The season is almost over and it appears the coach’s short and not-so-sweet reign will also end. Various reports, all citing unnamed sources, say Doug Collins will walk away from the 76ers after they close out the year on Wednesday at Indiana, and one of those reports said Collins had “lost his players.’’
Well, considering the players he’s had to coach, that’s not a bad thing.
And that might be the worst part of this season – the one guy who deserves to stay will be the first to go. Collins is more than just the coach of the Sixers – he’s also their symbol and their connection to the fans. Check out the television promos the Sixers have run all season – their mantra is “Proud. Passionate. And some other ‘P’ word that we forget’’ — and see who they feature throughout it. It’s mostly Collins, as a player and coach, with an occasional shot of Jrue Holliday driving to the basket (he probably turned it over on his way).
There is nobody else on this team to market. Andrew Bynum would have been an obvious choice, but, well, you know what happened there. And Jrue Holliday could have been a possibility, especially after making his first All-Star game. But in the second half of the season Holliday showed that he’s an average talent – he can score, but he doesn’t have the control and court awareness to be a premier point guard, and that’s what he’s paid millions of dollars to do.
Name another 76ers player the team could promote. Thaddeus Young? Nice player and one of the few on the current roster worth keeping, but he isn’t going to sell any tickets. Evan Turner? How do you feature a player who is invisible at least half of the time? Right now, the former No. 2 overall pick looks like a bust, not a building block. If anything, featuring him would only remind Sixers fans of why they don’t care about this team anymore.
The rest of the roster is mostly a group of role players brought in to complement Bynum, a collection of Hessians just trying to cash a few more paychecks before their careers are over.
No, the only Sixer that anybody cares about is the coach. Sixers fans loved Collins as a scrappy, perpetual-motion player and they love the emotional approach with which he coaches. The fans identify with Collins and they like him and so far he hasn’t been criticized too much, considering how bad his team has been.
Collins, of course, signed off on the big deal that brought in Bynum and completely reshaped the team. Like everybody else, he realized there was risk involved, not only with Bynum’s knees, but also his maturity and work ethic. And, like everybody else, he decided it was worth the risk.
Now the Sixers have the look of a team that will be mediocre for a long time to come. If they don’t re-sign Bynum – and even Sixers icon Julius Erving says they shouldn’t – they will have money to spend on free agents, but they’ll also have a hard time convincing a real superstar to come here.
They could get lucky with the ping-pong balls and end up with the first or second pick in the 2013 NBA draft, but there are no franchise-changing players out there. Besides, we all know what happened the last time the Sixers had the No. 2 pick – once again it was an average class of college players and they ended up taking Evan Turner.
So, it would be hard to blame Collins if he wants to bail out on this mess, even though he’s partially responsible for making it. When Collins first took the job he said his main goal was the make the 76ers relevant again and that, of course, hasn’t happened and won’t happen for a long time. The emotional strain of this season is evident in Collins’ face and he probably isn’t the best choice to lead the Sixers through the desert that stretches out before them.
So, if/when the Sixers finally turn it around and become a contender again, Collins will probably be back in his television analyst’s chair, where he’s one of the best in the business. And his success won’t depend on somebody else’s knees.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.