Inside the Sixers: Collins' truth: Sixers facing narrow margin for errors

Sixers coach Doug Collins questions a ref in the preseason. He says his team has to compete every night, because it doesn't have enough talent not to.
Sixers coach Doug Collins questions a ref in the preseason. He says his team has to compete every night, because it doesn't have enough talent not to.
Posted: October 17, 2010

The road the 76ers are traveling this season is narrow.

It's a car's width at its widest, the margin for error nil. One slip of the wheel - a losing streak, an injury, a subpar effort - and this team will find itself on a different road entirely.

If you look around the league, some teams are flying down a four-lane highway. They can swerve, slow down, drift, or speed. No matter how imprecise their route, in April they'll still be exiting for the NBA playoffs.

Not your Sixers.

If the first five preseason games have taught Sixers fans anything, it's that coach Doug Collins will have to squeeze every drop of talent and effort out of his roster to reach .500 and perhaps snag an Eastern Conference playoff spot.

So far, Collins is a truth-teller just like he was during his TNT telecasts. And in the minutes after his team's double-overtime loss to the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night, he said what everyone in this city already suspected, probably knew, but wasn't hearing from the team itself.

He said the Sixers had better compete every night, because they don't have enough talent not to.

The truth provides some comfort, like a thin blanket on a cold night, because at least Collins isn't toiling away in his back office believing this team has the pieces - if he could just configure them correctly - for a deep playoff run. At least you know Collins' energy is going toward realistic achievement and not pie-in-the-sky dreaming.

Listening to Collins the last few days, you would think this team had a cheap roster of rookies and second-year guys, instead of a maxed-out salary cap. But nothing he has said about what needs to be done could be disputed: must reinforce and reinforce; develop good habits; keep from developing bad habits; prevent slippage; and get the Sixers playing basketball the right way.

That sounds like the early stages of a multiyear process, not the first month of a one-year turnaround.

In these first weeks of the season, and with a new regime, what Collins has built - if not yet a well-flowing offense - is accountability.

Take his young starting backcourt of second-year point guard Jrue Holiday and rookie Evan Turner.

In the minutes before Wednesday's loss, Turner said of his pairing with Holiday: "We're trying to make it work, that's the most important thing. I don't have my own personal agenda and neither does Jrue."

And in the minutes after Wednesday's loss, Holiday said of his coach: "He sees that we're going out there and playing hard, giving it our all, trying to win. We're trying to change something around here. We have coach's back, and coach has our back. The least we can do is go out there and play hard for him."

Between those two statements, Collins said this: "The future of this franchise is those two young kids, and it's up to me to make sure they play basketball the right way."

So that's where the Sixers are right now, in mid-October 2010 - young, dedicated, trying to do it correctly.

It's not the focus of a 50-win team.

It's the stuff of a 35-win team that could become - if injuries are avoided and block-outs are consistent and cohesion is achieved - a playoff team.

Inside the Sixers:

Read Kate Fagan's 76ers blog, "Deep Sixer," at

Blog comment of the week

Posted 10:20 p.m. 10/14/2010 by enkiel

I think part of the reason Turner feels pressure is not just from the fans/journalists but from himself. He's not as easygoing as Brackins or Holiday. But that same pressure could also serve to drive him into being the player he desperately wants to become - an elite player. His versatility is amazing . . . if he keeps at it, he could eclipse Jrue and become the best guy we have in due time. He and Jrue are the only reasons I'm interested in the Sixers this year.

Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at 856-779-3844 or

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