Bob Ford: Collins' task: Retooling Iguodala

Posted: September 29, 2010

Change is scary, and if you happen to have been a member of the Philadelphia 76ers for the last several seasons, being a little afraid became a familiar friend.

Doug Collins is the team's seventh head coach in the span of eight years, which is an impressive stretch even for the inveterate ripcord pullers at Comcast-Spectacor. He comes in to calm a young roster that has been unsettled by its own failures and was very poorly served by Coach No. 6.

So, another new guy, another scary change, and this time from a whirlwind of energy who texts them constantly, challenges them daily and does not suffer from a lack of confidence.

"I said, 'You know what, guys?' " Collins said recently. " 'I promise you the only thing I will take from your game are your mistakes.' "

That's a reassuring notion for the let-me-be-me toilers of the NBA, but making that promise to the players doesn't guarantee both sides will agree on the mistakes. Beyond that, ridding the Sixers of their poor habits will be like sweeping sand from the steps of a shore house. Don't bother putting away the broom.

Nevertheless, all we can do is wish them well as training camp begins this week, and promise to check in after a few months to see how it's going. No pressure. Once the Phillies and Eagles get out of the way, we'll see if Collins has pulled off the toughest trick in this star-driven league - winning without one.

"When I was in Chicago, if I got into trouble, we call a time-out and ran a play for Michael Jordan. We got to Detroit, and I had Grant Hill and Allan Houston," Collins said. "This team is going to be more of an equal-opportunity offensive team. . . . I said the other day to my coaches, 'We could be a team that our leading scorer averages 15 or 16 [points], and we can have seven guys average in double figures.' "

That's an exciting set of opportunities for the overall roster, but in the NBA, usually when a team doesn't have a go-to guy, it just goes away in big moments. For his part, Collins is selling the all-for-one philosophy and like the foreman of an assembly line, his workers each have specific individual skills if not a great variety of them.

Collins' most difficult task may be the retooling - what, again? - of Andre Iguodala, who was once projected as the team's superstar but who has become merely a role player who can score some points. The job of selling a sharp change might have gotten easier this summer when Iguodala played for USA Basketball in the world championships and was used solely as a defensive specialist, averaging 19 minutes and 5.7 points per game.

Iguodala won't be that guy for the Sixers, but Collins wants him to stop shooting from the perimeter, to concentrate on driving to the basket and getting fouled, and to dedicate himself to defense. He'll start the year mostly as the shooting guard - but, please don't shoot! - while Evan Turner is brought along, and whether Iguodala has a future here depends on his willingness to adapt.

"I'm looking to attack the basket, get to the line and play freely, just have confidence," Iguodala said. "Not really get hung up on the [three-point shooting] thing. I need to take less, but not get hung up on it too much."

When Turner is in the game, the problem becomes what to do with Iguodala. Getting Thaddeus Young on track again is another of Collins' most important jobs, and he won't accomplish it by moving Young from his natural small forward position. And then there is the matter of balancing time among Elton Brand, Marreese Speights and Spencer Hawes at the big positions. Iguodala may have to adjust to significantly fewer minutes. After last season, however, a new start, even if painful, is welcome.

"There's no blaming the coaches this year," Brand said. "We have a great coach, and we take responsibility to get us where we need to be and get a lot of victories."

He's right about that, and, unlike last season, if there are failures again, it won't be the coach who leaves town. There is a new team president over the general manager, and Rod Thorn has no personal stake in whether the current roster succeeds or fails. The next roster will be his legacy.

Anything the coach decides will be supported and that could include a harsh reshuffling of the minutes handed out to players who are accustomed to getting a lot of them. Once again, you look at the tenuous position of Iguodala, who doesn't really have one in this league, and wonder if he will be making the biggest sacrifices.

"Winning is where it's at and losing pretty much gets you sent elsewhere. We have to look at it that way," Iguodala said. "We have a good coach in here and if we want him to stay around, we have to do what we need on the court."

Note to Andre: Don't worry so much about the coach this time.


Contact columnist Bob Ford

at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.

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