Collins' exit a Shakespearean tragedy, of sorts

Posted: April 19, 2013

HOW FITTING for Doug Collins to draw upon Shakespeare in his final, melodramatic performance as Sixers head coach.

A surprise playoff contender in his first two seasons, Collins ended Act III of his tenure by exiting stage left,where he will sit, for 5 years, now the power behind the throne. Collins will advise Josh Harris for $2 million, half of what he was going to make as coach next season.

And thus, the production loses its star. Since his arrival, Collins, a former No. 1 overall pick of the franchise, has been center stage, the team's marquee draw.

At 61, he is abandoning the team a year early. It is a 34-win mess of Collins' own creation, one that that will be reconstructed for a third time in three seasons, perhaps from general manager to backup center to team medical staff. He abandons it of his own insistence, he insisted, as did Harris, who milled and brazed Collins' crown with his uncalloused, venture-capitalist hands last spring.

No man should stay where he is unwanted, but Harris says he wants Collins to coach. It is Collins who wants to quit, to bask in the bosom of a wonderful family, to preserve a sanity eroded by millionaire players with as much basketball IQ and pride as Collins carries in his little finger.

As he so often does, Collins dwelled more on the story's direction than on its gravity. It mattered less why Collins was leaving than that he was leaving. Still, he said, he cannot dissuade those who want to believe that he was pushed out; that his denials rang, said Collins, of "he doth protest too much."

Collins might not be as innocent as Lady Macbeth. He is neither without guilt nor without merit.

Collins' guidance of the young team, hot and bold and full of sport, honed the skills of Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young.

Then again, Collins usurped the Sixers' throne after last year's seven-win playoff run. His vision led to the loss of its leading scorer, a starting guard, its first All-Star/Olympian in 8 years, three other first-round draft picks . . . in exchange for an aged shooter and, of course, Andrew Bynum, who, thanks to the poor condition of his chronically injured knees, did not play 1 second this season and who now becomes a free agent.

Collins, convinced of the limitations of star Andre Iguodala and shooter Lou Williams, forced the acquisition of a post player to push the Sixers further than the second round or the postseason. He helped choose longtime scout and administrator Tony DiLeo to act as general manager, trumpeted the addition of rangy shooters Nick Young and Dorell Wright and lauded the charisma of Jason Richardson, who landed via trade with Bynum.

But as Bynum's creaky knees worsened and as Richardson's developed problems uneasy lay the head that wore the crown.

A 10-6 start darkened into a dreary, endless streak of lousy play, and soon came the winter of Collins' discontent. A particularly disheartening loss Dec. 23 at Brooklyn, where the Sixers absorbed continuous contact but got precious few calls, left Collins wondering whether he he was meant to be, or not to be, the Sixers' coach.

That was the question.

"Right around Christmas," Collin said, when asked when he determined he would leave the bench. That was right around the middle of the 3-13 run that revealed all of the Sixers' flaws and left even the most optimistic observers convinced that this team, at 15-22, was hopeless.

A father of two and a grandfather of five, Collins concluded that he had missed enough births, and the big wins and losses for his son Chris, then as assistant at Duke. Collins approached DiLeo and team president Rod Thorn in mid-February about an "exit strategy" to preserve his "dignity," and so rolled into the Ides of March unburdened . . . but, to his credit, still earning his pay. He coached as hard as ever; maybe harder.

Soon after the mid-February meeting, the Sixers were awful in Minnesota, and Collins - perhaps freed by his impending departure - accused some of his players of not being ready to resume the season after their All-Star break.

Less than 2 weeks later, a loss to abysmal Orlando prompted Collins to a postgame rant about his players' lack of desire, especially compared with his desire as a player and with his effort as a coach.

Thursday, Collins dismissed both of those disappointing games as reasons why he quit.

Thursday, more incredibly, Collins also said he would have quit had Bynum played, and had been Bynum productive, and had Bynum led the Sixers at least to the playoffs. He said those things smiling the smile he flashes when you think he's lying, or when he's angry, or when he's upset.

If there's daggers in men's smiles, Collins drew plenty of blood this season. It is his tell. If you play him in poker, when he smiles, call the bluff.

Collins is simply following the nine wisest words among the Bard's nearly 900,000: This above all: to thine own self be true.

Collins never saw a Duke game live this season. Last month, Chris took the head-coaching job at Northwestern, near where Collins raised his family - he was a wunderkind young coach in Chicago first - and Collins knew he had done the right thing. All that remained was time to mark.

Collins cited his availability, his general candor and his forthrightness as his credentials for acting like "a man" as Sixers coach; and, yes, he was all those things.

But if men of few words are the best men, then Collins, a peerless TV basketball analyst, need not apply.

His manic self-evaluation leads to willing self-expression. He will tell you he left his previous teams, in Chicago, Detroit and Washington, better than he found them, with more wins immediately, playoff runs, player improvement and glimpses of excellence.

But those were always glimpses. The implication is that those players would not improve but for his hand. And, in the end, he always leaves, and always rather quickly.

Now, unfettered by any concrete schedule, why, then the world's mine oyster. He can visit Chicago to help Chris endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that accompany accountability as a head coach. Perhaps Chris will handle the criticisms better than his father.

In one breath, Collins will assert that he ignores baseless rumor and ignorant critique, then in the next breath he will acknowledge that these words are razors to my wounded heart.

Collins will preach thick skin, but you can see his blood vessels pulsing through his translucent protection. Contradictory, yes, but endearing nonetheless.

The most truthful thing Collins said Thursday is that he cares. Maybe too much.

That is the long and the short of it.


On Twitter: @inkstainedretch


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