Mutombo For Van Horn...And MacCulloch? I'm With It.
After seeing Dikembe Mutombo's skills erode so dramatically last year, I was almost with the idea of a Mutombo for Van Horn deal, straight-up (if the salary cap issues could be worked out). But after I learned that Todd MacCulloch was also included in the deal, I was sold, hands down.
I was one of those who was upset that MacCulloch had been allowed to sign with New Jersey as a free agent at the end of our Eastern Conference championship season. To this day, I believe that if Matt Geiger had retired after the 2000-2001 season and not at the very beginning of the 2001-2002 season the 76ers may have made it to the Finals, again, with MacCulloch still in the fold, backing up the rapidly-aging Mutombo.
The 76ers, in one season went from one of the fastest teams in NBA history to one of the slowest teams in all of the league last year. It was pitiful to watch. Basketballs were bobbled and mishandled, players labored up the floor with high-knee lift running, still going nowhere. We were beat to loose balls. And it seemed that anyone who wanted to, could drive down the lane and slam it in Dikembe's face. What had only been the purview of Jordan, Kobe and Vince, became a common occurence as no-names waved their fingers at Dikembe after their rim-rattling jams. Things got so bad last year that at a certain point I wondered privately if we weren't better off with Tyrone Hill - the 2000-2001 king of 76ers hand-eye uncoordination.
Now, of course I do have my worries. I do suspect that Dikembe will be fueled by the trade and everytime the 76ers play the Nets, we may be looking at like 8 rejections a game, courtesy of the Congolese giant. And we have lost a measure of intimidation that can't be replaced. But I can live with that because we now have what we never had before - a serious scoring threat to go alongside Iverson. Van Horn, in effect, is what Toni Kukoc was supposed to have been three years ago.
Don't get me wrong I do think that Van Horn plays soft. But, if Derrick Coleman comes back healthy and the 76ers are able to add Keon Clark or Rodney Rogers to the fold, I am not concerned as much. But there is no denying that the squad is not as good as it was last year, in terms of shot blocking and rebounding. Hopefully, the 76ers can re-sign Matt Harpring to fill some of the void. There is some risk involved whenever you lose defense and rebounding but the 76ers weren't going to win anything with one player taking 30-plus shots a game while the rest of the team stood around and watched with the rest of us.
I am surprised that the Nets are so excited about the deal. New Jersey is getting a player who is past the point of diminishing returns, if he plays more than 30 minutes a night. Reading and listening to the comments coming from the northern New Jersey and New York media, I can tell that they are desperate, gassed over last year's perfromance, and absolutely did not watch Mutombo for 82 games a year like us 76ers fans did. They are in for a rude awakening once they realize how slow the addition of Mutombo and the loss of the agile Van Horn and MacCulloch makes them. They will be good, but their chemistry is blown. And they are absolutely out of their minds if they think that Mutombo can match up with Shaq. Been there, done that with Philly - with Mutombo, Geiger and MacCulloch all being hopelessly backed down by the 300-pound platinum Hip-Hop artist, in the 2001 Finals. They were all crushed by O'Neal. Mutombo by himself has no hope.
Now, this becomes very interesting for those who believe that White males need an affirmative action program in basketball. If Harpring is re-signed, the 76ers have the potential of having three White starters, and an all-White starting frontcourt. That should bode well for tickets sales in South Philly but will it translate into more wins? I think so. Look for the 76ers to return to the NBA Finals and lose, to the Lakers, while the Nets watch.
What do you think?
Cedric Muhammad can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, August 7, 2002