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5 Philadelphia 76ers Even with the world's least likely captain and a shaky second mate, this ship can sail in the playoffs

Oct. 30, 2000
Oct. 30, 2000

Table of Contents
Oct. 30, 2000

NBA Preview 2000-01

5 Philadelphia 76ers Even with the world's least likely captain and a shaky second mate, this ship can sail in the playoffs

After completing a preseason conditioning session in State
College, Pa., forward Toni Kukoc crumpled into a plastic chair
and swung his size-16 feet onto a folding table, the better to
rest his aching knees. As he talked about the upcoming season,
his first full one in Philadelphia after 6 1/2 years and three
titles with the Bulls, it was impossible not to notice the
pedigree stamped on his formidable dogs.

This is an article from the Oct. 30, 2000 issue Original Layout

"Yes, they're Mike's," he said, nodding toward his black Air
Jordans. "I like them because they're softer." Would Jordan be
proud if he knew Kukoc was wearing his shoes? "Oh, I think he
does know, I think he does," Kukoc answered with a little smile.
"And"--he paused--"I hope he would be proud."

Hope is also what the 76ers hold on to when it comes to Kukoc,
because they know he's the key to their success. If Kukoc plays
like the ring-winning Toni of old--as opposed to the 38.7% shooter
he was in last year's playoffs--prospects are greatly enhanced for
a Finals appearance for this veteran squad that took the Pacers
to six games in the 1999-2000 conference semis.

Not that general manager Billy King didn't try to tinker in the
off-season. By invoking a clause in his contract, center Matt
Geiger thwarted a trade to the Pistons, and shooting guard Allen
Iverson was nearly shipped to Detroit as well. In the end, King's
only major move was re-signing Kukoc to a four-year, $29 million
contract. Now all coach Larry Brown has to do is get the guy in
the Jordans to complement the guy in the eponymous Iversons. He's
confident he can. "Toni has to be a big contributor and take
pressure off Allen," says Brown, who admits that the chemistry
between Kukoc and the Sixers' All-Star guard was nonexistent last
season. "Remember, Toni only got here at the trading deadline,
and that's not enough time to fit in. The more he's with us, the
better he'll be."

King had also hoped to change the team's look by using the 20th
pick in the June draft on 5'11" Craig (Speedy) Claxton out of
Hofstra. Claxton quickly made friends and influenced people in
training camp--"I don't think I've seen a faster guy," Kukoc
says--and Brown planned to pair him with the 6-foot Iverson in an
all-blur backcourt. But Claxton tore his left ACL in a preseason
game on Sunday, and he'll miss the season.

The injury leaves the Sixers with but one
blink-and-you'll-miss-him guard. Renowned for being fashionably
late to practice (more than 50 times last season), Iverson kept
a low profile most of the summer. When he did emerge, he
declared he wanted to be team captain, a title Brown awarded
him. A week later Iverson released his first rap single, a
gay-bashing, misogynistic piece of bombast recorded under the
nom de fume of Jewelz. 40 Bars may have earned him street cred,
but it did little to prove he is serious about becoming a team
leader.

Another often-beleaguered Sixer--Geiger--showed up at camp in
excellent shape after spending the summer in Florida working with
Ivan Lendl's trainer. Unfortunately, the 7'1" Geiger, who missed
the first 17 games last year with a left-knee injury, reinjured
the knee 30 minutes into the first practice and will be out until
December. In his stead will be a trio of T's: Tyrone Hill, Theo
Ratliff and Todd MacCulloch, the lanky 7-footer who impressed
Brown by averaging 13.0 points and 5.1 rebounds for Team Canada
at the Sydney Games.

If the Sixers are to achieve King's stated goal of a title,
Brown must provide help for Iverson, who last year hoisted 25.6%
of the team's shots, a league high. To fill that hole, Brown
doesn't need another Jordan, but he does need an inspired
performance from the guy wearing his shoes.

--C.B.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS LOOSE CANNON After firing shots at a league-high rate last year, lurid lyricist Iverson took a few more on his rap single.

In Fact

Last season the 76ers played an NBA-leading 25 games decided by
three points or fewer, and won 17 of them, also tops in the
league.

Projected Lineup

STARTERS 1999-2000 KEY STATS
PVR*

SF Toni Kukoc 14.8 ppg 4.9 rpg 4.7 apg 1.38 spg 40.8 FG%
64

PF Tyrone Hill 12.0 ppg 9.2 rpg 0.94 spg 48.5 FG% 69.1 FT%
96

C Theo Ratliff 11.9 ppg 7.6 rpg 3.00 bpg 50.3 FG% 77.1 FT%
59

SG Allen Iverson 28.4 ppg 4.7 apg 3.8 rpg 2.06 spg 42.1 FG%
17

PG Eric Snow 7.9 ppg 7.6 apg 3.2 rpg 1.71 spg 43.0 FG%
138

BENCH 1999-2000 KEY STATS
PVR*

F George Lynch 9.6 ppg 7.8 rpg 1.8 apg 1.59 spg 46.1 FG%
151

G Aaron McKie 8.0 ppg 3.0 rpg 2.9 apg 1.32 spg 41.1 FG%
165

C Todd MacCulloch 3.7 ppg 2.6 rpg 0.66 bpg 55.3 FG% 51.9 FT%
225

C Matt Geiger 9.7 ppg 6.0 rpg 0.6 apg 44.1 FG% 77.9 FT%
235

F-C Nazr Mohammed 1.9 ppg 1.8 rpg 0.43 bpg 38.9 FG% 54.5 FT%
275

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 113)

THE BOOK
an opposing team's scout sizes up the 76ers

"It was a mistake for Allen Iverson to come to camp at only 155
pounds because he takes more hits than anybody else. Every team
goes after him. We tell our players: Anytime you've got a chance
to take a shot at him, take it. Give him an elbow, slow him up.
It's like he's a boxer--keep giving him body shots, and
eventually he's going to tire and those hands are going to come
down....You have to do that because he is too good. He's learned
from Larry Brown to continue to play even though he's
double-teamed....That's an example of why it's in Allen's best
interest to make this thing work with Larry. When Allen gets
doubled, he gives the ball up and they keep running a play to
get the ball to him again. It works because it's hard to bring
the double-team to him twice on one play....I figure this is the
make-or-break year for Allen and Larry.... If you want to beat
Philly, you have to rebound, because the Sixers' big guys really
crash the boards. They're a high-energy team."