Time to start over, Sixers

Updated: February 10, 2004, 8:58 PM ET
By Sam Smith | Special to ESPN.com

OK, let's see now. It's falling apart in Philadelphia, where Randy Ayers was replaced by Chris Ford on Tuesday, and Allen Iverson is questioning his teammates and wondering what the team will do next. And in Houston, Jeff Van Gundy can't get that look off his face (we think it's exasperation, but he's looked that way at his hiring press conference, his wedding and while watching Seinfeld and Jackie Mason routines). It's that point guard. In Houston, too.

So you see where we're going here. Nah, it's not going to happen. Iverson isn't about to play in Van Gundy's slower, center-oriented game and Houston doesn't figure to let its team be built around a coach. You see what can happen when a team does that. The 76ers are finding out.

But the questions for the 76ers are: Where do they go from here, and how do you spell Emeka Okafor?

As Jim Mora would say, "Playoffs!"

What are we talking about here with the 76ers? Playoffs! C'mon, are you kidding? It's a team splintering, and not only from the aged pieces. This is a time for rebuilding, not dreaming.

This really is the problem with being in the Eastern Conference. Everyone thinks they can get to the Finals. The Cavaliers believe it as well and they won't get to .500 this season. It's one big reason so many East coaches are being fired. It's not that everyone thinks their team is so good; it's they think everyone else's team is so bad. So they figure with just a tweak here and a coach there, voila, a conference championship can appear. Hey, Jason Kidd was the difference between 26 wins and two Finals appearances. And he can't even shoot. But he does coach, so that is two jobs he's filling.

So they're talking playoffs again in Philadelphia. Just a slight adjustment here, a new coach there. Chris Ford is a very nice man. Allen Iverson eats up very nice men. But Iverson is what they've got. Unfortunately, they've also got a (sort of) Big Dog, some (crusted) Snow and no McKie to any fortunes.

The 76ers have had their run. They were a brilliant, exciting, fun team for a few years, driven by Iverson's talent, Larry Brown's coaching mania and unselfish production elsewhere. But time, and the Eastern Conference, has passed them by.

Derrick Coleman is too creaky, and it's hard to imagine anyone but Brown getting much out of him. Eric Snow and Aaron McKie are nice complementary pieces. In fact, just about all of them are. Trying to fit in Robinson hasn't worked, like just about every piece next to Iverson.

But then there are the standings and they're just a game or so out of that exciting eighth spot. And don't the Pacers always collapse in the first round, anyway?

Billy King
AP PhotoGM Billy King shouldn't delay the 76ers' reconstruction.
It's somewhat parallel to the situation in New York. We know New Yorkers don't have patience. Donovan McNabb probably would agree about his Philadelphia neighbors.

For years, many around the NBA have been saying the Knicks need to take it down about six notches and build it back up, get a foundation of talent and get serious about being a championship contender. But the notion always has been New York is too go-go and needs the action right now. Which they've got again.

Isiah Thomas came in and traded for Stephon Marbury, shook up the lineup and the Knicks are happening again. They're a hot ticket and the Garden is rocking. And, hey, they're almost at .500. With additional long-term salaries, their chances of getting a free agent seem doubtful. It would seem that they'll have the current team for years.

Their response is to create and maintain a winning culture, that winnings begets winning, and maybe even gets you a star. Maybe Rasheed Wallace or someone else likes what he sees and decides to sign on cheap. Maybe Kobe Bryant wants to be on the big stage of New York.

Do we really want to be the Chicago Bulls? To break it down, fill up with high lottery picks and oodles of cash for free agents and have everyone check the personnel and the record and say, no thanks, to sit by and wait, how many years, for the kids to develop. If they will at all?

So the Knicks patched it up, got a new coach, made a few trades, took on someone else's bad contracts and are talking playoffs. And, who knows what can happen then? Perhaps with one more deal? Just the right one?

And introducing your Philadelphia 76ers. They've got the new coach, and general manager Billy King suggests he has some ideas about personnel moves. Probably not Iverson, but Snow can run a team, and Robinson can score, and McKie is a classy, clutch player and Kenny Thomas works hard and, perhaps it's not too late.

Yes it is.

Sure, you've got to sell tickets, and it's hard to get those big dollars when you're looking at 25 wins. Perhaps Iverson alone can sell tickets for awhile, though one doesn't want to see what he'll do with a losing team or how those draft picks will respond to his peculiar practice and clock management habits.

Tinkering is not enough for the 76ers. They've got to get a whole new erector set and start to rebuild.

Sam Smith, who covers the NBA for the Chicago Tribune, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

ALSO SEE