John Lucas believes he is less a coach than a counselor. He will
have to be a lot more of both if he is to help the 76ers out of
their five-year spiral, in which their record each season has
been worse than the one before it. As a coach, Lucas will have
to improve his end-of-game strategy; Philadelphia won only nine
of 35 games decided by six points or fewer in 1994-95. And as a
counselor, well, let's just say his new caseload would keep Dr.
Frasier Crane talking through drive time.
In yet a third role, that of G.M., Lucas signed a pair of free
agents in the off-season: forward Richard Dumas and guard
Vernon Maxwell. Dumas, while showing brilliant flashes as a
Phoenix rookie in 1992-93, was hailed by some as "Dr. J with a
jump shot." But he now heads to Julius Erving's old Spectrum
address after having suited up for only 15 games in the last two
seasons because of his second violation of the league's drug
policy. Lucas, who chronicled his own addiction to cocaine in
his 1994 book, Winning a Day at a Time, coached Dumas 31/2 years
ago while with the Miami Tropics of the USBL. "When you're
talking about basketball and talent," Lucas says, "there aren't
many people more talented than Richard."
"I've known John for a while," says Dumas. "He understands me.
He keeps his foot up my butt a lot of times, and I need that."
Maxwell is discarding the nickname Mad Max; now all he has to do
is change the behavior that made it so apt. Last season with the
Houston Rockets he served a 10-game suspension for going after a
fan in the stands in Portland. He later went into a funk when
Houston acquired Clyde Drexler from the Trail Blazers, and took
a leave of absence from the team after Houston's playoff opener.
In late August, two months after the Rockets released him,
Maxwell failed to stop for a red light and was nabbed with
marijuana allegedly in his car. Two days later, he was hit with
a paternity suit. Both cases are pending. "That's behind me
now," Maxwell says. "I've got a clean slate. John is here, and
he's like a big brother to me."
Lucas will serve as Maxwell's mentor in another manner: He will
oversee Maxwell's move from shooting guard to the point. Sixer
owner Harold Katz wisely refused to get into a bidding war for
Dana Barros, who's more of a shooting guard than a point guard.
Maxwell's defense and ferocity should surely spark Philly's
attack, though his ability to run a team is far from certain.
"I'm sure we're going to fight sometimes, but our whole offense
is going to change," Lucas says. "It will be up to me to find
things that Vernon can do."
Maxwell's backcourt running mate won't lag behind him in
competitive spirit (though he holds the early lead in common
sense). In 6'6" rookie Jerry Stackhouse, a North Carolina
product and the third pick in the draft, Philadelphia has its
first championship-caliber off-guard since Andrew Toney. "Last
year we played soft," Katz says, "and John Lucas and I looked
for players who could change that." Stackhouse--who can post up,
slash and shoot--will.
The insertion of Dumas at the 3-spot will create some clutter in
the frontcourt. With Sharone Wright drafted last season to play
power forward, Clarence Weatherspoon had to move outside, where
he was often at a defensive disadvantage. Weatherspoon
maintained his average of 18-plus points a game, but his
shooting percentage (from 48.3 to 43.9) and boards per game
(10.1 to 6.9) plummeted. Now, if Lucas doesn't peddle him for a
true point guard, Spoon may eventually have to serve as a
multipurpose utensil off the bench.
After dislocating his left kneecap midway through his rookie
season, then reinjuring it in the fourth exhibition game last
year, center Shawn Bradley was able to play the full 82 in
'94-95. Bradley continued his annoying habit of complaining to
refs--call his bio Whining a Day at a Time--but rallied to
average 16.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.9 blocks over the last
15 games. The 7'6"-er is an undeniable shot-blocking force: He
finished third in the league in swats, with 3.34 a game.
Unfortunately, he fouled out 18 times last year, more than 14
The emergence of Bradley illustrates Lucas's gift for pushing
psychic buttons, but this season his fingers will be busier than
a court stenographer's. If Lucas can help Dumas stay clean and
get Maxwell focused, look for the Sixers' healing process to
start this year and to continue, one season at a time.
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS The shot-blocking Bradley must increase rejections and decrease ejections. [Shawn Bradley blocking shot by Dallas Maverick]
BY THE NUMBERS
1994-95 TEAM STATISTICS
PPG (Rank) FG% (Rank)
OFFENSE 95.4 (25) .448 (22)
DEFENSE 100.4 (10) .465 (16)
THE PHILLY FLASH
Last Nov. 3, the day before the start of the NBA season, the
Heat released Willie Burton. Five days later, he was signed by
Philadelphia. Then on Dec. 13 Burton exacted revenge from his
old team, exploding for 53 points in the Sixers' 105-90 victory
over Miami. It was one of the most improbable single-game
scoring eruptions in league history. Burton's previous career
high was 28 points, and he went on to finish the season with a
career-best 15.3-points-per-game average. Never before had a
player registered a 50-point game during a season in which he
had such a low scoring average.
Lowest-Scoring 50-Point Men
Pts. Date Opponent PPG
Willie Burton, 53 Dec. 13, 1994 Heat 15.3
Fred Brown, 58 March 23, 1974 Warriors 16.5
Vernon Maxwell, 51 Jan. 26, 1991 Cavaliers 17.0
Rudy LaRusso, 50 March 14, 1962 Hawks 17.2
Billy Knight, 52 Nov. 11, 1980 Spurs 17.5
Walt Wesley, 50 Feb. 19, 1971 Royals 17.7
PLAYER TO WATCH
As the sixth pick in the '94 draft, out of Clemson, power
forward Sharone Wright drew comparisons to ex-76er great Moses
Malone. Unfortunately, Wright did occasionally move with the
speed and grace of a 40-year-old man. And though his rookie
numbers were respectable, he showed too little fight or
tenacity. Wright seemed most comfortable setting up on the left
block, but he missed too many point-blank shots. Furthermore,
his inability to beat a hasty retreat on defense cost Philly
dearly. This will be a pivotal year for Wright. "I want him to
have a bread-and-butter move where I know that late in the game,
it's going to get him two points," coach John Lucas says. "I
think Sharone has just now tapped into what is expected of him."
STARTERS 1994-95 Key Statistics
SF Clarence Weatherspoon 18.1 ppg 6.9 rpg 2.8apg
PF Sharone Wright 11.4 ppg 6.0 rpg 46.5 FG%
C Shawn Bradley 9.5 ppg 8.0 rpg 3.34 bpg
PG Vernon Maxwell 13.3 ppg 4.3 apg 32.4 3FG%
SG Jerry Stackhouse Rookie; 3rd overall pick, from
F Richard Dumas 5.5 ppg 1.9 rpg 0.5 apg
G Jeff Malone 18.4 ppg 50.7 FG% 39.3 3FG%
C-F Scott Williams 6.4 ppg 6.3 rpg 47.5 FG%