76ers management excited to be back

Associated Press  |  Last updated November 30, 2011
The Philadelphia 76ers kept busy for a team with no games on the schedule. They have new owners. They fired their general manager. They even retired their mascot. All they needed was players and a season. The Sixers can return to their practice facility on Thursday for the first time since the lockout began on July 1 for voluntary workouts, pick-up games or a good stretch with team trainers. Doug Collins, however, will be more concierge than coach. Collins and his staff still can't do much more with the team than say hello, how are you - then get out of the way. The second-year Sixers coach has to wait until training camps open on Dec. 9 to run his team. ''They miss playing basketball, I know we miss coaching them,'' Collins said Wednesday. ''I miss being around them. I miss my players. I can't wait to see them and to get back on the floor with them.'' Because contact among management and players has been banned, no one was sure if Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala, Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday and the rest of the team will show up Thursday. Team president Rod Thorn, who assumed added duties when GM Ed Stefanski was fired, said he's moving on with business as planned. ''The dealing with the agents has already started,'' Thorn said. Up first? Signing restricted free agents Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes. Young and Lou Williams formed perhaps the most potent 1-2 bench tandem in the league and the Sixers badly want to keep the former. Young would like to start and will surely be coveted by teams in need of a blossoming small forward. It'll take an outrageous offer to pry him away from Philadelphia. ''As long as it's reasonable,'' Thorn said, ''we'll definitely match it.'' Collins expects his young, enthusiastic core to come back in shape and ready to play. Turner spent the extended offseason with Hall of Fame coach Herb Magee at Philadelphia University. Brand and Iguodala organized weekend workouts in Los Angeles. The Sixers started four players under 24 last season: Turner, Hawes, Holiday and Jodie Meeks. Collins led a rebirth on the court last season, leading them to 41 victories and a competitive, five-game playoff series loss against Eastern Conference champion Miami. Collins knows the team has bought into his style, his system. ''Going into camp, it's not going to be me selling them on anything,'' Collins said. ''They know what our recipe for success is. We've just got to get back to it quickly.'' Most of that team is expected back. The Sixers have 11 players under contract and their three players playing overseas - Craig Brackins, and 2011 draft picks Nikola Vucevic and Lavoy Allen - should return in time for camp. ''All of them will be here,'' Thorn said. Opening night promises to be a memorable one in team history. New York-based leveraged buyout specialist Joshua Harris leads an ownership group that has promised fan-friendly changes, starting with slashed ticket prices. Adam Aron, the Chief Executive Officer, has solicited feedback on team websites and Twitter on ways to improve the game-day atmosphere. One of their first moves was sending their much-maligned gangster rabbit mascot, Hip-Hop, to the briar patch. The Sixers promise the revamped atmosphere is Step 1 in connecting fans with an up-and-coming franchise that has more than a .500 record and a first-round exit as a goal this season. ''We want to take another step,'' Collins said. ''We're not going to go out and bring a lot of different guys on our team.'' Fans won't be the only ones enjoying new amenities. The Sixers upgraded the film room and training room, added valet parking for players and added a player lounge in the practice facility. The Sixers will play two preseason games against Washington. The regular-season schedule has not yet been released. ''We're just happy to get started,'' Thorn said.
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