Bob Ford: A low-post presence, and present, for Collins

Posted: August 17, 2012

Doug Collins was asked about the centers he has coached in the NBA, in order to compare those experiences with having someone like newly acquired Andrew Bynum on the roster. Collins studied the ceiling of the National Constitution Center for a few moments as he decided how to respond.

He is too diplomatic in public to actually laugh out loud at the question, but that would have been understandable. Despite coaching for a decade of seasons in a league in which the goal is 10 feet off the ground, Collins has never had a big man who could dependably get the ball into it or keep someone else from doing so.

Now he has a center capable of double-doubles every night. In the past, he had centers who could make a coach consider drinking double-doubles every night. Instead of a center who can dominate the post, he had players who moved like posts.

"Really, I haven't been anywhere I've had that guy that you throw the ball down into the post and play through him . . . a guy who is going to give you possibly 20 and 10 every night . . . block shots . . . rebound," Collins said. "So this is a whole different thing for me. It's exciting."

It is, and the 76ers' new ownership whomped up the volume level by holding the introductory news conference for Bynum and swingman Jason Richardson at the Constitution Center on Wednesday and inviting the public to attend. What the news conference lacked in the inability to hear what anyone was saying was made up for in energy and the real sense that this franchise is trying very hard to become relevant again. After being a stepchild to Father Comcast for so long, the organization can be forgiven for being a little over the top now and then.

Bynum and Richardson seemed genuinely amused and impressed by the reception, with Bynum, who can become a free agent after this season, saying, "My first experience has been so great, I'm leaning toward making this my home." That got a great cheer, but it's a long way from the Constitution Center to getting Bynum to put his John Hancock on a deal to stay with Collins and the Sixers. (I know, I know. That was the Declaration of Independence, but they both came out of that little building down the street, so work with me here.)

Bynum averaged a little less than 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Lakers last season, and that while operating as the second or third scoring option for Los Angeles, behind Kobe Bryant, always, and Pau Gasol, depending on the opponent. He becomes the first option for the Sixers, and Collins will have to get used to having such a luxury at that position.

"Let's see. In Chicago, we didn't have a great center. Dave Corzine was really our center. I played him off the bench and actually started Granville Waiters," Collins said, sifting back through his previous challenges.

"In Detroit, I had Mark West and Theo Ratliff, who was more of a power forward. In Washington, we drafted Kwame Brown as a young center, and had Jahidi White and Etan Thomas. So . . . no."

It's not a pretty list. You can throw Eric Leckner and Brendan Haywood on it to add more kindling to the fire, and include Sixers incumbent Spencer Hawes, who fits in among most of the centers Collins has coached. If you want to know the truth, the best one Collins ever had on his roster was 7-foot-2 Hall of Fame center Artis Gilmore, who was with the Bulls for part of the 1987-88 season. Unfortunately, Gilmore - the second-to-last NBA player born in the 1940s - was 38 when that season began and didn't have much time left. (The last player born in the 1940s, and the answer to almost all NBA-center questions, is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.)

"I've been to four different cities, and every place I went, we ran a different system based on the personnel we had. Who do we have and how do we best play?" Collins said.

"Now we've become a power team. We went from being an undersized team two years ago, with a finishing lineup that had Elton Brand and Thad Young on the front line. Now we've got a big lineup, and the best part is we added shooting. I think power and shooting are tough to beat."

He should know, because he has been trying to beat it with lesser weapons for a long time. At last, Collins gets to coach a team that doesn't have to overachieve to win games. Overachievers can do that. They can win games. Talent, however, is what wins championships. And having very big talent is definitely the way to go.

"A lot of people thought I was crazy for taking this job," Collins said. "I thought we had young, good pieces, and I love the city. The Sixers course through my veins. There were more people at this news conference than were at the first game I played here, probably."

He was exaggerating a little, but it was a day for tall tales. A crowd of 4,564 went to the season opener at the Spectrum in 1973 to get a look at the first pick in the NBA draft. (Those who arrived didn't see much. Collins was scoreless.) Not that many jammed the upstairs area of the Constitution Center on Wednesday, but there probably was more excitement. You could see the reason as Bynum entered the room and was always easily visible above the surging crowd.

Big is good, after all, and big and good is the best. After all these years, Doug Collins is really ready to find that out for himself.


Contact Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns, and follow @bobfordsports on Twitter.

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