He scored over 1,600 points at LaSalle, is a member of the Big 5 Hall of Fame, earned an MBA from The Wharton School and is married to a former Eagles cheerleader. Basically ESPN analyst Tim Legler is almost as Philadunkia as Dr. J, Allen Iverson and The Spectrum.
As a bonus, he still lives in the Philadelphia area, attends numerous Sixers games each year and is actually somewhat of a 76ers fan, so he keeps a keen eye focused on our home team. Recently Legler gave me some time via the phone to discuss the 2009-10 Sixers and he was very open about his views on why the Sixers have struggled so badly this season.
Philadunkia : What do you see as the major problems for the 76ers in 2009-10?
Legler : I thought the first problem for this team coming out of training camp / off-season was that they were going to miss Andre Miller a lot more then they anticipated. That’s not taking a shot at Louis Williams or Jrue Holiday, that’s just being honest. Louis Williams is not a true point guard. Louis Williams is a combo-guard. I have always compared him to Jamal Crawford. To me that’s the kind of player his is. He’s a guy that’s really good when he’s looking for his own offense. When you’re asking him make plays for other people or direct an offense or be a guy that you can trust to make plays down the stretch for other people as well as himself – he’s just not that kind of player. Jrue Holiday is not ready, he is too young. He’s very talented and he’s going to be a good player in this League, but he’s not ready right now. Andre Miller to me was one of the ultimate leaders on the court. He’s always been a Top 10 point guard in this League and I just thought they’re really going to miss him and to me it’s obvious that they do miss him. It’s played out this season that they are a team that lacks direction offensively. In close games they don’t know what they want to do with the basketball and when Miller was here it was a lot simpler to let him dictate what was going to happen.
I think the second thing is that Eddie Jordan did not establish in training camp that the priority was going to be ‘we’re going to defend on every single possession’. No matter what happens offensively, my priority is to get you guys to compete on every possession (defensively), to contest every shot, to rebound the ball, to help on penetration, to do everything you can to make it as difficult as possible for the other team to get open looks. That wasn’t the culture that was established on this team. They were going to win games by trying to outscore you. That’s their approach and when you have issues with your team offensively, like not having a pure point guard, like being one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the NBA, you’re not going to be able to outscore teams in the NBA and win in this League. They don’t have enough firepower to do that and they don’t have enough direction on offense, so therefore you have to find other ways to keep yourself in games and defense is how you do that in this League and that’s not something they established coming out of camp.
So again, the lack of 3-point shooting, the lack of direction at the point guard position and not being a defensive minded team are the three biggest issues.
Philadunkia : Despite the list of ills the that plagues this 76ers team, they do have a solid level of talent on the roster. I believe this Sixers team should be better then their 13-27 record. Do you agree?
Legler : No doubt. I agree with you 100%. You say that they are “talented” and they are “talented” – Andre Iguodala is a talented player. He’s very athletic and can do a lot of things. Louis Williams has a lot of talent. Samuel Dalembert, people take shots at him all the time. He is what he is, but he’s fairly effective at rebounding the basketball and changing the game defensively. Elton Brand is a talented player and he seems healthier the he was a year ago. Thaddeus Young is an extremely talented player. Willie Green can do some things offensively. You bring in Kapono…The problem is they have too may similar talented players that do a lot of the same things. In the NBA, that’s not how you build teams that win. You need guys that compliment each other and I’m not sure that this roster compliments each other. I think they have a lot of guys whose skill set over laps each other and that’s a problem when you’re trying to get a balanced and diversified game plan together. The fact that they don’t have any one on their roster other then Kapono that is a legitimate 3-point threat, a guy you have to worry about burning you if you go double team, speaks to that. Look at the teams that win in this League, they have multiple guys on the court at all times that can shoot threes. Legitimate, consistent, three-point shooters. Every one of the top eight teams in the League has it. There’s not one team that doesn’t. Philadelphia has one guy and they don’t even play him that much.
Philadunkia : The most frustrating thing for me, and this mirrors the Donyell Marshall / Kareem Rush saga from 2008-09, is that management brought Kapono in to provide a desperately needed outside threat and they never play the guy.
Legler : You sound like you were sitting with me at around ten Sixers games last year because that’s all I would talk about. I have a 10-year old son and he’s a good player. I coach him and he’s pretty advanced on his knowledge of the game. Also he’s a point guard. He would go to the games with me last year and that’s all we would talk about every game. That was our conversation. He’d want to know why they’re not playing (Marshall & Rush)? Why don’t the Sixers have anyone who can shoot the three? They brought in Marshall and Kareem to shoot threes and they didn’t put them in the rotation. It seemed like every game I went to last year at some point out of desperation they would insert Donyell Marshall into the lineup, particularly the last two months of the year, and every game without fail he would hit two or three 3s and get them back in the game. Then the next game he wouldn’t play. I never understood what the logic was with Donyell Marshall and why Tony DiLeo just wouldn’t play him. Kareem Rush never even got out of the gates. At least Marshall had chances to impact some games.
If you’re the Sixers, look around the League and look at the teams that win – Orlando, Cleveland, San Antonio, Boston Celtics, look at Phoenix – it’s not a coincidence that teams that win 50-55 games a year have multiple players who can stretch the floor, make the defense work and make you pay when you double and rotate. The Sixers do not make you pay for that. It’s so easy to defend because you know when the ball is swung and reversed you know that the guy who catches it has to put the ball back on the floor and come right back at you as you are rotating out and that makes it different then rotating out to 25 feet to cover a guy that is standing there ready to bury a 3-pointer. The defense’s rotations are cut in half, in terms of the distance you have to cover, when you play a team like Philadelphia, because the ball is coming right back to you.
Philadunkia: Last year the Sixers were a solid defensive team (14thoverall in the L) and this year they are one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA. Except for a couple of tweaks, it’s basically the same roster as 2008-09, so are the Sixers defensive ills something that can be fixed in 2010?
Legler : It’s too late. It likely won’t happen this year. To do that, (fix the defense) if you’re Eddie Jordan you have to have another break in the schedule where you have four or five days off and you can take that stretch and focus on defense. You have to change your mentality first. Teams that win in this League think differently — Cleveland, Boston, San Antonio, the Lakers — well they’re up and down with their defense, but they can turn it on when they want to — they (winning teams) think coming out of the locker room about the defensive game plan and making life miserable for other people (offensively). The Sixers don’t do that. So you have to change your approach and then take four or fives days and talk about nothing but defense. You work on it over and over and over again so there are no mental mistakes or excuses. Finally, you have to make people accountable for defensive mistakes. In Philadelphia people’s minutes don’t suffer because of defensive lapses, so there’s no accountability. Until you do that the culture and intensity is not going to change.
Philadunkia: I’ve been mystified by the personnel rotations (or lack of any consistent ones) that Eddie Jordan has incorporated into his in-game coaching decisions. There appears to be no rhyme or reason to his substitution pattern from game to game. Can you shed some light on this situation for me?
Legler : I like Eddie a lot, but I think in his first year he’s been too soft and tried to pacify guys too much. The first year is when you have a blank page and that’s when you can establish things the way you want it. He didn’t have the right mentality. He should have conducted a boot camp type training camp where he made guys understand you’re not going to play if you can’t play defense. I don’t think it’s his personality and I don’t think it’s the way he wants to coach.
Philadunkia : Can you confirm for us that the Sixers and the Princeton offense officially parted ways some time ago?
Legler : What I saw in the games I watched early this season was that I would see it for the first eight minutes and then I would see it completely disappear. Once Allen Iverson got here and started playing, now you don’t even see it in the beginning of the game. I would defy you to sit down and watch tape with me of teams that have run the Princeton offense, even the way New Jersey ran it when they ran the Princeton offense under Lawrence Frank, and compare it to what the Sixers run – it’s hard to find it (the Princeton offense). How can you ever put “Princeton offense” as the description of team that doesn’t have anyone who can shoot the 3-point shot consistently? That as much as anything is part of the Princeton offense. Yes you get a lot of cutting, motion, back cuts and ball reversal, but ultimately when you get dribble penetration and teams are making mistakes (defensively) by chasing the basketball around, what you are counting on is that eventually there is going to be a mistake in the rotations and a kid is going to come wide open for a 3-point shot and he’s going to kill you. That’s something the Sixers don’t have. Iguodala shoots a lot of threes, a lot more threes then he should shoot, but they don’t have anyone else who can do it. So if he (AI9) doesn’t do it, who would? Kapono?
You can’t win in the NBA nowadays on two-pointers and buckets in transition, you just can’t. They don’t have the threats from deep and that’s the biggest problem with this team and it’s been the third straight year. That’s an organization not addressing a critical element of how you win in the NBA today.
Philadunkia : It’s my opinion that Elton Brand and his health has been used as a scapegoat or whatever you want to call it for the Sixers failings. If you look at his numbers over the last 10 or 12 games, he’s putting up 18 & 6 per night on limited minutes off the bench. I mean what else do people want from this guy? What is your opinion on how Brand has played this year?
Legler : I think Elton Brand has been an unfair scapegoat. It’s so easy to pin it on the guys who used to be an All-Star player every year, a career 20 & 10 guy, and got all that money, 80 million bucks, to come here. But people forget something. If you look at the history of the NBA, how many guys who have come back from a ruptured Achilles and have been anything close to what they were previous to the injury? Very, very, very few guys. Look at a guy like Antonio McDyess. He had other injuries too, but the ruptured Achilles is the one that did him in. Look at what he has become. He became a 15-foot elbow jump shooter because he doesn’t have the lift anymore. Elton Brand is not the kind of guy anymore that just punishes you against single coverage in the post. He’s going to have nights where he can get you 24 down there, but on nights where he’s not feeling god he’s going to get you 15, which is understandable. But the Sixers don’t have people who can stretch the defense so his impact has not and will not be felt in the way it was expected to happen based on his career in Los Angeles. That doesn’t mean he’s been a flop. He’s still a very effective inside player and a very effective offensive rebounder. He does a lot of things well for that team.
Philadunkia: Can a coaching change turn around the 2009-10 season?
Legler : No, not at all. Anymore I am disillusioned with the quick trigger that teams have in the NBA have on coaching changes. I look at Chicago this year for one. Vinny Del Negro is on the hot seat. Really? Seriously? Last year Vinny Del Negro comes in and had a lot of problems from a personality standpoint with his young big guys; and with a rookie point guard he got the team to a seven game series with the Celtics in the first round and almost pulls off the upset. He comes back this year after they trade Ben Gordon and don’t replace 20 points of offense in your lineup; John Salmons is having the worst year he’s had in the last six; Kirk Hinrich is having the worst year of his career; Brad Miller is old now; he’s got two rookies in his rotation – Taj Gibson and James Johnson; and Derrick Rose hurts his ankle in training camp and has no explosiveness what so ever for the first four weeks of the season. C’mon, you’re going to tell me that you’re going to put that coach on the hot seat? That’s just the NBA mentality anymore. Let’s just fire him and write a check for eight or nine million and tell the guy to go away. The Sixers at one point a couple years ago had four guys they were paying at the same time. If you think Eddie Jordan was the right hire then you haveto give him the right players and they haven’t done that.
The Sixers are going to make a move before the deadline, there’s no doubt in my mind and then you have the off-season next summer, so lets see what Eddie Jordan can do with a revamped roster. Now if they stink again next year, then you have to consider it, but I am not ready to pull the plug on it yet.
Legler : Let me ask you a question, “What is your definition of save the season?”
Philadunkia: A lot of people in this town would say that it’s defined by making the 2010 NBA Playoffs as an 8thseed and I am sure that’s what they are hoping for down at the Wachovia Center from a business / financial standpoint.
Legler : To you, is that something that would mean a lot to you – grab the 8thseed and lose in five games to the Celtics or the Cavs?
Philadunkia : Absolutely not. Without endorsing a losing mentality here, I’d have to admit that I’d much rather see the Sixers miss the playoffs and get into the 2010 Lottery and get a franchise changing player. We desperately need a dominant, star player on this team who is going to step in, be the #1 option and take this franchise to the next level. That player is not on the current roster and with our cap situation he’s not coming here via free agency. So that leaves trades or more likely the draft as our options for obtaining that type of player.
Legler : I agree with you 100%. At this point — I’m not saying go out and lose games because that mentality is bad for the League – but a this point the best thing that could happen for the Sixers is to miss the playoffs, get into the Lottery, pray to God that you get a lucky bounce with the ping-pong balls and get inside the top three or four and get a stud to come in. Then combined with some trades and maybe a free agent signing, you’re now moving in the right direction. Then maybe two years from now you’re hopefully a team that is fighting for the fourth seed and you’re relevant. Sneaking into the playoffs in this Conference and get annihilated in the first round of the playoffs by a really good team, that’s not getting you anywhere. The Sixers have been in that mode for a while now.
Philadunkia : So we agree that the Sixers are better off missing the 2010 playoffs, but how do we make this current team watch-able for the fans on a nightly basis? How do we get them to stop blowing 18-point leads and play some defense and take better shots?
Legler : I hear what you are saying. Give me something to watch so that when I sit down I am excited about watching the game and the future (of the Sixers). Whether they win or lose or make the playoffs or not, can sometimes be irrelevant. Take a look at Oklahoma City last year, they were pretty damn bad, but that place was packed and they were thrilled because they got to watch Kevin Durant every night and Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green. You could sit there and say, “man in a couple of years…(this team will be good)”. Then look at this year, they (OKC) might make the playoffs this year. Next year they might be a 48-50 win team. That’s what you are talking about. With this particular group (of Sixers) that’s only going to happen if there is some sort of major trade before the trading deadline and they change the personnel on this team.
Many thanks to Tim Legler for his time and knowledge.