Webber is excited early about Sixers' fresh startBy Joe JulianoInquirer Staff Writer
DURHAM, N.C. - Three days of the 76ers' training camp have been completed. There are still three more days of camp, plus practices and eight preseason games, before the Sixers start playing for real Nov. 1.
But if the smile that lit up Chris Webber's face yesterday means anything, things under new head coach Maurice Cheeks are off to a rousing start.
"You see me smile last year?" Webber asked reporters after practice at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium. "It feels good. It's a great environment and a great atmosphere, so I couldn't be happier right now."
Smiles from Webber were rare last season. He struggled to find his game in former coach Jim O'Brien's system after his Feb. 23 trade from Sacramento to the Sixers, and his sore left knee didn't help matters any.
Webber worked hard to strengthen his knee in the off-season. Before the start of training camp, he said, Cheeks met with him and clearly outlined his role on the team. Cheeks did the same thing with Allen Iverson, and "we're both happy with that," Webber said.
Webber gave credit to Cheeks for fostering a positive camp atmosphere.
"I'm not speaking against anyone else," he said, "but with Mo, when you're so confident and you know that you've done what you've done, you don't have to prove anything.
"It's almost like, 'Guys, you want to listen to me and you want to win, you'd better listen. If you don't, I'll find somebody else.' I think that helps the role players. I want what Mo has, and that's a championship. I admire what he's done. He's been a man first and a coach second. If you're a good man, it's easy to be a good coach."
As he tries to find ways for Webber and Iverson to mesh, Cheeks is similarly complimentary toward Webber.
"Chris and Allen were very good [yesterday] the way they were mixing together," Cheeks said. "That's one of the things we're trying to do in camp, getting everyone used to playing with each other. You can see when you put the ball in Chris' hands, the things that he can do getting guys easy shots. He just makes our offense so much better when you put the ball in his hands."
Cheeks said Webber "seems to be running fine."
Webber said the style of offense introduced by Cheeks is "something that I'm a little more accustomed to," giving him the ball in a position where he can find cutters or an open man spotted up.
Naturally, the question everyone asks is whether Webber and Iverson can coexist in the lineup, whether they're ready to make the sacrifices that will help the strategy succeed.
Webber said it's a matter of each player stepping up his game instead.
"We've got to lead these guys," he said. "Energy without experience isn't always the best combination. You have that combination of energy and experience, youth and experience, so I think if anything, we're going to raise our games to a level to make sure we get to where we need to be."
Of course, a season goes on for more than three days. There will be frustration and conflict and some rough patches between now and the end of the regular season April 19, seemingly 1,000 days from now.
But for Webber, it's been a lovely start.
"I'm very encouraged, very encouraged," he said. "It's been nothing but positive. It's nothing but hard work, and that's all you can ask for. It feels great out here."