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Is Doug Collins to blame for the Sixers' collapse?

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Doug Collins is a quality NBA head coach and I believe the 76ers have a couple of good young players, but my mid-season forecast totally Doug Collinsmissed the mark.  

I thought the Sixers were a plucky little unit very capable of surprising teams with their tenacity and athleticism. They fooled me into thinking they enjoyed playing with and for one another.  I convinced myself they would not be susceptible to the illness that afflicts teams with more talent and larger expectations. Unlike those squads, the Sixers did not seem too concerned with whom received the praise, played the most minutes or took the most shots.      

Turns out my assessment could not have been more wrong.  Instead of becoming one of the feel good narratives of the abbreviated, post-lockout regular season, they have taken a large step backward.  

What the heck happened?

For starters,  it seems Evan Turner, their most talented player, cannot find a role.  His general manager Rod Thorn spoke publicly about some of the deficiencies in his game last month.

“The Catch-22 is that you have to play at a level that the coach feels would make you deserving of those extra minutes,” said GM Rod Thorn. “Right now, (Turner) behind (André) Iguodala, who plays the position that (Turner) is probably more suited for at this point and time anyway.  (Turner) does play in the backcourt as a ‘two’ guard.  A lot of his minutes come there.”


Naturally, Collins started him soon afterwards, at point guard no less.

When the GM and head coach disagree on a player’s value, it rarely ends well for anyone involved. Meanwhile, Turner began to look like the second overall pick during the brief stretch when his minutes and role were clearly defined.  He distributed the ball with aplomb, rebounded like a maniac and played a high-quality overall floor game.  And by the way, the Sixers continued to win at an impressive clip.

Still, you could see Collins growing weary of the entire situation during his post-game press conferences.  

While all this went on, Jrue Holiday (another promising young player) went into a funk.  It was as if Turner’s good play stunted his growth.  But Turner is the most talented player on the current roster, a fact every Sixer player, coach, and front office member needs to come to terms with.  

Certainly, injuries to center Spencer Hawes and Iguodala added to their struggles.  But this team is fighting for a playoff spot that seemed all but a formality eight weeks ago because of an identity crisis.  The Sixers are suffering from the same virus that has destroyed NBA teams for generations.  Instead of doing the necessary things that lead to winning basketball (as was the case before the all-star break), key players now seem more concerned about their minutes, their shots and their notoriety.  

How else can you explain the stark contrast in the team’s behavior?  Could it be Turner is well aware of his rank in the Sixers talent hierarchy?  Is he carrying himself like Kobe Bryant minus the five championships, league MVP and scoring titles?  Regardless, this problem is not going away any time soon.   

This is what makes winning at the highest level of basketball such a delicate and fluid exercise.  It is not enough to have 12 average players willing to do what it takes to win.  A GM must make sure his roster includes two or three supreme talents committed only to winning and the head coach must make it all work.  

I have had epic basketball debates with one of my best friends about this very issue.  He thinks San Antonio Spurs head coach Greg Popovich is very good at his craft and I agree.  But he thinks Popovich’s in-game strategy is more salient to the Spurs' success, while I believe it is solely Tim Duncan’s behavior that allows Popovich’s ideas to work. In other words, if Duncan had more Bryant or Allen Iverson qualities in his basketball DNA, Popovich’s concepts would be mostly irrelevant.  

And there lies the problem with the Philadelphia 76ers.  Somewhere on the road to respectability, a sense of entitlement seeped its way into their play. Collins’ same tactics he used during their early season success, have become moot.  

It bears repeating; Doug Collins is a good NBA head coach.  However, I don’t believe his ability will make any real difference until a Hall of Fame player with a Duncan or Kevin Garnett-like approach falls in his lap.  

The Sixers do not have as much talent as many of the NBA’s top teams, but their play the last two months has more to do with an emotional virus.

I never saw it coming.  


Earl Myers is a freelance writer from the Philadelphia area.  He closely follows North America's four major sports leagues but just about any sporting event gets his attention.  His goal is to provoke a little thought in his readers.

Contact Earl at emyersiii@gmail.com

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