Apr 15 2013

We don’t have Collins to kick around anymore

“But as I leave you, I want you to know…just think how much you’re going to be missing. You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

-Richard Nixon 




Somewhere inside Doug Collins–beneath the vanity, the arrogance, the elephantine self-regard–is a great basketball coach. I sincerely believe this.

The 2010-11 76ers should have won 20 games. Collins took over a team that was coming off a 27-55 season, the stink of which was compounded by a summer that saw their second-best player (Samuel Dalembert) get shipped out of town for Spencer Hawes, and the most valuable asset the franchise had stumbled into in years, the No. 2 overall draft pick, turn into future-bust Evan Turner. Before the season, sports economist Dave Berri surmised that the Sixers might have one of the worst frontcourts in NBA history. It should have been a superlatively bad basketball team. An all-time, proto-Bobcat, disaster.1

Yet they won 41 and stole a playoff game because Doug Collins, by my memory, simply willed them to it. He took Elton Brand, fading/overpaid/washed-up Elton Brand, and cast him as a rock-ribbed veteran leader. Like an alchemist, he transmogrified Thaddeus Young from a confused chucker on the fast track to unemployment to a Tasmanian devil of controlled, disruptive, focused effort. Under his watch, Andre Iguodala stopped trying to score 20 points a night and just let himself be Andre Iguodala, which was plenty. Collins did all this overnight. Like: immediately. The team was 23rd in Hollinger’s defensive efficiency rating in the 2009-10 season. Collins took them to eighth right away, leapfrogging half the league.

And then the beginning of the strike-shortened 2011-12 season–whatever it was, whatever it meant–happened. For reasons the large-brained basketball scientists of tomorrow will surely ferret out, but are, as of this typing, still well beyond the reach of human understanding, for a full third of that truncated season the Sixers played basketball at as high a level as any team in NBA history. The very group that 15 months earlier looked headed for a 20 win season, posted a scoring differential of 11.6 ppg through 22 games. In the preceding decade, only four teams had started as hot, and they each won 60 games.

Doug Collins was responsible for a lot of this. He seemed responsible for it at least. The Sixers were, outside of–maybe including–San Antonio, the most coach-centric organization in the NBA. He was foregrounded in the way that head basketball coaches only are in college programs. It was his show. His face on the billboards, his visage in the TV spots, his powerful basketball brain the prime mover behind the team’s surprising success. Doug F***ing CollinsThis was 14 months ago.

It’s easy to forget all that now, while Collins is orchestrating the most atavistic, defiantly inefficient offense in basketball; or when he’s gleefully thumbing his nose at the new science of the game, telling reporters he’d rather “kill himself” than use analytics; or when he’s elbowing his way to near-total control of the organization’s personnel, then using that control to make aggressively stupid signings. It’s especially easy to forget when the city is celebrating news that his next two games as head coach of the 76ers will be his last. 

The facts of the present always retroactively rewrite the past; whatever is, in the record book of human memory, always was. But this stuff happened. It all, really did, happen.

1.) John Hollinger forecasted the 2010-11 76ers to finish with a 43-39 record. To my knowledge, he’s the only pundit who predicted Philadelphia would break .500.

  • I think you underestimated the 2009-2010 Sixers, while their record was horrific, that was due to the horrific coaching than the players. This was a team that finished ~.500 in the two previous season. Collins didn’t impart some magic, you have standard reversion to the mean and you get rid of a horrible coach. The team was more likely to repeat the “success” from 2007~2009, than a continuation of 2009~2010.

    By all accounts Collins is a great in-game coach, but wins in November and December came at the cost of developing the young talent. Everybody outside of Philly thinks there’s a good player in Turner, think how well Vucevic is doing down in Orlando.

    I don’t think we can look at Collins’ entire career and claim he’s a good coach.

    • egoldwein

      I agree with the first part of this, though he does deserve some credit for turning around the team. Yes, it was partly a standard reversion to the mean. But it does take a certain type of coach to reverse the damage that Eddie Jordan inflicted.

      For your second point, I think it oversimplifies it to say that he won in Nov/December at the cost of developing young talent. His 24-year-old center was, by most measures, terrible at the start of this season. But Collins kept playing him. Now, Spencer Hawes is playing really well. If DC is going to get criticized for playing Hawes at the beginning, he has to get credit for his improvement too. He’s not Arnett Moultrie Young, but it’s still an example of DC developing talent.

      I don’t know what exactly the circumstances were surrounding Vucevic. Looking back, it sure seems like he should have gotten more minutes. But who knows.

      As a coach, I think Collins was a very a significant improvement over Eddie Jordan. Even in his worst year, I’m not sure how many more games this roster (that he put together) could have won.

      To summarize, I think Doug Collins “the coach” is somewhere in between good and bad. So we basically agree. Thanks for writing in.

  • Pingback: Hosting Philadelphia 76ers « PistonPowered()

  • Lennix

    Doug is indeed a good in game coach, besides the fact he did not like playing young talent. Just read that Mareese Speights said that Doug gave up on players too quickly. I totally agree. With Vucevic playing like a top 25 player in the league and a potential All-Star, I wonder if Doug didn’t give up on him in the playoffs, especially in the Celtics series where we needed boards in the worst way if the trade for Bynum would’ve even been an option. We had a pretty great roster, literally one low post player away from being a contender. Not that i’m saying Vuc by any means was that player but management, Doug, approached this team the wrong way. They fixed something that wasn’t necessarily something that needed to be fixed. We had a Lexus(last years squad), tried to trade it in for a shoddy Bentley(Bynum and this years squad) and ended up broken down on the side of the road, basically on the outside looking in(9th seed). We could have made a simple trade like an Al Jefferson for Igoudala and kept our entire squad from last year intact, keep harkless and vucevic and be in the playoffs this year without a question and things would’ve been a lot brighter. instead we gambled and shook up the whole roster.

    I honestly think Doug is in denial, he was quoted in saying that he didnt play Vuc because he was tired. A 22-23 year old man tired? and DID NOT get that much run in the season???? Give me a break. Doug folded in the playoffs against the Celtics and not playing his whole roster like he was all season was a sign of being out coached by Doc Rivers. There”s no reason to be out rebounded all series long when you have what seems to be a premier rebounder and then make the excuse of why he wasnt put into any games in the playoffs (3 mins is not legit run time) and then say that he was fatigued! All i ask is imagine the scenario where maybe Vuc did get run last year in that series, and we came out of the series to play the heat, would we still make that trade? I liked the trade at the time just like most people but its because it caught me off guard, i didnt think we would have ever be in discussions to do such a trade and also reports that Bynum would be back by october, good move if you look at it that way but he will never play for us. Just wonder why we make such an epic move when there were smaller easier moves we couldve made. Its like theyre playing NBA2K in that front office

    its hard to imagine if management made a couple of key moves like these.

    1. Sign Josh Smith over Elton Brand

    2. Draft DeMarcus Cousins over Evan Turner(never wouldve had to trade Iggy

    3. Do the simple swap of Iggy for Al Jefferson

    if we did we would be excited this time of year with playoffs instead of dreading the possibility we will get the last pick in the lottery where the draft is horrendous.

    One could only hope that there is a real scout in that organization who knows how to give advice and tell this team to invest into next years draft class and obtain as many picks as they can and tank on top of it. I already watched fairly terrible basketball this year, i can take another one as long as we get a shot at Wiggins, Parker, Harrison Twins, Julius Randle. IMO all franchise changers and since thats what this league is, a game where you need a superstar cornerstone to succeed, kind of makes sense to obtain unprotected lottery picks, right? I swear if we make any moves to improve this roster next season, except maybe get JR smith and trade Turner, this team is doomed for more then 4 years, im thinking 10-15 years.