In early July, the Orlando Magic brought in Michael Curry, the Sixers' associate head coach, to interview for their head-coaching spot, left vacant by fired Stan Van Gundy. Curry's interviews coincided with the Orlando Summer League, during which time Collins was getting a look at his young players and burning the phone lines in an effort to line up potential free agents. All the while, the thought of losing Curry weighed on him more than any possible free-agent acquisition or poor performance by his team.
When the summer league broke and Collins met with the media after the team had acquired Wright, Young and Kwame Brown, he talked about all the positives the organization had accomplished in acquiring those players and how the team was ready to move onward and upward. Then, with Curry among the two finalists for the Magic job, he was asked about how Curry's leaving would affect him.
Suddenly, the coach's voice turned into almost a whisper and continuously cracked as he talked about the possibility of losing a person he coached in Detroit many years ago.
"He is everything you could ever want in a coach," Collins said. "I have given him cart blanche to do what he wants on the floor. He has an amazing voice, is a tremendous leader and is as quality a human being as you will ever find."
So when Orlando hired Jacque Vaughn, Collins felt bad for Curry but was elated he would be back on his staff.
"There's no disappointment," said Curry, 44. "I was a late entry and I made it to the final two. Through the entire time, I think they had someone targeted. For me, it was more going through the process. It was all positive, and when you get in the process, you have to look at it that way. I enjoyed that part of it. I always concentrate on this year, like when I was playing. When I was a young head coach [with Detroit], I didn't appreciate the process of all this as much. But I wasn't disappointed at all. I have a great situation here."
His situation here is one filled with a heavy workload. He oversees the defense for Collins, and does it very well. Last season, the team allowed 89.39 points a game (third-best in the NBA), 42.7 percent shooting (third), 33.4 percent from three-point range (sixth) and led the league in turnover differential (plus-2.73). He often runs practices and shootarounds and is always a sounding board for Collins. During the season, the two are practically inseparable, sharing rides to shootarounds during the mornings of home games and almost always walking for exercise together when the team is on the road. All the while, strategy is discussed, tension is relieved and any current topic around the world is up for debate.
"A lot of times when we're riding to shootaround, we stop and get coffee and, depending on traffic, it could take 30 minutes to an hour," Curry said. "During that time, a lot of game planning is done, but we may talk about basketball or something else, or I just let him vent, so once he's in front of the guys, he's not angry or upset or anything. I'll ask him if he's OK and now that we got that out, what's next? There's a lot of pressure on being a head coach, so venting is very important.
"At the same time, we know we have to get things done and we are both very tuned in to not missing anything. He felt comfortable turning the defense over to me and I know what he likes, what he wants to get done. I always bring [something] in to coach and say, 'Here's the tentative plan,' and find out what he wants to do. But we cover everything, so we're not blindsided by anything.
"We're going over everything, so when we get into a game, there's nothing we haven't gone over in depth. Some days, he doesn't want to do some of those things, and some days we have to get that done and I have to tell him we have to get it done. I think it's very unique in what my role is when it comes to working for coach but also being able to work with him. There's certain things I have to make sure that we do. It's fun. I'm always learning from him, and that's what he's about."
The two formed their relationship when Curry played for Collins in Detroit. Collins loved Curry's leadership style, but was even more impressed with him as a person. That holds true today.
"He's like my son," Collins said.
A son whom he is happy did not leave the nest.
Contact Bob Cooney at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BobCooney76. For more Sixers coverage, read his blog at philly.com/Sixerville.