Chris Webber will happily answer any question you want, just so long as it has nothing to do with his balky left knee, his former coach, his relationship with Allen Iverson or pretty much anything else that has to do with his forgettable 2004--05 season. "Worst situation I've ever been in in basketball," says Webber. How bad was it? "The timeout," deadpans Webber, referring to his infamous blunder in the 1993 NCAA championship game, "times 50."
After arriving from Sacramento in a midseason trade, Webber was viewed by many as the missing piece in the 76ers' postseason puzzle--a dominating power forward whose skills would complement those of Iverson, Philly's electric point guard. But Webber struggled in his role as Iverson's sidekick and never got on the same page with coach Jim O'Brien. A low-post player most of his career, Webber often had to set up on the wing or in the high post in O'Brien's offense, a result of the staff's attempt to mask Webber's limited mobility. His numbers tailed off from 21.3 points and 9.7 rebounds with the Kings to 15.6 and 7.9 in 21 games with the 76ers. "To be a Player of the Month and a day later be perceived as a lame horse," says Webber, "that was hard to take."
O'Brien is gone, fired after one season, and a healthy, happy Webber will be crucial for a team whose window of opportunity is closing. Webber is 32 and Iverson 30, and with a new coach in ex--Sixers guard Maurice Cheeks, many of the veterans will be learning their fifth system in three seasons, making a return to the playoffs a difficult task. Says Cheeks, "I'm just going to try and capitalize on some of the good things they did last year and take it from there." --C.M.
Enemy Lines An opposing team's scout sizes up the 76ers
"People were raving about the year he had, but I thought Allen Iverson was a real hog last season--maybe his most selfish performance since he's been in the league. The problems they had integrating Chris Webber had a lot to do with the fact that Iverson seemed to shoot the ball every time he got it.... People are going to be saying that Maurice Cheeks is not a great X's-and-O's coach, but what really matters in this league is getting your guys to play hard every night. Did the 76ers play hard for Jim O'Brien last year? No. Is he an X's-and-O's coach? Yes. So you can throw all that X's-and-O's crap out the window.... They have good length up front with Webber and centers Samuel Dalembert and Steven Hunter, and defensively they can be pretty good between the shot blocking of their centers and Andre Iguodala as their emerging stopper on the perimeter.... Iguodala is a future star, a terrific athlete who plays hard at both ends. He needs to improve his three-point shot, but if he were on a team without Iverson, he would get more opportunities to show what he can do.... People criticize Kyle Korver for being slow, but basketball is not about running 94 feet. It's about your first step, and Korver's first step is quick enough to get him by a guy and create whatever he needs to do."
In '04--05 Allen Iverson became the fifth player to average 30 points and seven assists in a season, joining Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Nate Archibald and Michael Jordan.
Projected Starting Lineup with 2004--05 statistics
Record: 43--39 (7th in East)
Points scored: 99.1 (10th in NBA)
Points allowed: 99.9 (19th)
Coach: Maurice Cheeks (first season with the 76ers)