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Sixers can be tough to love (sometimes), but the NBA isn't

By Mike Lombardi, for NBA.com
POSTED: Aug 20, 2012 9:32 AM ET

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Fickle Philly fans will support new center Andrew Bynum -- as long as he always plays hard.

David Aldridge's Monday morning column, The Morning Tip, is on hiatus. Aldridge has combed his contacts list and asked for volunteers to fill in for him while he's away. First up: Michael Lombardi, a regular contributor to the NFL Network and a longtime NBA fan. The Morning Tip will return in mid-September.

I am truly honored that my good friend, David Aldridge, asked me to fill in for him with a guest column while he is on a well-deserved vacation. David knows I am a huge NBA fan and an even bigger 76ers fan.

From his days covering the league and the 76ers for the Philadelphia Inquirer, David really had no choice but to befriend me. I was always harassing him with questions about the 76ers. When he became a columnist in Philadelphia and covered the NFL, he spent time in Oakland with me while I worked for the Oakland Raiders and we covered every aspect of the league over a long lunch. David knows my passion for the NBA and he knows all too well my love/hate relationship with the home team in Philadelphia.

The 76ers are my waterloo. I feel like Michael Corleone in "The Godfather: Part III" when he says, "Just when I thought I was out ... they pull me back in." This love/hate relationship started when I was young. I can remember it like it was yesterday.

It was a winter day in my hometown of Ocean City, N.J., I was playing with a bunch of my childhood friends. I left our football game (much to their chagrin) to go home and watch a 76ers game. No one could believe I was actually leaving, but it was important to me to have a chance on a Saturday afternoon to watch my favorite team. With the likes of John Block and Dale Schlueter wearing Sixers uniforms, I regretted my decision midway through the first quarter. At that point I decided to abandon them as my team. But soon, I fell back in love again when Doug Collins and George McGinnis arrived. I've been on this 76ers roller coaster ever since, with the coaster now at a high point after the addition of Andrew Bynum.

Being a 76ers fan is not easy. From their bad trades to their bad picks, they make loving them hard. For whatever reason, though, I can never cure my addiction. In fact, when I worked for the Raiders, I had NBA League Pass in my office. When they played on the East Coast, the Sixers would come on at 4:30 p.m. (Pacific time), and I watched them. Granted, there were times I turned them off at halftime. But the next time they played, I was tuned in.

Even though I have been in love and out of love with the Sixers, I have always loved the NBA. The game itself is an education, especially when Hubie Brown is handling the analyst/teacher role on TV. His discussion of elements of the game sends my mind racing on how to apply similar lessons to the NFL. The NFL has become basketball on grass, especially with the way the NBA coaches handle the players, handle the matchups, make substitutions, change tempo, create pace -- those can all be applicable and adaptable to the NFL. Football today is all about matchups, and if you don't understand the league and how each matchup affects the team, then you are missing the big picture. When Hubie is coaching both teams on his broadcast, I have a pen and paper in hand taking notes, trying to understand how he breaks down players and plays.

A good example of this was when Peyton Manning had the Indianapolis Colts' offense humming along and his teammates were all multi-dimensional (in terms of being able to create positive matchups in their favor). Dallas Clark, a tight end by position, could be a wide receiver, too. When the Colts had Clark and another tight end, Marcus Pollard, on the field, defenses had to prepare for two-tight end plays as well as the three-receiver plays. Clark's versatility enabled the offense to be diverse without substituting, thus not allowing the opponents to get the right matchup on the field.

This is no different than when the Bulls were great with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Jordan and Pippen could play multiple positions. Each time they shifted into another position on the court, opponents had to substitute appropriately. As soon as they did, the Bulls moved Pippen and Jordan to another spot and the Bulls had their opponents at a complete disadvantage.

The NBA also taught me that when building a comprehensive receiving group, it is critical to use an NBA team as a model -- thus creating favorable matchups. The Saints' receivers are like an NBA team -- Jimmy Graham being the center, Marques Colston the power forward, Lance Moore the point guard and Devery Henderson the off-guard/small forward.

By building a receiver group like this, it requires the defense to have four different types of corners: quick and small ones to cover the "point guard," big and powerful ones to cover the "center/power forward" and athletic, long players to cover the "off-guard" and "small forward." Most teams lack this versatility. If they choose to play man-to-man, they end up giving the offense the matchup they like. Much like an NBA team, the receivers start attacking that secondary.

Watching the NBA has aided me in evaluating football players. Often, you can tell watching NBA games when a top player has lost his power in his lower body: Shots start to fall short, easy passes become tough and the spring in his leap is gone. All those symptoms apply in the NFL. In fact, Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome once told me he knew his legs were gone when he could no longer make an easy catch look easy.

In the NFL, speed is king when evaluating defensive backs. Watching the NBA, speed combined with balance makes rebounders more effective, and that combination makes defensive backs more effective as well. When a corner goes up to play the ball in the air, if he is not balanced, the receiver will make the play ... just like when a rebounder isn't balanced, he won't get the board. Speed is an important characteristic for corners, but balance is just as critical.

Before the Bynum trade, I called the 76ers the Seventy Six-Footers because the team was constructed of too many players who are small forwards playing out of position. The team was small and had no flexibility or power. And I hate teams with no power.

The key to team-building in the NFL or in the NBA is not merely to collect talent, but rather to build the right kind of talent that can beat the best teams in the league. Teams need versatility. The 76ers had a bunch of good athletes that could not play together or handle the bigger teams. Acquiring Bynum has eliminated that problem while keeping the Sixers versatile. Much like in the NFL, when a team has a quarterback, the other role players look and perform better. With Bynum as quarterback, I expect the 76ers' role players to excel.

After the lack of trading of late by Philly, I was worried the 76ers' cell phones were not working. But with this trade, they have brought me back into the love part of our relationship. I anxiously await the start of the season. Do I care if Bynum is a potential free agent? Hell no. He can make much more money if he stays and he will be the face of the franchise. Philadelphia might have a tough reputation as a sports town, but the fans will respond to any star player that works hard, competes each night and is willing to do whatever it takes to help the team. Bynum knows the area and he knows what awaits him when he plays at the Wells Fargo Center 41 nights this year.

I could go on and on talking hoops and the NFL, but am really thankful to David for the chance to let me get closer to the NBA. I hope you enjoyed my column, and check out my football columns on NFL.com.

Michael Lombardi is a former NFL personnel executive and a regular contributor to NFL Total Access on NFL Network. Follow him on Twitter.

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