June 4, 2006
It's loose change for Sixers, unless it starts at the top
Billy King has talked about changing the culture of the Sixers. To do that, he must change the team, and himself.
Maybe his coach, too. (And stop me if you've heard that one before.)
Sure, Allen Iverson must go. But that's only a start. King and coach Maurice Cheeks must also establish that they are the ones to lead this team into the post-Iverson era.
And truthfully, the jury's still out on that one.
Both talked tough Saturday, after the team worked out four potential draftees at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, most notably Villanova guard Randy Foye and Temple guard Mardy Collins.
But they've talked tough before. Or did you forget King's profanity-laced tirade, after Iverson and Chris Webber in effect blew off Fan Appreciation Night? Or his announcement two weeks ago, the night of the NBA draft lottery, about the whole culture thing, and how it must be altered ''in everything we do — on and off the court''?
Following through is an issue, though. Neither King nor Cheeks confronted Iverson or Webber the night they left the fans hanging. You would think that King in particular would have been prompted to say something to each player, face to face. But no.
Not long after that, King went on vacation, and asked a subordinate to fire the team's vice president of communications while he was away. That's leadership?
So feel free to be skeptical about the culture changing, no matter how many repairs King makes to the dry-rotted roster.
But at least he continues to talk a good game.
Asked Saturday how much he can change things in a single offseason, he said, ''You can start just in the mental approach. … It may not just be on personnel. It's just going to be how you approach practices, travel, rest — a lot of those little things. … Every little thing we do, I think, we've got to tighten the screws a little bit.''
If that sounded like another shot across Iverson's bow, it probably was. And Cheeks picked up on that theme, saying ''our rules are what they are'' and that the Sixers, from this point forward, will ''play as a unit.''
''That's where we start,'' he said, ''and that's where we start looking in the summertime, trying to put a team out on the floor that will do those things — [that will go] out there for the good of the basketball team, not any one particular guy, or two guys or three guys, but for the good of our basketball team. Everyone is about the team.''
Iverson is never going to toe this line, or any other. He's not that kind of guy. Every year he begins the season by proclaiming that he has turned over a new leaf — most notably four years ago, when he said that ''if there are 100 things I have to do (to be a professional), I don't want to do 99; I want to do all 100.'' And every year he goes back on his word.
Enough of that. Enough of his garbage. It can hardly be coincidental that the superstars on the teams that reached the conference finals — Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Chauncey Billups, et al. — all seem to have a sense of their professional obligations, and respect for their teammates. True respect, as opposed to lip-service respect.
At the same time, more is needed of King and Cheeks. Both need to be firm and decisive, if they truly want things to change.
That, admittedly, won't be easy — especially in the case of Cheeks, a very nice man. Maybe too nice.
''I'm going to maybe coach the basketball team a little differently,'' he said, ''but I'm going to be the person I am. I can't transform myself.''
He has to. They both do, if they really want to make this work.