With freshman wunderkind Kevin Durant and his University of Texas teammates in town over the weekend for a game against Villanova, there was much talk about the 6-foot-9, do-it-all swingman winding up with a 76ers team that appears headed to the NBA draft lottery.
The Sixers, who are 11-30 and owners of the second-worst record in the league at the halfway point of their schedule, will host the New Orleans Hornets (16-23) tonight at the Wachovia Center.
"Everybody thinks that one person is going to come in and just change the whole game," said Sixers center Samuel Dalembert, who seemed annoyed at the thought. "It doesn't happen like that. In the draft, yeah, we're going to get somebody to help us out, but how much difference is that person going to make?"
With Allen Iverson and Chris Webber removed from Sixers through trade and buyout over the last several weeks, the team officially began a rebuilding phase that is centered around such young players as Dalembert, swingman Andre Iguodala, guard Willie Green and forward Kyle Korver.
Andre Miller, the eight-year NBA point guard who came to the Sixers with forward Joe Smith in the trade that sent Iverson to the Denver Nuggets, also could be in the picture over the next few seasons.
"There is a lot of talent here and a lot to work with," said Miller, who is averaging 12.6 points and 7.9 assists in 16 games with the Sixers. "Right now, you just want to get some confidence with the guys, try to finish off the season on a good note. It's going to take a while, and everybody knows that. At the same time, you never want to settle. We've got 12 guys, and we've got to step on the court and be competitive."
Don't even mention rebuilding and lottery to Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks.
After the Sixers went through a hearty practice yesterday at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Cheeks chuckled at the suggestion of some Sixers fans that the team would do better trying to make the lottery instead of messing things up by striving to win.
"From a coach's standpoint, it's never good for us to say [losing is all right]," Cheeks said. "So we go out there day by day, trying to get better, and win as many games as we possibly can. Rebuilding is a word you can use, but I'm going day by day right now. As the games come about, I'm just worrying about today. The next day, I'm trying to get us better. I think that's the reason why we went through such [a long practice today], trying to get us better for tomorrow."
Notes. The Phillies will be at the game tonight, and they will be well represented, with Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Aaron Rowand, Cole Hamels and Matt Smith on hand to participate in on-court activities at halftime.