Lots of changes for Sixers as lockout comes to end

Posted: November 28, 2011

PLAYERS AND owners still have to vote on the new deal and details remain, but as the NBA stirs to life after a 149-day lockout, one thing is certain: Sixers coach Doug Collins will be rarin' to go.

"If the new deal is completed some day at midnight, I would expect coach Collins to be calling us less than a second after that," guard Evan Turner said. "But like coach Collins, we will be ready as a team to play and play well as soon as we are able to get together.

"I'm looking forward to the season. Our whole team is. We know how much better we can be. I know how much better I will be. It's just great to be getting back to doing what we all want to do."

So much has changed for the Sixers since they were eliminated from the playoffs by the Miami Heat in Game 5 last April. Not only will a new collective bargaining agreement be in place, which will certainly affect the way all teams do business, but, of course, a new ownership group will be overseeing those decisions.

When Joshua Harris and his group were introduced to the Philadelphia area in mid-October, Harris and CEO Adam Aron announced that general manager Ed Stefanski had been let go and that all basketball decisions are now in the hands of Collins and president Rod Thorn. Because of the lockout, neither has been able to do anything to make improvements on a team that upped its win total by 14 games last season. Now, once all the legalities of the new CBA are ironed out, they'll be looking to make some moves at breakneck speed, although they currently will not have a significant amount of money under the salary cap for a major free-agent acquisition.

Preparing for a 66-game season that the league will kick off with a tripleheader on Christmas Day; readying for training camp and free agency expected to begin on Dec. 9. Free-agent signings will have to be done rapidly and training camp will be shortened significantly, with probably just two preseason games. The 76ers, who have held training camp the past few years at Saint Joseph's, will hold it this year at their practice facility at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The team has two restricted free agents: center Spencer Hawes and forward Thaddeus Young. It would be surprising if the team doesn't keep both players as Young thrived last season under Collins (12.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 54.1 percent from the floor) and Hawes started 81 games at center.

With Hawes and Young, the Sixers have 12 players under contract. The maximum is 15.

Isn't it nice to be talking about on-the-court basketball instead of possibly in-the-court basketball?

"It's not official yet, but it's good news," said forward Elton Brand, one of five players from last season's Sixers (along with Turner, Andre Iguodala, Hawes and Jason Kapono) in New York 2 weeks ago when the players filed a disclaimer and decided to take the owners to court. "If we had to sit out a year in order to get a better deal for the future players of the league, that's a sacrifice we would have made."

Brand was a little leery of talking as if the season is a certainty, since details remain and that all-important vote still has to happen. But for the first time in a long time, the 12-year vet could speak about the upcoming season with a little bit of confidence.

That's because early Saturday morning the owners and players agreed to allow the players to receive between 51 and 49 percent of the Basketball Related Income, well below the 57 percent the players were getting under the previous CBA but better than the 47 percent commissioner David Stern said the offer was going to drop to.

So now a hurried season - which for the Sixers includes new ownership, a new mascot and a lineup that still will feature Iguodala - should get under way in 28 days, ready or not.

Complicating matters is the fact that the Sixers can't play a home game in the Wells Fargo Center until early January, due to the Disney on Ice show that annually invades the arena during the holidays, along with a Duke-Temple basketball game and a Flyers game. So expect the Sixers to be playing out of their suitcases for the first five or six games of the season. The original schedule had the Sixers on the West Coast during the holidays. Whether that's where they'll start when the new schedule comes out is a big topic.

"That's going to be tough because it's always hard to win on the road in the NBA," said Turner, who will be counted on for a big season after a rocky rookie campaign. "Of course, a lot depends on who we'll be facing. But there's no easy game on the road, especially out on the West Coast."

Getting off to a better start than last year's 3-13 no doubt will be a major point of emphasis for Collins, who has been huddled with his assistants in the city for the past month making preparations. Last year one of his sticking points was improving the team's play on the road, where it compiled a 15-26 record. Collins and team officials are not permitted to speak about the tentative agreement.

"I like where we are as a team," said Brand, who has been working out a lot at Villanova since returning to the area in early September. "The key for us, and one of the good things about our team, is the development of the young players, especially guys like Jrue [Holiday] and Thad and Lou [Williams] and Evan.

"Obviously, getting Thad [signed] is a key. And then just the maturation of everyone will be a big part of how this team continues to grow under coach Collins. I really like the way this team is put together and how talented the young players are on this team. We played a tough five-game series against the eventual conference champions [Miami] and won one and were in all the other games except one. We know we can play with the best teams in the league. For young players to know that, it's big."

As for Brand, who was the team's leading scorer and rebounder in both the regular season and playoffs, he expects to do much of the same this season.

"I feel great, I'm ready to get started," he said. "Sure, it's going to be different with a shortened season and more games in fewer days and training camp being a little bit shorter. But to a 32-year-old, a shorter training camp is a good thing, right?"

And many might think a shorter NBA season is better, too, with fewer games giving more meaning to each one.

Better late than never.

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