Maurice Cheeks: "All I can do is concentrate on basketball and control what I can control"
The 76ers are coming off a 35-47 season, but many preseason prediction have the team finishing in last place in the Atlantic Division. What are your thoughts to the low preseason expectations by the so-called experts?
Maurice Cheeks: We don’t read the publications. I don’t anyway. I don’t know what the predictions are. All we do is go out and put out maximum effort on the floor and live with that. I’m sure the players read predictions and magazines and everything. But you are going out to play. You are not worried about where they put you. You are out on the floor and give yourself a chance to win. The biggest statement a team can make is go out on the floor and not reading those things. If somebody says you will be in first place and win the championship, you still have to go out and compete.
You are in the final year of your contract. You haven’t made a public issue about it. Is it a difficult situation for you?
MC: It’s all about basketball. All I do is concentrate on basketball and control what I can control, which is being out on the floor, teaching my players, trying to get them to play as hard as they can and hopefully we get some wins out of it. More importantly we are trying to put our efforts out on the floor and we will get some wins out of that. I’m just trying to concentrate on our efforts on the floor.
You have a long relationship with Larry Brown, having served as an assistant to him and now he is the Sixers executive vice president. While his presence could be perceived as a distraction, the two of you are often talking after practice. Could you discuss the situation?
MC: Larry Brown is one of the premier coaches in the league. I like to sit down and talk to him and hear him talk about some of the things we can do better as a team and a staff. I listen to a lot of things he says because he is one of the premier coaches, a Hall of Fame coach and it would be silly for me not to talk to him.
The Sixers were 5-18 before last season trading Allen Iverson and finished 30-29 after the trade. How were you able to keep the team focused when things appeared to be falling apart?
MC: We had some character players here last year. A lot of the things we went through early on, our players stood pat. They didn’t give up on the things we were trying to do. As a result we were able to stay together and win some games. If guys would have gone out and given up on the season, and just said we will go out there and just play, we probably couldn’t have had the progress and the success we had toward the end of the season.
The team finished 17-9 in the last 26 games. Can that momentum carry into this season?
MC: Based on the things we did toward the end of last year I am excited about this year. The unselfish play we exhibited toward the end of the year, we can do the whole year. I always talk about Andre Miller. He has been a major part of helping other players become much better players.
You’re a former point guard. How much is Andre Miller an extension of you?
MC: Andre Miller is that extension. He has been around a few years and understands the game. I can tell him certain things I want done on the floor and he makes relays that to the other players. Andre Miller is a joy to coach and puts young players in the right situation. He understands the game so well. When you have a player like that, I don’t have to do everything and can pass it on to him. He helps other players excel and that is what makes the game easier.
MC: Any time you get Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, you will have a good basketball team. They still have to go out and play. There are no guarantees for anything. While they are nice formidable players, I think the fact that when we go out and compete night in and night out, gives us a chance to win as much as anybody.
You have seemed to place a lot of emphasis on how hard the team played last season and all the players seem to agree that is the best trait of the team. How mentally tough is this team?
MC: Last year we had a challenging season. Though it all we stayed together, went out with a purpose and it was challenging in itself. You won’t be disappointed with our effort and mentally we’ll challenge these guys on the floor and we’ll be ready for everything. I am excited about the players we have, physically, mentally.
What are your expectations for Andre Iguodala, who ended up averaging 18.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists last year?
MC: My expectations are for him to be the best player he can be. Not to get 20 points or eight rebounds. Just be the best player he can be and that is saying a lot because he has the abilities that allow him to score the ball, rebound the ball, pass the ball and all those things if done correctly will end up being a very good season for him.
MC: He is a banger, a hustler, a rebounder, something we were looking to get better at and we have. He brings enthusiasm to the game, all-out hustle play and that is what we are looking for. You will see the pluses he brings. He is a very good offensive rebounder and defensive rebounder and can guard fours and fives. He brings an element we didn’t have last year and will be another energy guy.
Marc Narducci covers the NBA for the Philadelphia Inquirer and is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com
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