Collins' communication has rubbed off on Sixers

Posted: September 09, 2011

SO CLOSE, yet so far away.

For the second straight day, 76ers coach Doug Collins met with his assistants and front-office people at the team's offices at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine to discuss how to run training camp, what players need to improve where, and mull over a list of possible assistant coaches to replace the departed Quin Snyder.

Not too far away, Sixers forward Elton Brand conducted his business of keeping his 32-year-old body in shape for what he hopes will soon be the start of his 13th NBA season.

Collins, dubbed by many of his players as "the great communicator" because of his affection for phone calls and text messages, and Brand, the eager-to-listen pupil and team leader, have not, cannot and will not speak to each other in the foreseeable future, however. Because of the NBA's current lockout situation, caused by the lack of a collective bargaining agreement, coach and front-office members are forbidden to have any communication with players.

Think of a baby having his pacifier taken away.

But like a parent, Collins showed his players the importance of communication - before, during and after his first season - even if he isn't allowed to orchestrate it.

"He set a precedent," Brand said recently after a workout in a local gym. "He told us before the lockout where he wants us to be."

Collins made a point to travel all over the country the week before the July 1 lockout to meet with his players and instill in them what he wanted them to do while they were away from one another - and what they weren't permitted to do, such as talk with team trainers, docters and the like.

When Collins and assistant coach Michael Curry met with Brand in Los Angeles, where Brand spends his offseason, the 6-9 forward knew it was imperative to stay in touch with teammates to make sure they were working out. A couple of weeks ago, when many of the players went out to Los Angeles to work out together - per Brand's request - it was obvious just how much Collins' guidance had rubbed off on his team.

"We had a great few days, playing against other pros and some college players," Brand said. "It was nice to see how much the guys had stayed in shape, how much they cared about improving on what we did last season.

"Lou [Williams] looked great. Jodie [Meeks], Dre [Andre Iguodala], Evan [Turner], Spencer [Hawes]. Everyone. We were talking and performing as if it was a practice in the middle of the season. You know, this lockout hurts us a lot, because we have so many young players. Jrue [Holiday] and Jodie and Evan, those are guys who could have really benefited from playing in the summer league, but that didn't happen. That's another reason it was so good for us to get together."

The player who impressed Brand the most? Iguodala, who seemed to be heading out of the city on draft night in June in a deal that involved Monte Ellis, of the Golden State Warriors.

"Dre was instrumental in helping to get the guys together," Brand said. "We went out to dinner every night, and Dre got the short end of the stick, paying for a lot of that, along with me. You can tell he is really focused on playing basketball. He seems like he got the rest he needed [after playing last summer for the USA national team]. He looked really good."

In an offseason that has seen the sale agreement of the team to a new ownership group, no trade involving Iguodala and now a lockout, Brand is excited to build upon the team's 41-win season, an improvement of 16 wins from the prior season.

"We ended up playing the Eastern Conference champions [Miami] a pretty tough series," he said of the Heat's five-game series win. "We know where we need to get. Coach would certainly be texting and calling all of us and helping us out, but the lockout doesn't allow that, so we have to take it upon ourselves. We know that we need to be serious about this turnaround. We want to be a lot better than we were last year."

Though owners and players met yesterday and Wednesday and were looking to sit down again today in New York, an end to the lockout certainly doesn't seem imminent. If that's the case, Brand and his teammates are determined not to let it deter their improvement quest.

"Obviously, it depends on what happens, but if we stay locked out, we'll either meet here in Philly or down in Atlanta, where Lou and Jodie are," Brand said. "Whatever happens, whenever the season does get under way, we're going to be ready."


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