Phil Jasner: Examining some issues as Sixers camp opens

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It's beginning to look a lot like . . . Sixers season, as Andre Iguodala gets ready for Christmas promo.

ANDRE MILLER saw a better opportunity, not to mention significantly more money, in Portland than in Philadelphia.

Hard to argue.

The Trail Blazers are trying to be NBA Western Conference contenders. The 76ers are trying to make the transition to new coach Eddie Jordan, to a less traditional way of playing the pro game. Not even the most cockeyed optimists can see them challenging Orlando, Boston and Cleveland, but some of them can see a team in the 40 to 45 victory range. Never mind what the pessimists can see.

There isn't a superstar on the roster. There is one player (Elton Brand) who has appeared in an All-Star Game. There is a projected starting point guard who hasn't started a single game at either backcourt position in four previous seasons.

But training camp is here, starting today at Saint Joseph's University. Maybe by staying local, the Sixers will get more coverage. If the question is, what should everyone watch for, here are some suggestions:

1Elton Brand

He missed most of last season with a separated shoulder, but his Achilles' tendon - torn while he was still with the Los Angeles Clippers - would seem to be more of an issue. There is some thought that this injury is similar to reconstructive knee injuries, in that it requires about a year to fully heal and then another year for the player to fully regain his skills. Brand came to the Sixers as a career 20-points, 10- rebounds guy, a two-time All-Star, but one calf seemed to be about two-thirds the size of the other and he never seemed to have the explosiveness of previous seasons. But the Sixers invested nearly $80 million in the power forward. How he comes back is crucial to whatever success they can achieve.

(To a lesser degree, but in the same category, keep an eye on Jason Smith, who missed all of last season after knee surgery. There was a point two summers ago when the coaching staff thought he could emerge as a solid change-up big man because of his ability to step out and shoot from the perimeter.)

2Lou Williams

He can score. He can be explosive. He can, at times, be effective from the perimeter. If you listen to the new head coach, there is no true point guard in the Princeton system; instead, there is a two-guard front, with both players having similar responsibilities. Still, when push comes to shove, someone on the court has to be the quarterback, has to make decisions; that hasn't been Williams' strong suit. It would, however, have made little sense to keep Miller and wait a fifth season to find out what Williams can do. Let's be fair: Miller is far more important to the Blazers than he would have been maintaining the status quo here. This is Lou's chance.

3Let's take a shot

The Sixers, in recent seasons, have been awful from three-point distance. They could not do what opponents would regularly do to them: Spread the floor with shooters and make the defense pick its poison. Now, at least, they can position Jason Kapono on one wing and, at times, Rodney Carney on the opposite wing. Kapono is an accomplished sniper; Carney, in his second stint with the Sixers, is streaky and supposedly improved.

4The coach

There's nothing mystical or magical about Jordan's pass-and-cut Princeton offense, but Jordan used it with Washington and helped make a monster of Gilbert Arenas, stars of Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler and an effective player out of center Brendan Haywood. For those (like me) who watched the legendary Pete Carril's Princeton teams, the style allowed the Tigers to compete with - and frequently defeat - opponents with greater talent.

5Andre Iguodala/

Thaddeus Young

Make them an entry, because they both played in the U.S. National Team camp, which serves as the primary pipeline to future Olympic teams. We've heard Iguodala say he has worked on ballhandling and the ability to catch-and-shoot. He can be very effective as an initiator, at exploding to the basket, but to be effective as a point forward, he has to shoot more efficiently. Young began to blossom last season, becoming one of the team's most important players, whether it's as a small forward or power forward; he could be one of the players to profit most from Jordan's system.

6Samuel Dalembert

Jordan likes to remind people that Haywood flourished in his system. Others like to remind Jordan that Dalembert was frequently unhappy and moody last season (last several seasons?). Good Sam, an excellent runner, is among the league's better shot-blockers and rebounders. Bad Sam is grumpy, looking for reasons to be unhappy (not enough touches). It's not a secret that the Sixers tried to trade him, but 2 expensive years remaining on his contract and a 15 percent trade kicker (to be paid within 30 days of joining a new team) made that impossible. It's also not a secret that he can be an important piece in the transition process.

7The rookie

Jrue Holiday is all of 19, with one season at UCLA, playing mostly out of position as a shooting guard. Sixers president/general manager Ed Stefanski said from the start that if Holiday were to earn minutes right away, it would have to be with his work on the defensive end. Early reports indicate that he was doing just that in the pre-camp pickup games at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Let's see what happens as he progresses through camp, the preseason and the real games.

Send e-mail to jasnerp@phillynews.com