76ers in position to start fast, and almost at full strength

Center Spencer Hawes, the 76ers' other restricted free agent, hasn't been re-signed. Team president Rod Thorn says he plans to match any "reasonable" offer for him.
Center Spencer Hawes, the 76ers' other restricted free agent, hasn't been re-signed. Team president Rod Thorn says he plans to match any "reasonable" offer for him. (CHUCK BURTON / Associated Press)
Posted: December 09, 2011

When officials from the NBA called the 76ers to see whether they were for or against starting training camp on Friday, the answer from the Sixers' front office was, "Let's go!"

Unlike a few NBA teams, who will be in the unfortunate position of having only six or seven players under contract when training camps are allowed to open at 2 p.m. Friday, the Sixers will have 11 players under contract.

"We have an advantage," said Sixers coach Doug Collins.

The Sixers will hold their first formal practice of this season - after a lockout of five-plus months - Friday afternoon in Hagan Arena on the campus of St. Joseph's University. They will be able to immediately implement offenses, defenses, and out-of-bounds plays. They'll also have enough numbers to scrimmage, testing these sets in a full-speed environment.

It's a small advantage, these productive hours of practice while other teams have only half of a roster, but an advantage nonetheless.

The Sixers will still be missing a couple of key guys from the court - restricted free agents Thaddeus Young and center Spencer Hawes. Neither Young nor Hawes will be at camp until they either sign their qualifying offers with the Sixers or sign another team's offer sheet.

Sixers president Rod Thorn has already stated publicly that he plans to match any "reasonable" offer for either player.

"I'm hoping we have these guys back quickly so we get some good, hard work in," Collins said.

Collins plans to hold a number of two-a-day practices in advance of the team's opening exhibition game, on Dec. 16 at the Washington Wizards.

The Sixers open the regular season at the Portland Trail Blazers on Dec. 26. Their home opener is Jan. 6 against the Detroit Pistons.

Collins and his staff will enter next week with a few decisions to make: filling out the starting lineup; evaluating the younger guys like Craig Brackins, Nikola Vucevic, and Lavoy Allen; and determining whether swingmen Evan Turner and Andre Iguodala can play together.

"I think coach will play Evan and me at the same time," Iguodala said. "I think we're going to play well together: Evan, myself, and Jrue [Holiday]."

Collins has penciled in Holiday as starting point guard, Iguodala as starting small forward, and Elton Brand as starting power forward, leaving gaps at shooting guard and center.

"Let's see how Evan fits into the scheme of things," said Collins, adding that he believes Turner has had a great offseason. "What I'll do is I'll mix and match in practice. I want to find out the best group of guys that fits into what we're doing."

Collins said Turner and last year's starting shooting guard, Jodie Meeks, are the "wild cards" because he feels confident in the off-the-bench roles currently filled by combo guard Lou Williams and Young - assuming the latter returns.

That leaves one gap in the lineup: starting center. When camp opens, Collins will have Vucevic, a rookie and the team's first-round draft pick, as the team's only true center. Third-year big man Marreese Speights is a scorer first, everything else second, so his challenge will be executing the necessary intangibles to prove himself worthy of additional minutes. Allen, a second-round pick from Temple, is a bruiser who the team will try to turn into a pro-level defender and rebounder.

Vucevic, Allen, and Brackins - who may get a look at small forward - all played overseas this fall, which should help their rhythm and conditioning.

"We're really happy that our younger guys have played," Collins said. "That helps them coming in."

The Sixers have one monstrous gap in their roster - which would be filled by bringing back Young - and a few other, smaller holes: re-signing Hawes and adding an additional big man to the mix. But when compared to the situations some other teams are facing, the Sixers are in position to start fast.


Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at kfagan@phillynews.com or @deepsixer3 on Twitter. Read her blog, "Deep Sixer," on www.philly.com/deepsixer

 

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