The Philadelphia 76ers are in a situation that everyone associated with the NBA anticipated coming years in an advance, which is kind of weird for a team that wasn’t even able to field its best player for a single minute in 2012-13. On Thursday, a couple of league sources floated a hunch to Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bob Ford that paints the team as a-wishin’ and a-hopin’ that Collins walks away from the last year of his contract following this disastrous season, leaving $4.5 million on the table.
The Sixers don’t want to outright fire the fiery Collins, in part because they would still owe him that salary, but also because the team (according to one of Ford’s sources) wants to “avoid a backlash if the fans sided with Doug.” This would be an anticipated backlash that completely misjudges the dwindling Philadelphia 76er fandom. I mean, siding with Doug?
Another source, one related to the 76ers and in talking to CSN Philadelphia, disputed the report. Obviously. It’s hard to ease a guy into leaving a job and $4.5 million on the table if you don’t dispute reports like these, even anonymously.
"I think he's gone at the end of the year. He'll be moving on," said one NBA source with intimate knowledge of the situation. "He'll decide to leave, and they won't be upset about it. They would like to see it work out that he decides to move on."
Collins, who will be 62 this summer, will be the one making the decision. Management is not eager to get into a public-relations war with a popular former player and charismatic local hero. The two sides would have to come to an agreement to settle the contract, but if that is the price of a peaceful parting, the organization might consider it a bargain.
"Whatever happens, there isn't going to be a contract extension," a second NBA source said. "They're looking to turn the page."
The passion and energy that come with Collins also come at a cost. He wants to win so badly that he is demanding with those above him, and with those on his roster. Some members of the organization would prefer a coach who is a bit more pliable in his dealings with management and players.
To minimize: Collins is tough to work with, his sway in the organization hasn’t produced much, and the team wouldn’t mind a fresh start this summer with both Andrew Bynum and Collins off the books. Though the Sixers would love it if Collins would willingly walk away from the $4.5 he’s owed next season by resigning.
This is the part where you decide not to pity the Sixers.
The cliché about Doug Collins wearing out his welcome with teams after three seasons is true in a technical sense, but other factors go into that malaise. His 1989-90 Chicago Bulls regressed, but only after a few missed opportunities in the 1989 draft (passing on drafting a number of eventual stars) left the team’s development rate at a snail’s pace. His Detroit Pistons squad stopped listening to him in 1997, but an ill-fitting trade for Jerry Stackhouse helped hasten Collins’ demise (although Collins can be blamed for both that deal and one that sent Otis Thorpe away the preseason before).
And those Washington Wizards? They were never going anywhere, even with an un-retired Michael Jordan on the roster.
The Sixers chased away several good GM prospects last summer and settled on Collins as the team’s de facto GM (Tony DiLeo holds the official title and places the dots over the appropriate letters). This isn’t to diminish DiLeo’s capabilities, but moves that effectively dealt Lou Williams for Nick Young and Elton Brand for Kwame Brown showed a frightening lack of advanced (or even orthodox) statistical know-how, and Collins confirmed his aversion to learning new things about the game early in the season with a dismissive wave of the bluster that should have left every 76er fan frustrated.
The Andrew Bynum fallout is nobody’s fault but Bynum’s, both in terms of things Bynum can’t control (his dodgy knees) and things he can control (the height of unprofessionalism in going bowling while undergoing knee rehab, something that sounds benign but is incredibly immature). The Sixers were lucky to go as far as they did last season, working up 13 postseason games, and they had to take a chance at grabbing a franchise player in Andrew (who didn’t even show up for Philly’s team photo on Wednesday). It didn’t work out – not DiLeo’s fault, and not Doug’s fault.
Everything else, from the poor personnel decisions to the outmoded offense, is their fault. And frankly, the Sixers are getting everything they deserve.
Collins has a past, and it appears as if Philadelphia hoped his status as a former 76er player would somehow turn around that “three and out” ethos. Doug obviously knows the game, but even listening to him call NBA games on TNT in the years leading up to his hiring in Philadelphia was infuriating – he may know the game; but is he familiar with the modern game? One that may have worked its way around a coach whose personnel decisions and play-calling reeks of 1997?
According to the Inquirer, the 76ers are hoping Collins’ potential burnout does the dirty work for them, not unlike how the Milwaukee Bucks tried to ease Scott Skiles into a burnout-fueled and money-saving walk away this time last year. According to Ford, they’re hoping that a Bynum-less rebuilding season in 2013-14, while working under a lame duck contract, will be enough of a deterrent.
I have a history with Doug Collins. As a fan, he was the first head coach I remember, working the sidelines for the Chicago Bulls. When I was eight, I was informed that the hoop that I sometimes shot at (on a second floor of a barn, with bats everywhere and very forgiving rims, out in rural Illinois at my aunt’s house) was often used by Collins’ Illinois State teams for practice when he was on the squad some 20 years before. When I was 15, at the height of my snotty punk rock youth, I spent a summer stuck in Collins’ hometown of Benton, Ill. – and decided to spend some of the time seeking out hallmarks of the newly-signed Detroit Pistons coach while in my Minutemen t-shirt.
It nearly goes without saying that I respect the hell out of the man, and grew up learning the game from him. There are a lot of people associated with this league that deserve our respect, but there are only a select few that should be given major sway over an NBA franchise.
The guy has a big basketball brain. He also has a resume that the 76ers chose to ignore, and a contract extension in hand that goes on for another year beyond this season. The confrontational style may be Collins’ fault, but the Philadelphia 76ers are to blame for just about everything else.