Sixers turn to addition by subtraction, but plenty of problem solving remains


PHILADELPHIA -- Redrawing the map of Europe was idle doodling compared to what the Philadelphia 76ers have undertaken with their roster. Wednesday's bold stroke that eliminated Charles Barkley and added three players -- Andrew Lang, Tim Perry and Jeff Hornacek -- was just the first swipe of the pen.

By the time training camp begins, the Sixers will be a radically different team from the one that limped to a 35-47 finish last season. Being different, that's good. Being better, that would be nice, too.

Will they be?

"We'll be better," Sixers owner Harold Katz said. "Before we're finished, we'll have five or six different players. It will be a completely fresh team."

The Sixers have many things right now. They have a new coach and a new way of playing basketball.

But they also have way too many basketball players. Even subtracting Dave Hoppen and Mitchell Wiggins, free agents being allowed to fade into last season's dim sunset, the Sixers still have, or will have, some commitment to 15 players. At last check, the league allows 12 on a roster.

"We definitely have a numbers problem," Katz said. "I'm willing to eat certain salaries if that's what it takes. It's the price you have to pay to get the team straight."

At the moment, the Sixers have five guards: Hersey Hawkins, Johnny Dawkins, Jeff Hornacek, Greg Grant and Brian Oliver.

Oliver may well be one of the players giving Katz indigestion. Oliver, who will be entering his third season, has received little playing time and is signed to a guaranteed contract for two more seasons.

Coach Doug Moe said he envisions a primary three-guard rotation featuring Dawkins, Hawkins and Hornacek, although he wouldn't speculate on who would be the starters.

"I've used a lot of strange lineups. You can do a lot of things to throw a changeup at the other team," Moe said.

At forward, the Sixers have Tim Perry, Ron Anderson, Armon Gilliam, Kenny Payne and Jayson Williams.

Payne has only a modest half-guarantee for the coming season and could be voted most likely to disappear.

The others are a rather incongruous mix of talents. If, as might be assumed, the Sixers use the ninth pick in the upcoming draft to take another forward, the mix will get even more confusing.

With the exception of Gilliam, however, all the forwards are lithe and athletic. Moe's motion game that requires movement away from the ball and a good ability to pass will test the group, however.

"Gilliam and Hawkins both have to rise above last year. They're capable of it," Moe said. "I like Gilliam and I think he'll be better than he was last year. I'll push players until they play at the best of their abilities."

The Sixers also have four centers: Lang, Jeff Ruland, Manute Bol and Charles Shackleford.

Katz said that either Bol or Shackleford won't be back next season, although both have guaranteed contracts.

The 7-foot-7 Bol, ponderously slow and brutally unskilled, would be a disaster in a motion game. Shackleford is a better athlete, although badly miscast last season as a starter.

Ruland is a good passer and team player, although not as fast as he was before injury snapped five years out of his career.

Lang is a good defensive center, with some limited offensive ability. In Moe's offense, the center generally plays high post, makes an entry pass and gets out of the way, so defense will be Lang's first priority, anyway.

Remove Oliver, Payne and Bol and the Sixers are down to 12 players. But Katz and general manager Jim Lynam indicated the trading might not yet be finished.

If the team can package rather than cut any or all of those players, Katz would be financially happier.

Should the team get to draft day and find that an outstanding guard -- like USC's Harold Miner -- or swingman -- like Arkansas' Todd Day -- is still available, then the team might look to trade Hawkins.

In all probability, however, it will be a forward taken in the draft on Wednesday. Katz indicated that Clarence Weatherspoon of Southern Mississippi, a baby Barkley at 6-7 and 240 pounds, was impressive Wednesday when the Sixers had him in for an interview.

With Barkley gone, replacing his offense in the frontcourt will be vital. A strong rookie like Weatherspoon would help.

So are the Sixers better?

On the cold paper where abilities are laid out, the Sixers did not receive equal basketball ability in return for Charles Barkley.

But Barkley had become a liability in the locker room. He needed a change of scenery. The Sixers would not return to greatness with Barkley, who says he will play just three more seasons.

Call it addition by subtraction, if you will, but call it addition.

"If you want to discuss this seriously, is Charles physically the same guy he was when he was 21 years old?" said Lynam. "No. He's subjected to a savage beating every night. When you see his numbers are down, figure it out. He's not a machine."

Trading Barkley a year too early rather than a year too late was important to the Sixers. Tack on another season of nagging injuries -- perhaps a major one -- and toss in another season of demoralizing controversy, and Barkley might have been untradable.

The Sixers now have the possibility of a fresh start under Moe, with players of roughly equal ability, all of whom will get a chance to be a star.

Hornacek makes the Sixers a better-shooting team, although Moe will have to walk a fine line in the minutes he apportions between the new players, Hawkins and Dawkins.

Look for the Sixers to play three guards together some of the time, with just defenders and rebounders at the two frontcourt positions.

It will be interesting, although probably not championship caliber in the first year. Moe's teams generally lead the league in points scored and points given up because of the hair-on-fire pace with which his teams play.

For the first time in eight years, there won't be a marquee name to turn to in the game's final stages. But, particularly last year, the game's final stages were usually beyond saving.

"I looked at a lot of the films from last year and the chemistry just wasn't there. It was a tough year and it got worse as it went along," Moe said. "Ask Jimmy what it was like to have a marquee player and win 35 games. It stinks."

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