The 2009-10 Philadelphia 76ers didn’t quite bottom out, but they came close. The injury-plagued team flailed under former coach Eddie Jordan’s Princeton offense, it was desperate enough to re-sign the aging Allen Iverson midseason (who quit on the team after two months, the second such Philly-quit of his career), and it was that desperation that led the team to hand coaching and ostensible top front office decision-making duties to Doug Collins.
Collins, the franchise’s eighth coach in eight years at that point, was the 76ers’ draft prize for losing a league-record 73 games in 1972 – the ex-Sixer was returning to Philadelphia to try and help right what was a frustrating and injury-bitten playing career. Philly was lucky enough to move up to the second pick in the 2010 draft lottery, and all signs pointed to the team selecting (once Washington expectedly selected John Wall top overall) the consensus NCAA National Player of the Year in Evan Turner.
Turner was 6-7, he could seemingly score from and defend two positions, and he looked like the perfect choice. In the end, however, the Sixers took Turner over a center that is currently 24.2 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.7 blocks per game. All while Turner languishes in Boston, on his third team in 11 months.
“Doug Collins wouldn't have coached DeMarcus Cousins," Brand said.
The Draft night move signaled to the locker room Collins had assumed an extreme influence over the front office.
"Rod Thorn was letting Collins do his thing and coach thought we reached our maximum potential and wanted to go another way," Brand said.
Brand, who played at Duke when Collins’ son Chris was an assistant coach there, fondly recalled his time in Philly with Collins in his conversation with Fischer, detailing supportive late night texts from the former 76ers coach and reminding us that Doug is “just a passionate guy.” This isn’t a hit piece from a disgruntled ex-player, one that Collins stuck with as his stalwart big man in spite of Brand’s declining athleticism following an Achilles tear.
Turner didn’t work out – he turned in three and a half rather unremarkable and inefficient seasons with the Sixers, seasons that still seemed to go over well because his some of his box score stats didn’t appear all that awful. Only (as Turner did in 2012-13) scoring 13.3 points on 42 shooting in over 35 starting minutes a game, when you’re basically just a scorer, is not all that great. There is a reason why Boston (Turner’s current team) isn’t really featuring him despite his nifty uptick in clever passing.
Collins, on record, was weirdly proud of the effort he put in to remaining ignorant about advanced statistics, which should make this column an easy sell. Collins went for the guy that looked like an NBA stud, over the player that would eventually go on to produce dominant numbers in a Western Conference that provides no relief for big men night in and night out.
Things aren’t quite that simple.
Turner didn’t exactly look like the Second Coming at Ohio State, but he really, truly looked like a great swingman prospect in his time in the NCAAs. Turner stayed three years, which should have left us a little worried, but he did put up over 20 points and nine rebounds a game in the slowly-paced Big Ten Conference during his junior year.
Meanwhile, while Cousins looked all the part of the player he’d eventually grow into during his lone year in Kentucky, it took him a few years (and a few bad coaching hires, to say nothing of a few owners and general managers) to turn into the consistent marvel that he currently is. Even as Cousins approached the end of his rookie contract, many wondered if his gambits offensively and outright snoozes defensively would be worth a franchise committing to him some three years after he was drafted.
Last season changed all that, and Boogie has continued his brilliant play (despite major storm and stress) this season.
Had Collins decided to go for Cousins over Turner in 2010, we all would have understood. DeMarcus looked like a second overall pick, and it’s OK to take chances on big me with big potential. Doug Collins wasn’t just falling victim to outdated basketball orthodoxy with this selection. Turner really looked like a real comer.
Nobody has been tougher on Doug Collins than this dweeb, but it also should be noted that his broadcast work (once insufferable, as he angrily hammered away at false narratives last year) in Wednesday’s Washington Wizards win over the Chicago Bulls saw him genuinely aligning himself with those of us who don’t just look at the box score. He talked up pace and minutes per game and (shock horror) shot selection on a national stage. We’re not trying to tell you that Doug Collins is obsessing over NBA.com’s advanced stats page these days, but it was a startling change.
In the West, even top gear big men don’t round into franchise-saving bulwarks by themselves, as that collection of teams runs so deep. Cousins and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, arguably, are the two best big men working right now, and yet Cousins’ Kings (addled by DeMarcus’ December illness and a needless coaching change) are six games below .500, and Davis’ Pelicans have won “just” half its contests while sticking 2.5 games outside of the playoff bracket.
In the East, though, Cousins could change things. Which has to be all the more galling to Sixer fans; fans who watched the trade deadline deal of Evan Turner from last February that resulted in an expiring contract in return, and what could be the 60th pick in this year’s NBA draft. Turner, it should be reminded, was also on what turned out to be an expiring contract.
Even more galling for 76er fans, as they watch their team lose 68 of its last 94 games all by design, is a recent report out of Philadelphia that claims that opposing general managers aren’t truly keen on talking with Philly GM Sam Hinkie, in spite of Hinkie’s myriad connections and the ungodly amount of trades he’s made since initiating this massive tank project.
In regards to Andrei Kirilenko situation, one that has the Sixers suspending the veteran forward as he stays away from an execrable 76ers team, here’s Bob Ford from the Philadelphia Inquirer:
According to two sources, the Nets told the Sixers that Kirilenko would not report and wished to become a free agent. Brooklyn had other trade options that would have worked out just as well or better if Kirilenko had been willing to play. Those sources insist the Sixers agreed to release Kirilenko but did not.
"That's 100 percent accurate," one source said. "[The Nets] clearly believed there was a handshake deal."
"General managers like to call each other and talk, but nobody wants to talk to Sam Hinkie. Nobody trusts this guy," one source said.
Hinkie has made “just” three trades this season, but considering the flurry of transactions he’s pushed forward as head of the 76ers in the past, there could be some validity to this. We still have a month to go before the trade deadline, and once again Hinkie will be looking to take advantage of his team’s tanking status and cap space in order to facilitate trades in order to grab draft assets. This is supposed to be his busy season, and nobody seems to be safe.
If Hinkie has been ostracized from the various cliques, it at least came after quite a bit of activity. The Sixers have their own, presumably high end, first-round draft picks all lined up in a row. They’ll eventually take in what will probably turn out to be the Miami Heat’s unprotected 2017 first-round selection, and they’ll have ten extra incoming second-round selections on top of their own between now and 2020. At some point, they swear, they’ll also have the highly-regarded Joel Embiid and Dario Saric coming to the tri-state area to pair with the 2014 Rookie of the Year and the still-learning Nerlens Noel. Amongst all those other picks and cap space.
That’s the hope, at least. That someday the Sixers won’t be the team that no veteran wants to play with “right now.” That after two wasted years and what figures to be an uneasy climb out of the purpose-built hole the Sixers created in the years that follow 2014-15, things will turn around.
And, hey, DeMarcus Cousins is a free agent in 2018, and he might still be less than thrilled about the choices the Sacramento Kings’ brain trust are making even then. Philly can hope, right?
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