What awaits owner Josh Harris and the 76ers?

Doug Collins hugs Thaddeus Young before the final game of the season. Collins said he was not sure whether he would return as the 76ers' coach.
Doug Collins hugs Thaddeus Young before the final game of the season. Collins said he was not sure whether he would return as the 76ers' coach. (   MICHAEL CONROY / AP)
Posted: April 19, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS - When Josh Harris and his ownership group took control of the 76ers two seasons ago, the hedge-fund billionaire refused to characterize the team as a "distressed property," which is usually the favorite kind to buy in his line of work.

Well, what about now?

The Sixers finished their miserable 2012-13 season Wednesday night with a 105-95 win over an Indiana Pacers team that rested almost all of its starters. The Pacers have the playoffs to look forward to, starting with a first-round series against Atlanta that begins this weekend. The Sixers, to be honest, were just looking forward to getting this thing over with.

With the gift win, they closed out what was supposed to be a season of hope and rebirth with a 34-48 record and without a prayer of doing much better in the next few years. They also could be without a coaching staff, although that little circus hasn't seen its last barking seal yet.

Winning 34 games isn't underachieving or overachieving for the roster that Doug Collins was left with when Andrew Bynum's knees never recovered from the late-offseason lube job he received in Germany. There will be recrimination and rewriting of history about the Bynum saga, but the fact is that he needed longer to rehabilitate after the procedure than the team said at the time. Who is to blame for that, or for the timing of the procedure, doesn't really matter any longer. You aren't going to get a refund either way.

On Wednesday night, Collins said he didn't know whether he would return as coach and wasn't sure when his decision would be made, although it has been widely reported that he has decided to stop coaching the Sixers after three seasons. General manager Tony DiLeo, who observed the passing of the season in Indianapolis along with team president Rod Thorn, said he had no update to offer.

The team has scheduled season-ending news conferences with Harris and Collins for Thursday. As of 12 hours before those were set to begin, it was impossible to know for sure what either the owner or coach would say.

Collins got more wins out of this team than anyone else could have, but both the coach and the players arrived at the finish line on fumes. It is no surprise that Collins has had enough and is ready to move on. It's even less of a surprise that he wants the $4.5 million remaining on his contract. The only remarkable thing is that Harris apparently doesn't realize that's how it works in the NBA.

The Sixers will need another coach next season, and every coach in America is watching how they handle this separation from Collins. To a lower-level coach or someone who needs the job, that information won't change anything. But ownership is making it certain that any really good coach with a choice will steer clear of the Sixers. Harris and his guys look like amateurs, and cheap ones at that.

Through his attorney, Collins has been attempting to negotiate a settlement so that both sides can get away with talking about the future rather than the past. Collins would become a "special consultant" to the franchise, and whatever that might really mean, it would also mean Harris is out $4.5 million.

The two sides engaged in a little game of chicken this week on the subject of the money. We'll see on Thursday whether either side blinked. If not, then Harris will have to meet the media standing next to Collins, who will say he intends to return as coach. What in the world Harris might say in that circumstance would be interesting to hear. It could be very creative.

Sources close to the team continue to insist that the organization is fine with turning the page on Collins, who is demanding of those above and below him. His was the face on the brochures for the last three seasons - two with Harris as owner - and he lent some star power and a link to the franchise's history. Now, though, he is forever associated with a horrible downturn in team fortunes. Through no fault of his own, Collins is joined with Bynum in the minds of the ticket-buying public. The organization thinks the team needs a fresh start and fresh excitement, and, well, we can't wait to see how big the T-shirt cannon will be next season.

Before next season can arrive, however, the Sixers had to dispense with the one they dragged through this time. The Pacers, having secured the third seed in the Eastern Conference, had no reason to play to win on Wednesday, so coach Frank Vogel rested four starters and essentially tanked the game. The Sixers romped around as if it meant something, and if it made them feel better, after what they have gone through, you can't really blame them.

It is finally over. And now we get to see what else has ended.

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

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