PHILADELPHIA (AP) -Chris Webber and Allen Iverson are getting ready for the playoffs. The Philadelphia 76ers are heading home for the summer.
This was the trade-off the organization was willing to take - even if it was a year too late - to get back on track with salary cap flexibility, team-oriented play and high draft picks for a better future.
With Iverson and Webber, the Sixers (35-47) knew only losing this year. Without them, they learned how to win.
``I don't think anyone considers our whole season the actual season,'' forward Kyle Korver said Thursday. ``I think we all kind of feel like once the trade happened, that's the team we have now. We didn't play championship-level basketball, but we played pretty solid basketball.''
Once the Sixers decided to trade franchise player Iverson to Denver in December and cut ties with Webber about a month later, everything changed.
With Andre Miller running the offense, Andre Iguodala's game exploded like one of his flashy dunks, and the rest of the Sixers became more than backup-option, stationary pieces.
``No one's complaining about playing time. No one's pointing figures about bad shots, good shots,'' Korver said. ``We're all in this together. We had to be.''
The Sixers, who had just five wins on Dec. 20, went 30-29 after trading Iverson; 26-21 once Webber left for Detroit. They ripped off a seven-game winning streak - only the second team in NBA history with a streak that long after being 20 games below .500 - won seven straight at home, and went 18-11 after the All-Star break.
``I've never been so excited on this particular day about next year as I am this year,'' Korver said.
And why not? A .500 record would have been enough to get them into the playoffs this season, and the nucleus of Iguodala, Korver, Miller and center Samuel Dalembert will be back. Plus, there are those three-first round picks. The Sixers also have their lottery pick and two more at the back end of the round that could be packaged for more immediate help.
``Our goal is to make the playoffs and give yourself a chance to win, but we're very excited about our young guys and our team in general because our ceiling can be very high,'' coach Maurice Cheeks said.
Cheeks, a Sixers point guard on the 1983 championship team, will return for a third season - a move that's popular with the players. During their final meeting, Cheeks stressed the players couldn't assume they would pick up where they left off in the final 40 games and needed to spend time in the gym.
Dalembert plans to follow that advice and will try out for the Canadian Olympic team.
This will be a pivotal offseason for team president Billy King. The Sixers missed the playoffs for the second straight year - third time in the last four seasons - and this summer will go a long way toward determining if he can turn the Sixers back into Eastern Conference contenders.
King was not available for comment Thursday, and he's been quiet about what areas need to be addressed. Regardless, Philadelphia expects to be back in the playoffs next season, and their competitive second half was a necessary first step.
``I don't feel like the season should be done yet,'' Korver said.
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