The best of the lot works right here in Philadelphia. In a stunning act of wizardry, the city's main magician made a squad of underperforming athletes disappear. Then, in the real mindblower, he replaced them with guys who look almost exactly the same - except they played much better, almost as though they were an entirely different team.
For putting on an excellent show and transforming the 76ers from a miserable mess into playoff participants, Doug Collins deserves a loud ovation. He also deserves to be named NBA coach of the year.
He has serious competition on that front. Doc Rivers had the Celtics playing well all season despite a slew of injuries. And Gregg Popovich did his usual Gregg Popovich thing in San Antonio, guiding the Spurs to another season in which they'll finish with the best record in basketball. Most of the national TV and print hoop-heads seem to think the award should go to Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. He's done a terrific job in his first year. The Bulls were a .500 team a year ago. With two games left this season, they've locked down the best record in the conference and the No. 1 seed in the East heading into the playoffs.
It should also be noted that Thibodeau took a playoff team and made it into . . . a better playoff team. That's nice, but as sleight of hand goes, the performance isn't quite as tricky as it seems. It's a lot easier to take someone's act and improve on it when the production includes a built-in star and potential MVP like Derek Rose.
When Collins left TV to return to the sideline, he inherited a team that wasn't nearly as ready to win as the one Thibodeau coaches. You remember the Eddie Jordan era. He sold us the Princeton offense but delivered a scheme that looked like it was dreamed up by the lass from the collegeinpjs.com commercial.
Under Jordan, Elton Brand didn't start or play all that well when he was on the court. Under Jordan, according to Ed Stefanski, the man who hired him, Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams were "missing in action." Under Jordan, the Sixers finished 27-55 and resembled a team that might have had trouble winning the over-30 playoffs at your local Y.
With Collins, things are radically different. Brand leads the team in points and rebounds, while Young and Williams have reemerged. So has Andre Iguodala. He's not an all-star, but Collins has showcased his defense and gotten him to impact games in ways that don't (only) include jacking up bad three-pointers for unknown reasons. Collins put all that in a hat and pulled out something far better than a rabbit: a playoff team that, with two games left in the season, has 14 more victories than it did last year. The win-loss mark and the trip to the postseason seem even more amazing when you consider that the Sixers were dreadful at the beginning of the season and won just three of their first 16 games. And let's not forget: Collins also may have saved Stefanski's job.
It's been a remarkable run for Collins. He deserves to be recognized for everything listed above. But of all the incredible, implausible first-year feats, his best and biggest accomplishment has been getting people to pay attention to the team again. A year ago, Jordan was not a popular figure in Philly. Sixers fans hated him - all 10 or 12 of them.
Maybe the attendance figures don't reflect it - the Sixers are only averaging about four hundred more fans per game this season than they did last year - but it feels like there's a buzz about the team. Or, if not a buzz, call it an appreciation for basketball that doesn't make you want to rise up and commit a technical foul against your television. Collins ought to win coach of the year for that alone.
Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gonzophilly