Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Nets get Mutombo for Van Horn, MacCulloch

The Associated Press

        PHILADELPHIA — In a major trade involving the past two Eastern Conference champions, the Philadelphia 76ers sent center Dikembe Mutombo to the New Jersey Nets on Tuesday in exchange for Keith Van Horn and Todd MacCulloch.

        The deal improves New Jersey's defense and Philadelphia's offense and sends two players — Van Horn and MacCulloch — back to the team that originally drafted them.

        Mutombo, a 7-foot-2 center who led the NBA in rebounding in 1999-00 and 2000-01, was acquired by the 76ers at the trading deadline in 2001 and helped them reach the NBA Finals. He signed a lucrative extension prior to the 2001-02 season and is due to receive almost $54 million over the next three seasons.

        Mutombo will play center for New Jersey in place of MacCulloch, who was briefly a teammate of Mutombo's in Philadelphia before signing with the Nets a year ago as a free agent. The center position was a weak spot for the Nets when they reached the NBA Finals in June and were unable to stop Shaquille O'Neal of the Lakers.

        “To get a player of that ilk was something we felt we should do,” Nets president Rod Thorn said. “We should be a really good defensive team.”

        The trade also will allow the Nets to move Richard Jefferson, who was coming off an impressive rookie season, into the starting lineup.

        Van Horn was chosen by Philadelphia with the overall No. 2 pick in the 1997 draft but was immediately shipped to the Nets in an eight-player trade. He averaged a career-low 14.8 points per game last season and was conspicuously ineffective during several postseason games.

        Although the 76ers are giving up one of the game's best defenders and rebounders, they are reacquiring a player who is coming off his best professional season. MacCulloch, a native of Canada, averaged 9.7 points and 6.1 rebounds in 62 games — missing 20 games because of a foot injury that also will keep him out of the upcoming World Championships.

        The addition of Van Horn gives the 76ers another scorer who can — at least in theory — take some of the offensive burden off Allen Iverson. Since Iverson was drafted in 1996, the 76ers have tried unsuccessfully to use Jerry Stackhouse, Tim Thomas, Larry Hughes, Toni Kukoc and others in that role.

        “Allen said he needed two guys to score with him,” Sixers coach Larry Brown said. “Now, if he's willing to take 20 shots instead of 30 shots per game, there will be plenty of opportunities for other guys to do that.”

        Van Horn, a gifted shooter whose toughness has been questioned, averaged a career-high 21.8 points for New Jersey in 1999. He was among the longest-tenured members of the Nets, who made it to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history after joining the league 26 years ago.

        With Philadelphia, Van Horn will take over the small forward spot from Matt Harpring, who is an unrestricted free agent.

        “Dikembe was a big part of us going to the finals. This wasn't easy, but it was something we felt we needed to do,” 76ers general manager Billy King said. “This makes us a better club.”

        Mutombo, 36,has spent 11 seasons in the NBA with Denver, Atlanta and Philadelphia, leading the league in blocked shots in 1993-94, 1994-95 and 1995-96 and rebounding in 1999-00 and 2000-01.

        Mutombo averaged only 8.8 points in the 76ers' first-round playoff loss to Boston last April.

        Thorn said the Nets and 76ers first discussed a trade on draft night in late June, and the talks heated up again over the past several days.

        “If you look historically at the NBA, any time you have a center who is a defender, rebounder and shot blocker, it's always an advantage,” Thorn said. “Historically, that's what you need to scale the heights, and from our perspective, we feel that Mutombo will be able to do that for us.”


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