Philadelphia, city of winners?
OK, you might have said that back in 1776, though it did take about eight more years until the city where it all started for the new United States could declare its championship.
But to quote Benjamin Franklin, then Philadelphia's big hitter, "Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards."
Actually, that doesn't have anything to do with anything here, but I always liked that one.
As for the Philadelphia teams in sports, they generally stink or underachieve.
The baseball teams have often been pathetic or choking failures in the end. And now the baseball Phillies are in the World Series.
The 76ers won a championship in 1983, but that was six years after they were supposed to have won three or four, and they collapsed immediately afterward.
And now here they are this season the talk of the Eastern Conference in the NBA.
"(Elton Brand) gives them a low-post threat. Obviously they didn't have that last year," Jermaine O'Neal told reporters after his Toronto Raptors played the 76ers in a recent preseason game. "They're a lot better than they were last year."
How much better is one of the biggest questions entering this season.
I'm not sure my son in college is an expert in this, but he picked the 76ers in his fantasy league to win the NBA championship over the Los Angeles Lakers. That is the fantasy of the long suffering Philadelphia basketball fans, and it does raise the question for me a bit on just how well I'm spending all that tuition money.
With the free-agent acquisition of Brand, the personnel steal of the summer, the 76ers seem to have all the pieces to potentially be a great team.
They have an All-Star-level point guard in Andre Miller, a steady floor leader. They have a young stud and high flyer in Andre Iguodala to pair with Miller in the backcourt. They have a shot-blocking center in Samuel Dalembert, who can be a key element on defense, and because he isn't a center with offensive tendencies, he won't occupy space to get in the way of Brand. And they have Brand, a physical power forward who can step out and make a jump shot.
"This is a team on the move," said Kareem Rush in explaining his decision to come to the 76ers as a free agent.
That has been the literal and figurative trend for the 76ers since the sadly lamented Allen Iverson-Chris Webber era. The Webber deal was a disaster and led to the departure of general manager Billy King and eventually the trade of Iverson after he was effectively banned from the team. New GM Ed Stafanski started clearing salary-cap space, which led to the acquisition of Brand, and the 76ers, effectively, changed their style and just became a fast team.
It shocked the East last year, which isn't accustomed to that kind of play and one reason it makes me think Mike D'Antoni will have more success in New York than many expect. The 76ers breezed past several teams expected to finish ahead of them, got into the playoffs and put a bit of a scare into the Detroit Pistons in an entertaining series.
It was the 76ers' introduction to the NBA again.
Now does the addition of Brand make them a team that has a chance to knock off the Celtics and Pistons, generally regarded as the firmest pillars in the East?
If Brand can handle Kevin Garnett and bang him around, which Garnett doesn't like, the 76ers seem to have an edge in overall talent, especially off the bench with the likes of Louis Williams, Willie Green and Reggie Evans. The Pistons are going through a bit of a transition with a new, inexperienced coach and an effort to push younger players into their lineup.
The 76ers' main weakness seems to be an inability to spread the floor enough with long distance shooting, of which they were poorest in the league last season. They sought to address that some with the addition of Rush and Donyell Marshall, though it's questionable how many minutes they'll get. Defense also is an issue, especially when the playoffs roll around, as it's not the specialty of Miller and Brand at two key positions.
Still, who, especially in Philadelphia, would have even entertained the thought a year ago of their baseball and basketball teams being championship contenders?
Don't tread on them.
A: A good coach does matter because there are so many bad ones. In all sports, really. The problem with most head coaches, especially in the NBA, is that many get the job without proper training first. You want to be a doctor or an accountant, you go to school for years, take tests and then have some sort of apprenticeship. For the most part, coaches, at least in this era, are former players who, the figuring goes, played so they can coach. Sure, some can do it, but there's a lot more to it than just having played the game. Some of the best never did. And some who trained don't have the right temperament. But when you get the right guy, who generally is a lifer in the game and is all about the game, it does make a difference. Phil Jackson makes a difference. I think Mike D'Antoni will this season in New York. It's a players' league because of the long-term contracts and constant action. A good coach doesn't become the reason for what happens, but he can make that team better.
Q: Can the Houston Rockets and Tracy McGrady finally make it out of the first round and maybe even win an NBA title now that Ron Artest has joined the team?
— Todd B., Washington, D.C.
A: The elements are there, and so are the reasons for McGrady's continued failures. It's not always his fault, but the Rockets are a fragile mix with McGrady already coming into the season off injuries, Yao Ming now having accumulated several foot injuries and Artest leaving the ruins of many teams behind. But they have the elements of success with a post player in Yao to play in the half court, speedy perimeter players to get quick baskets, perimeter shooting and toughness and defense in Artest. They are the mystery team of the West to watch this season.
A: I doubt it. Losing Gilbert Arenas again — and I'd begin to worry long term with still more issues for him — and Brendan Haywood after his best and first good season, leaves the Wizards on the outside of the playoff group. In the East, that's in the 35-win morass, and there are several more healthy teams around that talent level. Looks like a bad season for them.