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Jordan: Sixers can be 'perennial playoff contender'

EDDIE JORDAN knows full well the frustration Sixers fans are feeling about the team's 20-32 record at the All-Star break. He feels it, too. But he is confident in the job he is doing and believes that, eventually, it will lead to the team becoming "a perennial playoff team."

EDDIE JORDAN knows full well the frustration Sixers fans are feeling about the team's 20-32 record at the All-Star break. He feels it, too. But he is confident in the job he is doing and believes that, eventually, it will lead to the team becoming "a perennial playoff contender."

Last night, the Daily News conducted a Q & A with the first-year coach of the Sixers.

Q. Has there been a point in the season where you thought this group of players that you inherited weren't suited to run your Princeton offense?

A. No. I think it's the right way to play basketball for anybody. There are ways to sort of get past some of the touches that normally you would go to. Like a lot of offense, it goes through the center. We've tweaked it where we've gone through our forwards a little bit more. I've done that before. And there are times when Sammy [Dalembert] needs to touch the ball and certainly when Elton's [Brand] in the game, the offense can go through him. And you find out who can run the pick-and- roll better. Jason Kidd ran good pick-and-rolls. Gilbert [Arenas] had 'isos' in the offense. Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison shot threes as part of the offense with screens. That's how you tweak the offense. That's where you tip the scales toward those strengths. And we used the pick-and-rolls for Lou [Williams]. And Andre [Iguodala] is getting some shots at the elbow and some two-man games.

When Allen [Iverson] came we scaled it back tremendously. But I always thought that, even then, I said it would be better at the All-Star break. And if you would put them out there now without Allen, they could run the offense really well.

Q. Did bringing Iverson to the team thwart the progression the team was making with your offense?

A. It gave us another road to go down because when he's out of the game, we still can run it. But when he's in the game, we can utilize his strengths, which is coming off the dribble, which I like. His ability to make plays. He would go in and get six assists at the drop of a hat. It doesn't thwart it, it just gives us another road to go down.

Q. You said when you were hired that it would be a slow process for the team to learn your systems. Did you envision that it might be this slow, a team 12 games under .500 at this point?

A. This is maybe a little bit off track, but I heard the Flyers' coach, Peter Laviolette, who came in and he talked in terms of not really knowing your players until you have them. You have to find out who can accept it, give them the learning curve. It's sort of the same thing I've learned this season. You know the players on the outside looking in. Once you're in, you see strengths and weaknesses of the players. They have to understand you and get to know you, and that's a process. I've always said it's the right way to play. My demeanor is from an encouragement standpoint; I like to encourage my players and I like to see when they get to this level, there's a time where your players have to get things done to be successful in this league. Unless you have a team that needs to go through a development stage. And I think that's where we end up being.

When I sat down and talked to [chairman Ed Snider] before the season, questions came up as to where is our leadership coming from? Well, let's see. That's a question. Is it coming from Elton, is it coming from Andre, is it coming from Lou? We also asked if Sammy can be more consistent. All these question were at the beginning of the season and we said we don't have the answers yet. But this is what we're trying to get to.

We wondered if Lou could play the point, which he did well up until he got hurt [broken jaw on Nov. 24]. Can Thad [Young] play different positions, the four, the three? We found out that he's better at four after trying him at three. Is Andre a two, is Andre a three? We wanted to go big with Elton at four and Sammy at five. All these things were question marks and we tried to get through it. And now we're finding out the strengths of our team. We know better than we did in November and December.

Q. The fans are obviously disappointed. What do they have to look forward to?

A. I can tell you this: I understand the record means a lot in professional sports, but you have to look at your team and say, 'Do they work hard?' Yeah, we work hard. We might not make a lot of threes. We may not be as physically tough at times. We may not play veteran-like basketball. We might not make great plays, but we play hard. We have great intention. We believe in effort and harmony. They're coachable. We've seen development, we've seen progress, we've seen improvement. I understand the negative part of all this. I understand it's part of what sports is. Sometimes that's what's good about sports. People have opinions and ways that they talk about things. The nuts and bolts of it is does your team have good body language? Do they try? Do you see camaraderie? And we see all of that.

Q. Could this group that you have now, if it doesn't change significantly, have a total turnaround next season?

A. I believe this group can do it, can get better and be a perennial playoff contender. I really do. You see more growth. You see a better understanding of how we want to play basketball at both ends of the floor.

I remember sitting down right at the end of our 12-game losing streak with some of our players and them saying - now this is not a knock on any other coaches - this is the first time we've been taught this sort of system, defensively and offensively. How to call the commands, how to recognize things defensively and what we're supposed to do offensively. Everything was new. People understand that not everyone is going to have a winning record, especially with the development that was needed and a new system and a new process. So, that's where we are right now. This team has never died on the floor. They're not going backwards. This is a testament to this team - we haven't been blown out. Maybe less than a handful of games. How many teams in the NBA can say that? Now, I'd rather get blown out five times and have a winning record. But we know that we're trying to find a closer, and closers are important in this league. And that's what we've been missing, a closer. How many games have we lost on a last shot?

As far as coaching, there's certain ways to evaluate coaching. I know what it is, but I'll just keep that to myself.

Q. Do you evaluate yourself?

A. Absolutely.

Q. And how do you evaluate yourself this season?

A. I don't want to give myself a grade. I say 'Do I come in being positive? Do I come in with energy? Do we pick out things as a staff to improve upon?' And we've done that. That's why we're becoming better. We have a veteran coaching staff that has gotten teams to achieve. I know that we all need to get better. I know that I need to get better as a coach. I learn that every day. But we understand the formula. We believe in the formula and that we're getting better at it.

Q. How about your rotations through the season?

A. Let me tell you about the rotation . . . We thought when we were 4-4, this team has a lot of stars, we don't have a superstar. I believe this team reminds me of the Golden State Warriors that won a championship [in 1975]. They had a star in Rick Barry, but to utilize your players is important to me as a coach. It creates and promotes harmony. It's camaraderie. We have pieces on this team that can bring something to the table, and that's why I want to play everybody. It's their job as players to say, 'I'm happy for Royal [Ivey] to play 8 minutes and I might not play 3 extra minutes.' That's why I say it promotes teamwork, because Royal is out there pressuring the ball. I like Jason Smith with his hustle game and his defense and what he's brought to the table. If they're double-teaming Elton, why not go to Jason Kapono? . . . I've played on a championship team [the 1982 Lakers]. I've played for great coaches who've used that same sort of idea. And when it came to gut-checking time, maybe you stick with eight guys. Certainly in a playoff situation that's what you do. If we had four All-Pros, then they'd be out there playing 38 minutes. *

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