Collins says goodbye but Sixers' problems remain

Posted: April 20, 2013

Doug Collins spent his final official moments as Sixers coach trying to define his three-year tenure and clarify the way it suddenly ended.

"The last week has been very hard for me," Collins said. "It's been very tough. I never felt that Josh Harris did not want me to be his coach, and that was reiterated again [Thursday] morning. But that's not going to change. People are going to believe what they want to believe."

Late in his 25-minute session with reporters, tears welling in his eyes, Collins added this:

"I hope that I've been a man in every way, that I've done my job to the best of my ability."

We can save a lot of time here. Collins will be remembered as one of many coaches who passed through town without winning anything. He won't be a punch line like Rich Kotite or Eddie Jordan. He didn't stay long enough to become an institution like Andy Reid. That's about it.

These final awkward days will be forgotten quickly. The whole Collins era will be reduced to shorthand: presided over one fun playoff run, then the Andrew Bynum debacle.

The overwhelming feeling after listening to Collins and Harris on Thursday morning was this: The Sixers need a great player. They will hire a coach and build a new practice facility and try to acquire a Developmental League team and congratulate themselves for using analytics and whoop-de-damn-do.

"We brought in Sports-Vue, the camera system, which will give us a lot more data," Harris said, checking off reasons he is "optimistic" about his franchise.

It will take special cameras indeed to make the current Sixers roster look like a challenge to the Miami Heat. And you can only wonder how much data you need to gather to know Kwame Brown and Nick Young are not championship players.

Collins' decision to walk away should be data enough.

He said that the team's record had no bearing on any of this, that he simply wants to be free to spend Christmas with his family and attend the Northwestern basketball games coached by his son Chris.

But it's hard to believe the relentless competitor in Collins would have felt that way if a Bynum-led team was entering the NBA playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. The chance to add a championship to his otherwise perfect basketball resumé would have been impossible to walk away from.

But there is no chance for that this year and no realistic chance for that next year or the year after that.

That is the team Collins leaves behind. That is the reality that Harris would do well to accept immediately.

The owner left open the possibility of bringing Bynum back. That is a terrible idea from every angle. If last year's trade was "intelligent risk," as Harris called it, a new Bynum deal would be just plain stupid - prolonging a toxic situation and inflicting it on a new coach.

It isn't easy to find a great NBA player. That makes it hard to walk away from one. But the sooner Sports-Vue tells Harris that Bynum isn't one anymore, the better.

And the sooner Harris puts his own stamp on this franchise, the better. Collins, the coach he inherited, will be a consultant. Outgoing GM/president Rod Thorn will be a consultant. Julius Erving is a consultant. Tony DiLeo, who has been with the team since Charles Barkley's prime, is the GM.

That's a whole lot of status quo for an ownership group that came in boasting about running a smarter, more progressive NBA franchise.

Collins' departure creates an opportunity to shake things up. Harris made it sound as if he would take that opportunity seriously, that there would be no rush to hire another coach.

And that's fine. The Sixers need to find an energetic young teacher and technician focused on developing young players. They do not need another guy, like Collins or Larry Brown before him, who views coaching as some kind of spiritual journey. The news conferences might not be as thought-provoking, but that may not be a bad thing.

Ultimately, it won't matter if Harris hires the Dalai Lama or the next Chuck Daly if he can't find a superstar player.

That is the lesson of the Collins era.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.

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