Posted December 20, 2011 on AP on Fox
The 76ers' new owners have put Philadelphia on notice: They want a slice of the city's sports spotlight. Long the deep reserve in the crowded sports market, the Sixers created splashy headlines without even playing a game - or acquiring a marquee player. They did, however, buy some of Julius Erving's auctioned memorabilia. Will Smith, yes, the Fresh Prince, came aboard as a minority owner. The gangster rabbit mascot was dumped. Tickets were reduced to the price of a good college game. The Sixers ran a free scrimmage for the public. Adam Aron, the new CEO, has a daily Q&A on Twitter and asks fans to email him with suggestions or complaints. Heck, Aron was so impressed with the content on Twitter of a fan who squatted on one of the potential new mascot's names, he hired him. Good news, good vibes. It was out with the old - everywhere but the roster. The ownership group, led by New York-based leveraged buyout specialist Joshua Harris, has delivered on making the Sixers relevant. Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday, Elton Brand, Thaddeus Young and the rest of the Sixers are in charge of making them winners. Under coach Doug Collins, the Sixers believe they can have their first winning record in seven years and win at least one round in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They pushed the conference champion Miami Heat in a five-game series loss and improved their win total by 14 to finish 41-41. While most teams did stand pat because of the transaction freeze during the lockout, the Sixers returned every key player and lost no significant contributor. All the attention has been a fresh and needed boost for the franchise. All the cheap tickets and Broadway-style lighting at home games won't matter much if the Sixers don't win. The Sixers open the abbreviated season on a five-game road trip and return home Jan. 6 vs. Detroit. ''It's important to start off well and keep the fans interested,'' Brand said. ''In the playoffs, they were amazing. They were excited. Walking around the city, there was a buzz. We're getting a new mascot, we're slashing ticket prices. ''We can be an exciting team.'' The Sixers had changed coaches nearly every season since Larry Brown left in 2003. Collins, in his second season, has brought stability and infused his mostly-young nucleus with the confidence that his style works. He requests smiley faces when he texts his players, gifts them with inspirational books, and is their No. 1 supporter when talking to fans and the media. Collins refused to let a 3-13 start turn into another lost season, instead guiding them to a seventh-place finish. When training camp opened, there was little need for a cram session. The Sixers needed nothing but a quick brush-up on Collins' playbook. ''It's the first time in a while I didn't have to go through a new set,'' Iguodala said. ''Pretty much everyone knew it. When you have a core of guys who have been together, and you don't have to change much, we know each other, that makes it easier. You don't have to play catch up.'' Iguodala, their best all-around player, was affected last season by various knee, ankle and wrist injuries that could never heal because of the daily grind of the NBA season. He was worn down from playing for Team USA at the 2010 world championships and was visibly bothered by daily trade rumors that he would be dealt in the offseason. He returned 10 pounds lighter, refreshed, and ready to lead. ''The time off was incredible for me,'' Iguodala said. ''It was like the weight of the world was off my shoulders. I didn't have to rush back. I was in good shape last summer, but I was tired. I think this summer I had a chance to really relax.'' Iguodala and Brand organized offseason team workouts in Los Angeles. The loosely organized team activities - without any input or supervision from the coaching staff - were as close as the Sixers could get to training camp or practice without traveling to Philadelphia ''The reports I got was in the pickup games they were talking to one another and communicating and running our defenses and doing that kind of stuff,'' Collins said. ''As a coach, that makes you feel really good. Some of them had really good offseasons.'' Collins said Holiday can become one of the top five point guards in the league this season. Evan Turner, the 2010 No. 2 overall pick, had more downs than ups his rookie year until he came alive in the postseason and played with the guts and big-shot confidence expected from him over a full season. Young, who signed a five-year deal last week, and Lou Williams are perhaps the most potent 1-2 reserve tandem in the league. ''We've got guys that like being around each other,'' Collins said. ''They're very unselfish. They like to win.''
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