PHILADELPHIA -- Lock the doors. Pull down the shades. Secure the area.
That's what has been happening recently at Holy Family College, where former Philadelphia 76ers center Jeff Ruland has escalated his workouts, trying to determine whether he can come back.
The 6-foot-10 Ruland, who will turn 33 Dec. 16, hasn't played since 1986-87, when he lasted five games before being forced into retirement by an injury to his left knee. Before that, he spent five competitive seasons with Washington and appeared in the 1984 All-Star Game. In 308 regular-season games, he averaged 18.5 points and 10.8 rebounds.
Ruland got serious about even a remote chance of coming back late this summer, after working with some of the Sixers' big men during rookie camp. He gave up his job as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Iona College, and had an arthroscopic procedure performed on his knee by Dr. Richard Steadman in Vail, Colo. Sources say he has been running without pain on a treadmill, that he has dropped more than 20 pounds and has begun attempting jump shots.
Still, Ruland and Sixers owner Harold Katz, fearing what they believe would be a media circus, have been unwilling to say anything publicly about the situation. Sources say both parties are still unsure whether this grand experiment can really succeed, even though Katz would clearly be interested in signing a healthy Ruland. Katz could do that, despite the Sixers already being well over the league's $12.5 million salary cap limit.
The mechanics of the cap would allow the Sixers who retain Ruland's rights to reinstate him, but at no more than the terms of what remained on his contract when he retired. Ruland had one season remaining at nearly $800,000 and an option season at more than $1 million. Katz likely wouldn't pay Ruland anywhere near those amounts now, especially because he would not even be permitted to practice with the team without first signing.
Ruland appears deadly serious and has Katz's full support. Within the last two weeks, Katz has watched at least one of Ruland's workouts and seems encouraged.
If Ruland can play, he would bring a toughness and a mind-set that the Sixers sorely lack. But, even if he can come back, it has been nearly five seasons since he has played at the highest level of the sport.
The Sixers' Charles Barkley likes to say that "if ifs were gifts, every day would be Christmas."
+ It's coming soon, isn't it?
Rumors have been floating around that the construction of a new arena for the Sixers and Flyers, on the current site of JFK Stadium, could be delayed or even canceled because of the sagging economy.
Not to worry, says Fred Shabel, Spectacor board chairman. His company has already hired a brokerage to secure financing for the project, possibly through a Japanese bank.
Not to worry, says Katz.
"I was involved in a recent meeting and asked about the situation," Katz said. "I was told they're prepared to go ahead, that they've had some action [selling] luxury suites. They seem upbeat."
Golden State coach Don Nelson remembers agonizing over the trade in which the Warriors acquired Billy Owens from Sacramento in return for Mitch Richmond, convincing himself that Owens' size (6-9) and versatility made him a hot property.
"The risk," Nelson said, "is in the unknown. You've seen what Richmond could do for us, you think you know what Owens could do. But there have been mistakes high in the draft before, so even though Owens was the No. 3 pick [by the Kings], you're not really sure until you see for yourself.
"The question you ask is, does the kid have 'it,' whatever 'it' is? You can't really define it, but you know it when you see it. That's why his first practice with us was a relief. He's got 'it.' "
Jerry Reynolds, player personnel director for the Kings, prefers to see the other side of that coin.
"Somehow, the guy coming out [of college] sometimes has more credibility than the guy already in the league," Reynolds said.
"I mean, some picks are worth it, but if you give a rookie $19 million and he doesn't do it, your franchise could be ruined. To me, Owens might be great, but Richmond already is."
A word to describe the Sixers' 88-86 loss Tuesday night in New Jersey? Dreadful comes to mind.
One team shot 38.5 percent from the floor, scoring 31 points in the second half, 11 in the fourth quarter.
And that team WON.
A suggestion: If the Sixers are as concerned as they say they are about lack of production off the bench, and if just-signed forward Michael Ansley is as good as they seem to think, why not start Ansley and let Ron Anderson resume his more familiar role off the bench.
Glenn Rivers can't possibly be happy about being with the Los Angeles Clippers. He says that the Atlanta Hawks had promised renegotiate his contract, that the Clippers were aware of that when they traded for him. But the Clippers have refused, and Rivers grudgingly cut his losses by showing up and trying to be optimistic. To me, that puts him way ahead of Rod Strickland, who has yet to agree to terms with San Antonio. I know the Spurs were only 12-12 without him last season, but that might be more their fault than anything else. I see Strickland as a talent, but a long way away from star quality.