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Chris Ballard
October 30, 2000
Even with the world's least likely captain and a shaky second mate, this ship can sail in the playoffs
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October 30, 2000

5 Philadelphia 76ers

Even with the world's least likely captain and a shaky second mate, this ship can sail in the playoffs

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Projected Lineup



1999-2000 KEY STATS


Toni Kukoc


14.8 ppg

4.9 rpg

4.7 apg

1.38 spg

40.8 FG%


Tyrone Hill


12.0 ppg

9.2 rpg

0.94 spg

48.5 FG%

69.1 FT%


Theo Ratliff


11.9 ppg

7.6 rpg

3.00 bpg

50.3 FG%

77.1 FT%


Allen Iverson


28.4 ppg

4.7 apg

3.8 rpg

2.06 spg

42.1 FG%


Eric Snow


7.9 ppg

7.6 apg

3.2 rpg

1.71 spg

43.0 FG%



1999-2000 KEY STATS


George Lynch


9.6 ppg

7.8 rpg

1.8 apg

1.59 spg

46.1 FG%


Aaron McKie


8.0 ppg

3.0 rpg

2.9 apg

1.32 spg

41.1 FG%


Todd MacCulloch


3.7 ppg

2.6 rpg

0.66 bpg

55.3 FG%

51.9 FT%


Matt Geiger


9.7 ppg

6.0 rpg

0.6 apg

44.1 FG%

77.9 FT%


Nazr Mohammed


1.9 ppg

1.8 rpg

0.43 bpg

38.9 FG%

54.5 FT%

New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 113)

After completing a preseason conditioning session in State College, Pa., forward Toni Kukoc crumpled into a plastic chair and swung his size-16 feet onto a folding table, the better to rest his aching knees. As he talked about the upcoming season, his first full one in Philadelphia after 6� years and three titles with the Bulls, it was impossible not to notice the pedigree stamped on his formidable dogs.

"Yes, they're Mike's," he said, nodding toward his black Air Jordans. "I like them because they're softer." Would Jordan be proud if he knew Kukoc was wearing his shoes? "Oh, I think he does know, I think he does," Kukoc answered with a little smile. "And"—he paused—"I hope he would be proud."

Hope is also what the 76ers hold on to when it comes to Kukoc, because they know he's the key to their success. If Kukoc plays like the ring-winning Toni of old—as opposed to the 38.7% shooter he was in last year's playoffs—prospects are greatly enhanced for a Finals appearance for this veteran squad that took the Pacers to six games in the 1999-2000 conference semis.

Not that general manager Billy King didn't try to tinker in the off-season. By invoking a clause in his contract, center Matt Geiger thwarted a trade to the Pistons, and shooting guard Allen Iverson was nearly shipped to Detroit as well. In the end, King's only major move was re-signing Kukoc to a four-year, $29 million contract. Now all coach Larry Brown has to do is get the guy in the Jordans to complement the guy in the eponymous Iversons. He's confident he can. "Toni has to be a big contributor and take pressure off Allen," says Brown, who admits that the chemistry between Kukoc and the Sixers' All-Star guard was nonexistent last season. "Remember, Toni only got here at the trading deadline, and that's not enough time to fit in. The more he's with us, the better he'll be."

King had also hoped to change the team's look by using the 20th pick in the June draft on 5'11" Craig (Speedy) Claxton out of Hofstra. Claxton quickly made friends and influenced people in training camp—"I don't think I've seen a faster guy," Kukoc says—and Brown planned to pair him with the 6-foot Iverson in an all-blur backcourt. But Claxton tore his left ACL in a preseason game on Sunday, and he'll miss the season.

The injury leaves the Sixers with but one blink-and-you'll-miss-him guard. Renowned for being fashionably late to practice (more than 50 times last season), Iverson kept a low profile most of the summer. When he did emerge, he declared he wanted to be team captain, a title Brown awarded him. A week later Iverson released his first rap single, a gay-bashing, misogynistic piece of bombast recorded under the nom de fume of Jewelz. 40 Bars may have earned him street cred, but it did little to prove he is serious about becoming a team leader.

Another often-beleaguered Sixer—Geiger—showed up at camp in excellent shape after spending the summer in Florida working with Ivan Lendl's trainer. Unfortunately, the 7'1" Geiger, who missed the first 17 games last year with a left-knee injury, reinjured the knee 30 minutes into the first practice and will be out until December. In his stead will be a trio of T's: Tyrone Hill, Theo Ratliff and Todd MacCulloch, the lanky 7-footer who impressed Brown by averaging 13.0 points and 5.1 rebounds for Team Canada at the Sydney Games.

If the Sixers are to achieve King's stated goal of a title, Brown must provide help for Iverson, who last year hoisted 25.6% of the team's shots, a league high. To fill that hole, Brown doesn't need another Jordan, but he does need an inspired performance from the guy wearing his shoes.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]