Sixers brass returns to work

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Practice facilities will open today throughout the NBA, and players can interact with team personnel.(David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

OUT WITH THE Eagles' playoff hopes and the Occupy Philly participants, in with the 76ers.

Yesterday, at the team's practice facility at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, president Rod Thorn and coach Doug Collins met with the local media to do something they've been banned from doing since the NBA lockout began on July 1 - talk about their team. Because of the tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement, communication was allowed to commence between organizations and agents. Practice facilities will open today throughout the league, with players now able to interact with team personnel, such as trainers and strength and conditioning coaches. Contact with coaches, however, is still limited to "hello," according to Collins, until the new CBA is officially in place.

Some of the highlights coming out of yesterday's half-hour get-together:

* The team is eager to keep swingman Thaddeus Young, who is a restricted free agent. Young thrived under Collins last season (12.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 54.1 field goal percentage) and the coach is very fond of the 4-year lefthander. There is little doubt he is big in the plans for this season. As a restricted free agent, the Sixers can match any offer made by another team, but that also could become a problem.

"As far as we're concerned Thad is a key player for us," Thorn said. "He's a player that I think really took advantage of the coaching that he got from Doug and the other coaches on our roster and really came back to where he was 2 years ago and built on that. We love Thad. If we don't sign him and somebody else does, as long as it's reasonable, we'll definitely match it. He's a key guy for us. We definitely want to have him back."

Collins then posed the problem that could arise: "Anytime anybody has money, you worry."

Added Thorn: "And there are so many teams under the cap and a lot of them substantially."

Two other problems that could hurt the team in re-signing Young is the new Amnesty Clause, where teams can release a player, still pay him the money he's owed for that year, but the money comes off the salary cap. Also, teams have to spend at least 85 percent of the salary cap, meaning some teams might overpay a player just to reach that 85 percent.

This is probably the most interesting topic heading into the Dec. 9 start of training camp.

* Though he has been unable to converse with Evan Turner, Collins is super-hyped about how much better he thinks his second-year player will be. Why? Confidence.

"Evan, right know, thinks that he is our best player, which is great, and I want him to keep that confidence level," Collins said. "I think all that Dre [Andre Iguodala] and Evan ever heard is that those two guys couldn't play together because there wouldn't be enough spacing, we didn't have enough shooting and all. I think in the Miami [playoff] series, they had a real good feel for playing with one another. So I feel very good about Evan and Dre playing together and have another [guard] out there with either Jrue [Holiday] or Lou [Williams]. Or it could be Jodie [Meeks]. I'm going to experiment with Evan playing with the ball a little bit. In training camp, I'm going to play around with [6-11 swingman] Craig Brackins playing at the three."

* It now appears as if there will be five games on Christmas Day to open the shortened, 66-game season, as opposed to the three originally scheduled. Whether the Sixers will play in any of those five games or whether they will open the next day still isn't known.

"[The league is] going to try to get the schedule out as quickly as possible," Thorn said. "I know, from our perspective, 2 days ago they were still asking for dates in our arena."

The Wells Fargo Center annually hosts Disney On Ice over the holidays, during which the Sixers usually are on one of their western road trips. Should that part of the schedule hold true, the Sixers could open the season with as many as their first six games away from home.

"The NBA understands that it's very, very important to get the schedule out as soon as possible," Thorn said. "I see they've added two games on Christmas Day. I don't know who those games are. It's a very compact period of time to play. And obviously, because we'll be out of our arena at the end of December, chances are we're going to be starting out on the road. But they're going to get it out as quickly as possible. I would hope it will be sometime this week."

* Though he has barely had time to talk with rookie Nikola Vucevic since the team took him with the 16th overall pick in the June draft, Collins has kept a close eye on his play in Montenegro in the Eurocup league.

"I watch his games on Synergy," Collins said. "I love him, I love him. He's smart, he loves to play; got a really good feel for the game. He can really shoot the ball. He's got a nice face-up game, he can use both hands, he's got a real feel out of the post.

"What we're really going to have to work on him with is getting out on those screens [defensively], being able to get out and get back. The one game I watched, he had 21 points and 20 rebounds. He came back a game later and had 30 points and didn't miss a shot. He's playing against older players, which I think helps him."

All in all, the gathering was about what you would expect - excitement to start a new season, eagerness to build on a team that went 41-41, but improved by 14 wins from the season before.

"We're happy to be here, to get started," Thorn said. "The dealing with the agents has already started. The season is going to start in 2 or 3 weeks and we're very, very anxious to get started.

"We had a good thing going at the end of last year and we hope to keep it going this year. Obviously, we have a couple of free agents [Young and Spencer Hawes]. We have 11 players under contract, which is more than most, so we don't have as much to do there as others. We have plans that I'd rather not divulge. Hopefully, it will all come to fruition."

Collins added that he doesn't expect the team to add a lot of players.

For now, the coach is concentrating on how he's going to handle the short training camp, which he said will include two exhibition games with the Washington Wizards. He will be aware of how much he works the players in a short period of time, knowing he'll have to cut back.

 

Six shots

Doug Collins said that all has been great with new owner Joshua Harris and CEO Adam Aron. There have been improvements to the PCOM site, including a players' lounge, and improvements to the weight and film rooms . . . Collins laughed at how the schedule is 16 games shorter, reminding all about the team's 3-13 start a year ago. "That means we should go 38-28," he said.

 


For more Sixers coverage, read the Daily News' Sixers blog, Sixerville, at www.philly.com/Sixerville.