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Bob Cooney: Sixers have reason for hope, despite record

This is the time of year for reflection, to look back at what has occurred over the past year and evaluate how you've lived your life personally and professionally.

Jrue Holiday drives to the basket past Sacramento Kings defender Spencer Hawes during the first half of last night's game. (AP Photo/Steve Yeater)
Jrue Holiday drives to the basket past Sacramento Kings defender Spencer Hawes during the first half of last night's game. (AP Photo/Steve Yeater)Read more

This is the time of year for reflection, to look back at what has occurred over the past year and evaluate how you've lived your life personally and professionally.

The Sixers will end 2009 with a game tonight against the Clippers in Los Angeles. To quickly reflect on this team's performance this season, one would only need to look at the dismal record. But to get a true picture, many factors need to be thrown into the process.

General manager Ed Stefanski hired Eddie Jordan as his new coach during the offseason, reuniting the two who were together in New Jersey when Jordan was an assistant while Stefanski was the GM.

The team drafted Jrue Holiday in June with the 17th overall pick, building up a young backcourt that included Lou Williams, but also paving the way for the decision not to re-sign free agent Andre Miller, who spent two-plus seasons with the club.

Earlier in the month, they also traded bullish forward Reggie Evans to Toronto for sharpshooter Jason Kapono.

But the biggest key to the team before the 2009-10 season was the status of forward Elton Brand, whom Stefanski had signed to a 5-year, $80 million contract in the summer of 2008. Brand played in only 29 games last season after suffering a separated right shoulder that ultimately required season-ending surgery. The year before, Brand had played in just eight games due to a ruptured Achilles' tendon.

Then this season began and after eight games, the Sixers had won as many as they lost. But a couple of games later, sub Marreese Speights, the key spark off the bench, injured his left knee and was out for 13 games. Three games after that, starter Williams, who was playing the best basketball of his career in a four-game span, broke his jaw and missed 12 games. That injury led to the team bringing back Allen Iverson.

So, after all of that, just where is this team?

"I haven't concluded anything with this team yet, but I will say that I'm not happy," said Stefanski. "Looking at our record, I don't think anyone would be, from myself to the players to the coaching staff. And we know the fans certainly aren't happy. This is a profession where you are graded on wins and losses. Right now, we do not have a good grade.

"But in going forward, we have to take one practice at a time and get better and take that to each game to get better. There is a broader picture of everything that goes on. We are working the phones trying to make our team better. We are scouting and getting ready for the draft. We're doing everything we can to make things better."

Certainly fans don't want to hear that. They want wins and they want them now. Stefanski knows it. He's been a lifelong Sixers fan. And he wants it to happen quicker than anyone.

"I never use the word patience," he said, "Fans don't want to hear that. We're trying to build things here. We're going to have growing pains with a new coach trying to put in new systems on both ends of the floor."

Stefanski is convinced that if the defense improves, the number on the left side of the record column will steadily change.

"In basketball you have to defend, that's the one emphasis we are stressing," he said. "All five guys on the floor have to defend. If one breaks down, the defense is in trouble. And if we defend, that will fuel our offense. We want to get turnovers and stops and get the ball out, use our athleticism and quickness."

There hasn't been a lot of running by the Sixers recently. Jordan has said that he even wanted his team to get out and go even after the other team scores. Not only have they not done that, they also don't seem to run when they could.

Running was what Stefanski saw as a major weapon of the team when he took over in December 2007. He and then-coach Maurice Cheeks came to that conclusion shortly after Stefanski returned to his hometown. So, has the GM talked to his new coach about what might make this team perform better on the floor?

"I talk to Eddie Jordan every day about what he sees and what I see and personnel. We're in this together we're all accountable - players and coaches and I'm No. 1 there. The one thing that will get us better is emphasis on the defensive end. When you're on the court, you have to defend."

Disgruntled Houston Rocket Tracy McGrady has recently stated his desire to be traded. McGrady is the league's highest-paid player this season at $22.8 million. It is the final year of his contract. Would Stefanski be interested in some kind of deal that would send a few players to Houston, get McGrady until the end of the season, then ultimately free up all that money?

Certainly Stefanski has talked with Houston, as Rocket officials have no doubt been in touch with every team. But to pull it off, one would think Sam Dalembert would have to be included. And does Houston want to take him with his big contract, which pays him about $23.5 million combined for this season and next?

Stefanski would only say that he doesn't like to talk about trades, but did say: "We're in discussion with teams on a continual basis. We do talk to teams regularly."

A decision on whether to keep Iverson, who was signed to a nonguaranteed contract that becomes guaranteed on Jan. 10, is another topic Stefanski has to address.

"We don't have to make a decision today, we still have time," Stefanski said. He then went on to praise all that Iverson has meant to the team, including his leadership and his ability to bring a calmness to a team that is still very young.

If we were betting, we'd say Iverson's contract will be picked up and he'll finish out the year. From games to practices, there just seems to be a better vibe around the team when Iverson is present. It hasn't necessarily added up to more wins, but if this team is looking at the big picture down the road, having him around the likes of Holiday and Williams and Speights and Thaddeus Young, all still so young, could do a world of good. This seems to be a much more mature Iverson than the one who was here last time.


Coming up

Tonight at Los Angeles Clippers: It will be Elton Brand's first time playing in front of a Clippers crowd since signing with the Sixers. Brand spent seven seasons with the Clips. "They'll have to wait to boo me, since I'm not starting," Brand said jokingly.

Sunday at Denver: The Nuggets hold a 13-2 record at the Pepsi Center. When the teams met on Dec. 7, the Sixers held the NBA's leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony, to just 14 points. It was the first time all season Anthony had scored under 20. Denver still won, 93-83.

Tuesday vs. Washington: The Sixers return home after a six-game road trip that included five on the West Coast. The trip started with a 105-98 loss at Washington. Afterward, coach Eddie Jordan seemed to reach a low point, especially with his team's inability to defend in the fourth quarter.

By the numbers

180: That's how many more points Sixers' opponents have scored from beyond the three-point line, going into last night's game in Sacramento. When you've lost as many close games as the Sixers have, that's quite a significant number.

12: In his six games since rejoining the Sixers, not including last night, that's how many shots per game Allen Iverson has averaged.

7: That's the average number times per game Allen Iverson has gone to the foul line. The leader before Iverson's return was Andre Iguodala, who goes 5.3 per contest.

Say what?

When the Sixers played in Washington on Dec. 22, Wizards coach Flip Saunders pulled all of his starting five during the third quarter. So upset was forward Antawn Jamison that he kicked an advertising table on his way to the bench.

Well, Saunders flipped again yesterday, but this time he took a backhanded dig at Eddie Jordan, whom the Wizards fired after 11 games last season, his sixth as the coach.

Said Saunders after his team lost, 110-98, at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder: "This team needs a mindset change. This team, for the last 5 years, has been known as one of the worst defensive teams in the league."