Phil Sheridan: Sixers still on ground floor looking up

Posted: October 28, 2010

The 76ers opened their season Wednesday night against a very similar team. The Miami Heat have a new look. Like the Sixers, Miami is trying to figure out how all its pieces will fit together.

If you made it this far with a straight face, good for you.

Truth is, most of what is wrong with the National Basketball Association was on vulgar display here. The Sixers, who had to hire Doug Collins to add a name with some star power to their lost franchise, and the overstuffed Heat operate in different universes (but, oddly, in the same conference).

This ego-driven Heat media orgy has only just begun to annoy. If LeBron James' The Decision and that wretched introductory "event" at the Heat's arena - Question: Were the people behind Glee involved in the staging? - seemed like the height of self-indulgent sewage, you ain't smelled nothin' yet. James' new Nike commercial just got dumped onto your TV screen, and now the regular season, with its months of contrived melodrama, is upon us.

Admittedly, it was just swell that the hype-drenched James and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh got smoked in their debut in Boston on Tuesday night. It had to be hard for James to return to the place where he tanked his final game in a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform. Wade has been out with a hamstring injury. Bosh's pupils will take time to adjust to the glare after playing his entire career in Toronto, where the NBA is (and should be) an afterthought.

"Any time you just add a number of new guys to a system," James said, "it's going to take time. It takes more time when you have guys that are used to always having the ball in their hands. Myself and D-Wade and Chris, we're used to always being the No. 1 option. Now we're the No. 1 options on this team at times, but we used to always be the No. 1 option, knowing the ball is always going to see us during the course of a possession. So it's an adjustment for us three. It's something we'll figure out as the season goes on."

They have some work to do. One slapstick moment: James drove the lane and slid a pass to Udonis Haslem in the paint - except Haslem had gone up for a big dunk and James threw the ball under him. But laughing at the Heat's current ineptitude is like teasing a bear cub before its teeth are in - a bit shortsighted and probably unwise.

Even monstrous egos can't keep this talent-flooded team from winning a ridiculous percentage of its games and probably a championship at some point.

If the NBA gave the Heat a roadblock for its season opener, it provided little more than a speed bump for game No. 2. The Sixers went into the game with a better record (0-0) than the Heat's 0-1, and with a packed house awaiting.

It might have been the high point of this season. Really.

"I'm not starting with an upper-echelon team right now," Collins said. "I'm starting with a team that's sort of on the ground floor. We're trying to build and find out what we have. I can't lose sight of that."

The coach also would like the fans and media not to lose sight of that. There really is something to the Sixers' and Heat's being in similar spots as far as finding good combinations and developing chemistry. It's just that, if both are very successful, the Heat will win the NBA title and the Sixers will win 35 games.

"That team has championship aspirations," Collins said after the Heat's 97-87 win. "We're trying to learn how to be competitive every night."

Collins, with his vast experience, would have been at ease juggling the egos and massaging the sensibilities of the Heat. Meanwhile, it was kind of amusing to hear Erik Spoelstra talk about the Heat's problems with "spacing."

Really? And you're going to tell these millionaires where to stand? Good luck with that. Spoelstra would have been much more at home with a young squad like the Sixers.

Put it this way: Collins is much more likely than Spoelstra to be coaching his team at the end of the season.

For the Sixers, it will be a relatively successful season if Collins develops Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, and Thaddeus Young into a young core this team can build around. It will be an even more successful year if, somewhere along the way, president Rod Thorn is able to move Elton Brand or even Andre Iguodala without simply swapping bad contracts.

In other words, the Sixers will have another year of growing pains, just like the last few. That is how NBA purgatory works. It takes a miracle, or a "Decision," to get out.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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