Bob Ford: Collins' Sixers hit the floor running

As 76ers coach Doug Collins watches his team's first practice at training camp, sidelined star Andrew Bynum rubs one of his oft-injured knees.
As 76ers coach Doug Collins watches his team's first practice at training camp, sidelined star Andrew Bynum rubs one of his oft-injured knees. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 04, 2012

Just so everyone understood how things will be, 76ers coach Doug Collins concluded the first practice session on the first day of training camp Tuesday with a full-scale scrimmage. Referees and everything. Game speed. Bodies sprawled on the floor.

The NBA season opener is four weeks away, but Collins isn't the kind of guy who likes to put off until tomorrow. He has a roster full of strangers, a star player who might or might not be ready to start the season, and about a thousand things to figure out before the first real game is played. So, yeah. Tie your shoes and let's scrimmage.

"I thought the morning was going to be non-contact, but we started off with a bang," Spencer Hawes said. "That's OK. We like it to be competitive as much as possible."

Long before the Sixers compete with the rest of the league, they will be competing among themselves, a process that has already begun. With the departure of Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, Lou Williams, Jodie Meeks and Nic Vucevic, Collins has a spare 130 minutes of playing time jangling around in his pocket each game. And, with the addition of Andrew Bynum, Jason Richardson, Nick Young, and Dorell Wright, among those who figure to join the regular rotation, he has plenty of guys who would like to claim those minutes.

"It's the greatest motivator there is," Collins said. "The beauty is, the guys know I'm just playing to win. They know it's never personal. I've got to give our key guys every chance, but some nights you've got to go with that guy who's playing well."

How will it all work? Will it work? And if Bynum was so hot for the strudel surgery he got on his knees in Germany, why did he wait so long to get it?

There are a lot of questions to be answered before the Sixers tip off against the Denver Nuggets on Oct. 31, and Bynum's ability and availability are obviously the biggest ones. The center acquired from the Lakers gives the team the potential of having an elite low-post presence for the first time since Moses Malone. He also brings a history of immature actions and overly mature knees.

There's no disputing that the Sixers had to make the deal. Even if Bynum never plays a minute for them, getting him was worth the risk because unloading Andre Iguodala opened up the future for the Sixers. Either Bynum will play well and stick around with an improved team, or he will be gone after one season and the Sixers will gain enormous maneuverability under the salary cap.

Change brings risk, however, mostly for the forthcoming season. The Sixers made more changes to their regular rotation this offseason than any year since the one in which Charles Barkley was traded.

At the moment, Collins envisions a rotation with Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Richardson, Wright and Nick Young on the perimeter, and Bynum, Hawes, Thaddeus Young and Lavoy Allen at the big-man positions.

On a given night, he could use Kwame Brown a little more if the opponent has great size, or Maalik Wayns if the game needs an injection of speed. But those nine guys are going to be the guys Collins will usually try to mix and match to find the right combinations.

If Richardson still has enough in the tank to win the starting job at shooting guard, with Turner starting at the small forward position, the Sixers could make a quick transition from being a wholly unconventional team to a very conventional one. Richardson can really shoot the ball from distance and, combined with a dominant post presence, would give the Sixers an inside-and-out attack that's right out of NBA Coaching Handbook 101.

A lot will hinge on the 31-year-old Richardson because the other four perimeter regulars don't bring that kind of outside scoring threat. Without it, defenses will collapse and Bynum's effect can be negated. Iguodala was, by far, the greatest three-point shooting threat on the Sixers last season, making 39.4 percent of his tries. That's the point-production equivalent of shooting 59 percent on two-point tries, and merely replacing that is critical.

That's just one question, though. Collins is going to try Thaddeus Young at the small forward position during the exhibition season to make room for Hawes at power forward, and he's going to try to figure out if there is any discernible difference between Nick Young and Wright. (Wright's claim to fame is he became the first NBA player to score more points in his seventh season than in his first six seasons combined. That's what going from Miami to Golden State can do for a guy.)

Collins will also find out if he made the right choice in his Iguodala-or-Turner conundrum, if something can be done about Holiday's assist-to-turnover ratio, and if Allen can inject more nasty into his game. That's just for starters, and there's a lot more to get done. So, the opening practice of a week of two-a-days is the perfect time to get going.

"I told the guys, 'Don't look around now and think this is the way it's going to be,' " Collins said Tuesday. "Things can change."

And with Collins around, they can only change quickly.


Bob Ford:

Inside

Sixers begin building while Bynum rests. D6.


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

 

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