On Thursday night, the lights of the Wachovia Center illuminated not only some very embarrassing 76ers basketball, but also the potholes - seemingly deeper than expected - that must be filled this off-season.

A week ago, the Sixers looked poised to snag a first-round playoff series, but that hope crashed and burned, and the ashes revealed a team with an arena full of unanswered questions.

And, it seemed, a team with more drama than TNT's weeknight lineup.

Thursday night's meltdown was probably for the best, like visiting the doctor for something mild and in the process finding something serious, possibly life-threatening.

This is only basketball, but what the Sixers showed in the finale of their series with the Orlando Magic - nothing - seems to be the opposite of what the team needs.

Should "interim" coach Tony DiLeo coach this team next season? Do the players believe in him? Does center Samuel Dalembert want to be here next season? Will Andre Miller re-sign? More important, should he be re-signed?

And then there is Elton Brand, who said all the right things, including how he thinks all the Sixers need is a little more focus, a little more effort, not a change in personnel. And how he is confident, after two straight seasons ended by injury, that he can be the player he once was.

But the knee-jerk reactions of reserve center Theo Ratliff and swingman Andre Iguodala only minutes after the season-ending loss appear to be a more accurate reflection of this team and its feelings. Friday afternoon's final team meeting, and final media availability, appeared, for the most part, like a well-thought-out, politically correct gathering.

Reality is revealed in the heat of the moment.

Ratliff, for one, didn't even show for Friday's meeting. Neither did Miller, which should tell you something about how they feel. Kareem Rush, who saw less court time than Hip-Hop the mascot, made a brief appearance, said it was the "toughest year of his career," and, although you "never know," said he would not be back.

No surprise.

The reality is that this team needs changes. We knew it did, we just didn't know how many.

Ratliff, in front of television cameras and writers after the game, said that the coaching staff did not address mistakes and allowed players to become comfortable with mediocrity, and when that happens, games like Thursday night happen.

DiLeo said he disagreed with everything Ratliff said.

Iguodala said, in a formal news conference, that "it's going to be a busy summer," and the team had "inner turmoil" and "mental lapses."

DiLeo said he disagreed with Iguodala's statement, too.

But it is clear that Iguodola's negative references about some of the younger players weren't directed at Thaddeus Young, who he said works hard and has his head on straight.

By Friday, Iguodala had downgraded from predicting a busy off-season to suggesting the team needed "tweaking" - just like any franchise looking to improve.

No one would name names of out-the-door teammates, and no one seemed eager to jump on the DiLeo bandwagon. Endorsement for a DiLeo extension seemed lukewarm and forced.

Iguodala refused to give his opinion.

Donyell Marshall said DiLeo did well, given the circumstances.

So what needs to happen?

Consider shifting DiLeo back to the front office. Hire a coach that might encourage this city to take notice. There is little doubt that DiLeo knows X's and O's, but there is a question mark - given Ratliff's words - that he can coach this team rather than just being the guy who stands in that spot.

Former Wizards coach Eddie Jordan's name has been thrown around. He worked for Ed Stefanski with the Nets.

Some sources close to the team say the Sixers need a coach who commands respect, is a former player but not a player's coach, and is more strict than former Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks. Someone similar in style to Pistons coach Michael Curry.

Dalembert's contract is almost untradeable, but it feels as if his time anchoring this defense has ended.

After the Sixers' Game 1 victory in Orlando - perhaps the most uplifting, emotional win of the season - the team practiced at a local Orlando sports complex. The night before, Dalembert had not played in the fourth quarter. Translation? He was a non-factor in the buzzer-beating victory.

As the players pulled off their flip-flops and tied their sneakers, all sat together, joking and talking, except Dalembert, who sat about 20 yards away, his headphones on, engrossed not in his team, but in his BlackBerry.

On Friday, Dalembert refused to admit he wants out, but his actions throughout the season - including a trade request at the all-star break - seem to say otherwise.

Miller did not attend Friday's season-ending team meeting. After Thursday's loss, he said he would wait to see whom the Sixers select in June's NBA draft before making a decision.

Miller says he cares only that he "has a job."

Initially, Miller's absence to the team meeting seemed to indicate his desire to sign elsewhere, but his agent has since reassured his client wants to remain a Sixer. Would Miller's return be best for this team?"

This team says its identity is fastbreaking, fueled by defense, but Miller is a poor on-ball defender, a guy who does what he can on the weak-side, but more often than not leaves his team in a rotational scramble.

Thursday was embarrassing and disheartening, but no matter what words the Sixers have said since, nothing was more revealing than what we saw on the court.

Inside the Sixers:

Read Kate Fagan's 76ers blog, Deep Sixer, at http://go.philly.com/sports.

Blog response of the week

Posted by jthomas4004:40 a.m., 05/01/2009

They made me for the first time in 43 years embarrassed to be a Sixer fan!!! Not because they got beat . . . but because of the lack of heart they showed!! If I'm Andre Miller, I'm outta here!! I wouldn't blame him one bit.EndText

Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at 856-779-3844 or kfagan@phillynews.com.