WHILE THE 76ERS don't open training camp until the first week of October, head coach Doug Collins and his assistants (including Michael Curry and Aaron McKie) have been meeting regularly at the team's practice facility at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. They are getting ready for the upcoming season with a revamped roster that includes centers Andrew Bynum and Kwame Brown along with shooters Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright and Nick Young and doesn't have Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand or Lou Williams.
The Daily News recently sat in with the coaches and picked their brains as to what this season might entail.
Q: Pretty much as soon as last season was over, you stated the talent on that team had maxed out, meaning changes were going to be made. Did you envision this much change?
DC: We felt that team had reached its peak. We knew we were going to have to make changes. We knew that there were some things that we could do. We knew one of the only ways we could get any kind of cap space or get any kind of relief at all was if E.B. was amnestied. We felt we had a great draft with Moe Harkless and Arnett [Moultrie] and the one thing we talked to [owner Josh Harris] about was that in amnestying E.B., it wasn't going to free up a ton of money where you're going to hit this home run, where everybody is going to say you can go get a big free agent. We knew we could add some pieces. And the big thing was there was a lot of interest in Andre. When the opportunity to get an Andrew Bynum came about, you have to obviously do that because you can't get a low-post center of that magnitude. I think all the things we've tried to do we've accomplished, but more importantly we did it in a way that going forward this organization is not hamstrung with bad contracts, we have flexibility.
Q: Was Harkless drafted with the idea of being trade bait or did you see him fitting in with this team? He was a big piece in getting Bynum, right? (Harkless went to Orlando as part of the four-team trade).
DC: He was huge in getting the trade done. Orlando really liked our young players. They liked Nik [Vucevic, also traded to the Magic], they liked Moe Harkless. When we took Moe on the night of the draft, people asked why we were taking him. We drafted who we thought was the best player at that spot. We didn't draft him with the idea of trading him. But Orlando liked the fact that we had Nik and Moe. That they were highly coveted by Orlando gave us an opportunity to get in the mix for Andrew Bynum.
Q: Last year the goal defensively was to create turnovers and get out on the run as much as possible. This is a different team defensively, especially with a legit big man in the middle and without a premier defender in Iguodala. Will there be big changes on the defensive end?
MC: One of the things that Andre did, against the top twos and threes, was that he allowed us to play a lot of the game without having to double-team. We're going to miss that. The big thing is that our wings are going to have to step up and be good defensively. The top scorers we double a lot anyway, but a lot of times in games we could have Andre cover straight up. When you play teams head up you can defend the three-point line much better and you can also rebound better. Hopefully, if our wings can continue to improve defensively then we still should be very good defensively.
Q: What about offensively? Last year you primarily relied on the running game to get points. Now you have a center who will allow you to play more halfcourt offense. Is that the plan?
DC: No, I think you're going to see us shoot a lot of threes in transition. We're going to play through the post with Bynum. We're going to be a slashing, cutting team off of the ball in the post but at the same time we're going to have good spacing. For us, we're going to want to push the ball as much as we can, get the ball ahead and Nick and Dorell and Jrue [Holiday] and Jason
Richardson can really shoot the threes, so we want to take advantage of that, especially in the open court. You also get them out of the post when Andrew is being doubled, so we're working with him to make sure he recognizes double teams and gets the ball out to the right spots.
Q: Who is the key player for this team this season who needs to elevate his game more than anyone else?
DC: There's two, Evan [Turner] and Jrue. This is a big year for both of those guys. This is Evan's third year. He's going to be penciled in as a starter. Evan Turner is so driven to be a great player and I hope this year really is a springboard for that because he works so hard. I hope he's going to be rewarded.Jrue has a contract year coming up. It's his fourth year. I'm going to put a lot on them. I met with them and I said, the gym is yours, your voice, and you have to start leading right now. You have to start talking, in film sessions we have to speak, we have to speak the truth and we have to hold each other accountable.
Q: With all the hard work he's put in, what held Evan Turner back from breaking out last season?
DC: I just think it was due to the way our team was built. You had Dre out there and you had Jrue and the way our team was constructed you needed shooting, so Jodie [Meeks] had to play, which I know was hard for a lot of people to understand, especially when Evan Turner was the second pick in the draft. It goes back to who plays well with whom. I think the one thing with Evan is that if he can shoot the ball well enough and not get discouraged, get to where he needs to shoot it. Sometimes he works so hard and then when you miss shots, that becomes a demoralizing thing. The one thing that we've seen in the pickup games is that Evan has shown a lot of maturity. He used to have bad body language, but now he's not doing that, which is great. I wish people knew how special this kid is. He's a great kid and has a really good heart.
Q: What is your concern level with the things that have been said about Bynum's sometimes lack of maturity?
DC: I have zero concern. One thing is I never judge a man from a distance. Sometimes people want to pull out one or two things . . . but you could pull out things on all the great players in the NBA. Andrew is an incredibly well-spoken young guy. He's articulate, he's bright, he's smart and he knows the game. I think he's happy to be home. He just got a place in the suburbs here and said he loves being here on the East Coast. I think he views this as a great opportunity to be viewed as a central figure on a team every single night that's going to count on him. I think he views this as a step in his career where he really has a chance to show what he's all about. He's got a good sense of humor. I feel really good about him.
Q: When you first took this job, you talked about this being a process, of growing the organization, and that being contenders for a title wasn't in the immediate picture. Has this process moved along quicker than you thought it would?
DC: I like the pressure of expectations. I would much rather come into the season where people are expecting you to win. We as a coaching staff work very hard to instill that in our guys. As much as anything, it's the good vibes you feel in the city. That's what I love about this city, the passion, and I think it makes all of us work so hard because we want to put a product out on the court that our fans are proud of. Our talent level has gone up. I think guys know what we expect on a daily basis. When they come in, they come to work. Really, we want it to be fun for them. To me, the game of basketball is one of joy, and if you're not having fun it's hard to play it well. I think our guys do enjoy it and they like to be together.
Q: Where do you think the biggest challenge is in meshing this group together to play well?
AM: I think our communication with our guys. I get a sense that our guys don't want to step on each other's toes, and the more they take on that challenge to be committed to one another and to push one another, I think the better we'll be. We tell the guys that we're only going to go as far as you'll take us. We draw up the blueprint for the players, but they are going to be the ones who go out there and win games. We have nice guys, but I always say we need someone to turn into a dog, to get teeth into their belly. That's when we're going to take that next step. We enjoy these guys and there's nothing that they wouldn't do for you, but they have to get that mentality, that killer instinct inside of them.