of the 76ers. "They're the same rules I use."
They are the rules the Sixers will come to understand. Forget the fashionable numbered positioning of players, with a center, a power forward, small forward, point guard and shooting guard. Jordan uses the more traditional system of two guards, two forwards and a center.
"It's very easy to learn; it's harder to coach," Jordan said. "That's why Ed [president/general manager Ed Stefanski] paid me the money. There are so many parts that it's consistent."
(The money, by the way, has been reported as $8.1 million over 3 years. Jordan also has a remaining $2 million coming from Washington, which fired him with a year remaining on his contract there.)
The intimation always has been that Carril's offense, in its purest form, can't succeed in the NBA, that it needs to be revised and adjusted.
"It's 6 seconds less than the [college] 30-second shot clock," Jordan said. "That's about it."
At either level, he said it can work with a specific play call or within the flow of the game. In any case, the players have the responsibility of helping one another. Carril has described the current Los Angeles Lakers as "Princeton personified."
"You help your teammates first," Jordan said. "That's the epitome of basketball. No matter how much of an all-star you may be, no matter how good you may be, you help your teammates first."
He made that clear to Andre Iguodala over dinner Sunday night, referencing the 1982 Lakers championship team he played on with the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson.
"I think he has a great feel for the players," Iguodala said. "There have been a lot of questions about Elton [Brand] and myself, and a young team. He explained it best by saying he played with 'Showtime,' when Kareem was winding down his career but they still found a way to implement him."
Jordan's basic message to the players - Iguodala, Willie Green and Jason Smith attended yesterday's press conference - was that there would be a specific system in place, and that they all had a primary responsibility to learn the techniques and nuances and to do whatever they could to help their teammates succeed.
And never mind that the majority of Sixers Nation - the e-mailers and texters, the ones who angrily have called the team's offices - seemed to want just about anybody but Jordan as the coach.
"The proof will be in the pudding," Jordan said. "When they see us play unselfish, hard basketball, when they see our team play harder, smarter, longer than our opponent, they'll be satisfied."
Jordan's message comes on the heels of the one Stefanski delivered at the close-out meeting after the Sixers fell terribly flat in a Game 6 elimination loss to the Orlando Magic, who were missing three starters.
Never mind Game 6, Stefanski told them. Remember Game 4.
The Sixers were up, 2-1, in the best-of-seven series. Had they won Game 4, they would have had, in Stefanski's words, "a stranglehold on the series." Instead, they lost on a last-second shot by Hedo Turkoglu. We'll never know what might have happened in a Game 7, but we do know the Sixers were humbled and frustrated and that the Magic has vaulted into the Finals against the Lakers.
"Game 6 is still in my stomach," Stefanski said. "I told everybody, every time you shoot a jump shot, lift a weight, you've got to remember [Game 4]. Part of [Jordan's] job and my job is to get over that Game 4."
Jordan already has specific roles in mind for the comebacking Brand and Smith. He sounded as if he would very much prefer to have unrestricted free agent Andre Miller return. And he sounded equally prepared to move forward with however the roster finally comes together.
"You can't replace Andre Miller with a rookie, that's for sure, with a draft choice," he said. "What wins in the league is talent, toughness and experience, and you like to have character. This offense helps teams that don't have a prototypical point guard. We can share the ball in the backcourt."
Jordan repeatedly mentioned "a good core group, future stars in waiting, the value of the players having been in the playoffs the last two seasons.
"Now," he said, "it's time to go uptown." *
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