That doesn't mean you can't win, but that is a lot of miles on the car. After a while, things start to break down.
"I think you've seen three teams that have played a tremendous amount of basketball, and it catches up to you," Collins said Thursday. "You look at them now, all the games they played, and how often they went to the playoffs. You don't get the rest. A lot of guys played a couple of summers to qualify for the Olympics or be in the Olympics. That wear and tear gets to you after a while."
Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki is the anomaly, having played 40,916 minutes, a number that will continue to grow once the Western Conference finals begin. Otherwise, the stars of these playoffs are well below the 40,000 threshold. LeBron James has played 28,690 career minutes. Dwyane Wade has played 23,642. Kevin Durant is at 12,583, and Derrick Rose is a mere pup at 9,824. And counting.
Collins has played, watched, and coached his share of minutes during his lifetime, and he has seen the margin for error slip as elite players age, which means having home-court advantage becomes even more important. But teams have to expend a lot of energy to get home court, and it was evident that San Antonio, the top seed in the West, was spent. The Spurs lost to Memphis, four games to two, in the first round.
The Lakers had home-court advantage in their semifinal series with Dallas and still were swept.
And older bodies break down easier. It is just a fact of life. Boston and Los Angeles limped into the playoffs, and it showed.
"The margin for error as your team gets older, it slips," Collins said. "As you get older, the speed and quickness bother you. Oklahoma and Memphis are so athletic, and that was the difference in the Miami series - the speed of Wade and LeBron. Boston couldn't counter it."
That is why Collins remains upbeat about the future of his team. With seven players 24 or younger this season - including five who played significant minutes - youth is on their side.
But Collins has no illusions. He knows that to compete against what he envisions will be the best in the Eastern Conference - Miami, Chicago, Orlando, Atlanta, New York, New Jersey, and perhaps Boston, depending on how it retools the roster - the 76ers will need both help inside and to add another go-to scorer through free agency or a trade.
Forty-one wins was a respectful accomplishment in Collins' first season as coach. He has set the bar for the 2011-12 season - if there is a 2011-12 season - at 50 wins and would like to see the Sixers go better than .500 on the road.
The key offseason move will be to unload Andre Iguodala, if the Sixers can. His defense is an asset, but he is not built to be the guy taking the last shot, as he proved in Game 5 against Miami, when he settled for a mid-range jumper instead of either driving to the rim or penetrating and kicking out to a three-point shooter.
Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner showed in the playoffs that they can hit big shots, but they have to continue to develop.
In Collins' mind, and rightfully so, Miami and Chicago "are going to be there for a while," he said. The goal, for now, is to leapfrog Atlanta, New York, and Orlando, and then add a big-name player, such as a Dwight Howard, who can opt out of his contract after next season.
"If we could get our young guys better, get a break, get a free agent, fortify our team, we could be knocking on the door in the Atlantic Division," Collins said. "I'm very optimistic.
"The thing I am optimistic about is our guys did not want the season to end. The coaches did not want the season to end. The fans did not want the season to end. Our exit interviews were great. Every guy sat down in that chair and talked about the season, how much fun they had, how hard they want to work, how good it felt. You leave and feel really good."
The power shift is on in the NBA, and the Sixers hope to soon be ahead of the curve. It is a gradual thing, of course, but the monster minutes of the stars do matter. They add up. Teams age. New players rise.
Just look at who made first-team all-NBA on Thursday: Bryant, James, Howard, Durant, and Rose. All but Bryant are well under 30,000 career minutes.
It is not a coincidence.
Contact columnist Ashley Fox
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