Through the years, from the farmlands of Illinois to the bright lights of the international stage to the starry-eyed optimism of 1970s-era Philadelphia to his time coaching the Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards, and even into his tenure working as a color analyst for TBS, TNT and NBC, Doug Collins has earned himself plenty of nicknames.
Sure, we all remember calling Doug the "Benton Brawler," "Dougie Dougie Puddin' Pie," "Lights Out'llins," "Crabtree and Richards," "Early Onset Dementia," "D.C. For Three" (which was weird because they didn't have 3-pointers back then; perhaps it drew its significance from elsewhere) and "Action Jackson," but none of these names really stuck to Doug for more than a year or two.
Until the late 1980s, that is, when some of his Bulls players nicknamed their coach "Play-a-Day Collins," based around the way he seemed to show up to practice every day with a new play for his team to learn.
It spoke to Collins' tenacity, his knowledge, his love of the game and his active mind. Above all, it spoke to his competitiveness. And I'm sorry, if I'm a Philadelphia 76ers fan and Doug Collins becomes my favorite team's next head coach, I'm more than happy to welcome a man who effuses all the attributes mentioned above.
That doesn't mean he's the perfect choice, though.
He's the right choice for this context, probably, because 76ers General Manager Ed Stefanski wants to keep his job. Ed rolled the dice on a nucleus featuring Andre Iguodala(notes), Elton Brand(notes) and Samuel Dalembert(notes) all making well over eight figures per year, and the most recent payoff was a dismal 27-55 showing under since-deposed head coach Eddie Jordan (the sixth person to roam the Philly sideline since Larry Brown left the team in 2003).
With the 76ers already over the cap for next season and due to pay that "nucleus" scads of money over the next few years, options for massive personnel turnover are at an all-time low. Nobody's taking Brand and Iguodala could only be traded for dimes on the dollar or as a way to dump EB. Dalembert could, however, parlay a sound season and his expiring contract into a better home.
Beyond that, the team is stuck, hoping to rely on internal development from an encouraging yet inconsistent core of youngsters. And that's "inconsistent" compared to the way youngsters usually run. These guys are out there.
Thaddeus Young(notes) and Marreese Speights(notes), mainly. Jrue Holiday(notes) is just good, he was born in the 1990s, and though he took a while to catch on in his rookie year, you can explain his ups and downs away. Louis Williams(notes) works at it. Young and Speights, though, are all over; they're both hybrid forwards who can do a little bit of everything, and would seem to be able to flourish (whether together or separately) in the right system.
Problem is, what's the right system?
After anticipating having to let Andre Miller(notes) go as a free agent last summer, the Sixers entered the offseason looking for an answer to that whole "no point guard" thing. This is why Eddie Jordan and his sorta-Princeton offense was brought in, to overcome the need of a ball-pounding point man. And while Lou Williams did a sound job in his first year on the job, we're still stuck with the same query heading into the 2010 offseason. What system helps? What role are Williams and Holiday best suited for?
I hope they like calling out plays.
Because Collins won't run. Ever. His Bulls teams, his Pistons teams and his Wizards teams routinely rounded out the bottom part of the league in terms of possessions per games, mainly because "Crabtree and Richards" calls a play on every possession. His modus operandi for years has been to grab a superstar and let everything go through him. The superstar gets to either take the shot or make the assist. Andre Iguodala would probably go second in everyone's fantasy draft this season were it not for Philly's likely league-lowest pace.
The problem is, A.I.'s not a superstar. He has those all-around gifts befitting a Michael Jordan, a Grant Hill(notes), a Michael Jordan with a goatee, but he's a good step short of everyone on that list who isn't also in his late 30s or early 40s. He's very good, but even if the stats spike up, what will it mean to the Sixers? Collins' Wizards didn't even make the playoffs in two tries, with Collins and Jordan squeezing everything they could from that team.
Collins' systems in Chicago and Detroit featured heaps of outside shooters, ready to pounce once the superstar gave it up. Collins' Detroit teams, in particular, were just rife with guys who shot nothing but bombs off kick-outs from Hill. Save for Jason Kapono(notes), who is sure to pick up his player option for next season, who is Collins banking on to spread the floor? And if you're a Sixers fan, do you want Collins (who had a pretty nasty history of playing role players that he shouldn't have in Washington) handing minutes to Kapono for "spacing?"
The play-a-day ideal? It could work. If there's something new being added directly for Speights, something directly to get Thaddeus going, something in place for Jrue and Lou to do their thing, yes. This could work. It really could.
But the slow tempo and exacting nature of Collins' sets? Unless he's really, really changed his stripes, I don't see how this fits with Philadelphia. And I hope I'm wrong, because I like Doug, I like this roster (however badly flawed) and these 76ers fans deserve a respite from all this post-Brown nonsense.
I fear it's just a win-now thing, to do the best it can with this roster, this payroll. I can't blame Stefanski, because as easy and as obvious a choice as this is ("hire the TV guy!"), Collins might be the best option. Short of, you guessed it, Larry Brown. We might not be able to stand the guy, but you'll win 120 percent more than you should with Brown coaching your team. Unless he wants to be the GM, too, as was the case with the Knicks.
The most likely outcome? The Sixers win more. They defend much better and the offense improves a bit while the points per game somehow, go down. Collins can coach, anyone could do a better job than Jordan did last season, and the Sixer youngsters can't help but get better year by year. Even A.I., who is only 26.
And while I know you'll counter with, "what was so pretty about last year?", get ready for some slow, ugly basketball. It's often the quickest point to a win. That's the price you'll have to pay with Play-a-Day.