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Sixers have their key pieces in place

The 76ers are restacking their roster, piece by piece.

The 76ers are restacking their roster, piece by piece.

On Saturday, the Sixers practiced for the second time this season. Midway through, forward Thaddeus Young, having just signed his contract and completed his physical, jumped into practice. News broke a few minutes later that last season's starting center, Spencer Hawes, had agreed to the Sixers' qualifying offer of $4.1 million for the upcoming season.

Hawes started 81 games at center last season; he's expected to join the team for Sunday's practices. Veteran center Tony Battie has also agreed to a one-year deal to return to the Sixers. Young's contract, which he agreed to on Friday, is worth $43 million over five years.

"Thad came back looking like he didn't have any time off, which was a great addition for us," said guard Lou Williams. "It's looking like we're picking up right back where we left off."

The Sixers now have 14 players under contract for the 2011-12 season. All 14 are expected to practice on Sunday. The Sixers will practice twice on Sunday at Hagan Arena on the St. Joseph's University campus.

Sixers coach Doug Collins now has nearly every key player back from last season's team, including the top seven scorers: Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, Jodie Meeks, and Evan Turner.

If you look even further down last season's final statistics, the Sixers actually return their top 12 scorers and top 12 rebounders.

The bottom three performers from last season - Darius Songaila, Jason Kapono, and Antonio Daniels - are no longer with the team. Taking their spots are rookies Nikola Vucevic and Lavoy Allen.

The final 30 minutes of Saturday's practice were an organized scrimmage. Collins started a first unit of Holiday, Turner, Iguodala, Brand, and Vucevic, and a second unit of Williams, Meeks, Young, forward Craig Brackins, and big man Marreese Speights.

"It was fun to get back up and down with some coaching and some structure," Williams said. "Guys are locked in, we're pretty focused right now on trying to make a serious run this year."

So why should the Sixers expect to be any better than last season's 41-41 finish and first-round exit?

Collins and his guys have one word: continuity. It's something they haven't had in three years: first, coach Maurice Cheeks was fired; next, the team didn't retain interim coach Tony DiLeo; finally, coach Eddie Jordan lasted only one season.

This season will mark the first time since the beginning of the 2008-09 season that the team's key pieces were retained from one season to the next.

And if you talk to the guys inside the gym, there's a noticeable improvement.

"I think everybody understands that we have to take it up a notch to be successful," Williams explained. "We realize that we haven't got out of the first round of the playoffs and at this point that's not good enough for us. We understand that, we realize that . . . everybody is taking their opportunities very seriously."