When the Sixers hired Doug Collins after a dismal 1-year run under Eddie Jordan, it became apparent very quickly that the former No. 1 pick of the team was the right person at the right time to lead this organization back into relevancy.
From the minute after his May 2010 hiring, Collins had a specific plan in mind that included getting power forward Elton Brand, even at the advanced age of 32, close to the form that made him a continuous 20-point/10-rebound player in the league, and ensuring young forward Thaddeus Young that he is a matchup nightmare to opponents and can be as effective as a bench player he could be as a starter. He foresaw young point guard Jrue Holiday as a future star in the league and a true team leader, and knew it was imperative to get forward Andre Iguodala to not only believe in his system, but believe in himself.
All that, and more, pretty much happened last season when the team improved its win total by 14, from 27 to 41. Throw in that after 16 games, and only three wins, Collins inserted untested second-year shooting guard Jodie Meeks into the starting lineup and the surge to a .500 season was on.
Certainly a 41-41 season isn't something to get peripheral Sixers fans on the edge of their seats, or into many Wells Fargo Center seats. Mediocrity has been hand-in-hand with this organization for many years now.
But with Collins there is a ray of light. The former player and television analyst is not just a master of X's-and-O's, not only able to adapt and adjust on the fly during a game or season, but he is the voice that this organization must follow if it is to inch closer to the upper-echelon teams in the East.
Which is the biggest reason the lockout is going to devastate the Sixers.
If there is one thing Collins can do better than draw up plays, it's get his players, specifically the very young ones, to understand the ins and outs of an 82-game season. Holiday can be a perennial All-Star under Collins. Evan Turner probably would not improve with any other coach as much as he will with Collins.
And what of this year's first-round pick, Nikola Vucevic? The bruising forward/center couldn't stop talking about how excited he is to play and learn from Collins.
You know what other damage the lockout caused that really hurt the Sixers? How about no summer league in Orlando? That roster would have probably include Vucevic, Turner, Holiday, Meeks and Lavoy Allen. Those aren't just four roster players, but four individuals who would have benefited greatly from having some time to work together, and, more important, absorb Collins' wisdom.
Throw into the mix the fact that the super-hyped Collins does a tremendous amount of his teaching through phone calls and text messages to his players, away from the gym, when emotions have calmed. Those phone calls and texts go a long way toward implementing what Collins has planned.
And then there is the fan base, dwindled by so many years of mediocrity, boosted by the return of Collins.
"For the NBA, this is terrible," said Bryan Abrams, a 35-year season ticketholder. "This was the most popular year for the league since the days of Michael Jordan. Now all the sudden you have millionaires and billionaires not getting along. It sets the league back."
No doubt attendance will suffer, especially among the fringe teams, like the Sixers. While the players and owners make their stand, and though superstars LeBron James and Steve Nash tweet their apologies to fans, the hurt is probably going to run much deeper.
"A die-hard like me, and others, will be back no matter what," Abrams said. "But talking to other fans, they seem not to care.
"But my main concern is how this affects the Sixers. With the new ownership group coming in and this being such a young team, this is a crucial time for the team. What I think is the most important aspect of all of this is to make sure Doug Collins is happy, to make sure the people he wants around him stay here, and that he has the say in which way this organization is headed. Doug is the reason people came back to watching the team."
And now comes a lockout. Could it have come at a worse time for the Sixers?
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