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Big Rebound in Philly

Former Sacramento star Chris Webber is eager to show fellow players and fans he's still an All-Star.

October 16, 2005|From Associated Press

DURHAM, N.C. — Chris Webber spent the end of last season with Philadelphia looking for another timeout he didn't have.

Damaging Michigan's 1993 national championship bid with a gaffe that still earns him taunts in visiting NBA arenas caused great personal anguish, but he says playing the final 21 games with the 76ers last season hurt much worse.

"It was the worst situation I've ever been in in basketball," Webber said. "What I mean by that is, it was the worst feeling I ever had. Timeout times 50, basically."

Webber's season and reputation went terribly awry after he was traded from Sacramento in a stunning trade-deadline deal. The smooth forward with the easygoing personality went from earning Western Conference player of the month honors in January to being labeled an unhappy, injury-prone player whose skills were in decline and who could not coexist with Allen Iverson.

"When you hear things about yourself that are laughable, it can make you jaded or bitter and make you upset and get you out of your personality and who you are," Webber said.

Webber returned to training camp healthy and with a glacial-sized chip on his shoulder, determined to show he's still an All-Star, still capable of 20-10 games and able to get along just fine with Iverson, Philadelphia's controversial franchise player.

"He wants to go out and get on the court because he knows that's not the Chris Webber that came from Sacramento," 76er President Billy King said during training camp at Duke University.

Webber always has been the man. He starred at Michigan and with three NBA teams, most notably with the Kings -- where he enjoyed his greatest personal success and led them to the conference finals.

In Philadelphia last season, Webber was no longer the epicenter of the offense. That role already was filled by Iverson, and former coach Jim O'Brien was content to let his point guard run wild and take the bulk -- 771 to be exact -- of the shots.

Among his many questionable decisions, O'Brien never appeared willing to adjust the offense and make Webber a formidable presence in the post. Iverson was always encouraged to run and shoot on the loose, even in half-court sets where Webber is at his best.

"I definitely need the ball in my hands to shoot it, or to make decisions or to pass," Webber said.

Perhaps the low point came in early March when Webber was benched for more than an 11-minute span of the second half in a game against Atlanta where he wasn't in foul trouble. Iverson played all 48 minutes.

Webber scored in single digits three times with the Sixers, after dropping that low only once with the Kings. But Webber won't point his finger at O'Brien, who was fired after only one season.

"I definitely won't say coach O'Brien was the reason why," Webber said. "That would make him a scapegoat like I was last year."

While Webber still hasn't completely recovered from knee surgery following the 2003 playoffs, that cannot explain the dramatic drop in his production with the 76ers. In 46 games with Sacramento, Webber averaged 21.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists in 36.3 minutes. In 21 games with Philly, Webber averaged 15.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 33.4 minutes.

Still, Webber looked slow last year and at times seemed to be playing on one good leg.

"I can't figure it out," said first-year Sixer Coach Maurice Cheeks. "I'm just going to help him be the player that he was in Sacramento. I'm going to try my best to do that instead of saying why this didn't happen, that didn't happen. He's a star player for me."

No one really knows if Webber and Iverson can be coaxed into playing and producing like All-Stars while leading the Sixers back among the Eastern Conference elite. But Iverson believes the duo, with a combined 11 All-Star selections and no championships, can succeed together.

"I'm honestly tired of it and I can't wait for the season to get on just so we quiet people down a little bit," he said. "It can happen. He's the type of player I've always wanted on my team. He's the type of big man I always felt I needed to be successful in this league."

Well, Glenn Robinson also was supposed to be the sidekick that Iverson needed to win a championship. Ditto for Jerry Stackhouse, Tim Thomas and Toni Kukoc. Each was touted as the perfect scoring complement to Iverson. None panned out as Philadelphia's second scorer.

"I don't see there is a problem with Allen integrating a No. 2 guy," Cheeks said. "Chris is a star within his own self. He can pass, shoot, rebound. He loves to pass. When you have a guy like that, he's going to make Allen's life easier on the court."

Iverson and Webber clicked during training camp, an encouraging sign that the superstars with super egos might be able to mesh during the regular season.

"It's a great environment, man. It's a great atmosphere," said Webber, with his beaming smile back. "I could not be happier right now."

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