If you’ve attended a Sixers home game in the last year and a half and just happened to catch a victory, these would be some of the lyrics you would be encouraged to sing, as cheesy music played over the speakers in the Wells Fargo Center. Little did we know those lyrics would secretly be a countdown to the team’s destruction.
The ownership group headed by Joshua Harris bought the team in October of 2011, with the hope of bringing back basketball fever to the city of Brothery Love. The franchise never recovered from the downfall of Allen Iverson and casual fans moved onto the new winner in the city, the Phillies. Like with all sports however, if you win, they will come (and buy merchandise).
Their plan looked to be going down the right path. The veteran head coach appeared to be raising the team’s level of play by inspiring the young group to never give up. Indeed, Doug Collins filled the role of the wily old guy who represented a level of passion the team had been severely lacking since the answer was shipped out to Denver. Even though their 2010-11 regular season record was exactly .500, this was viewed as a huge improvement for a franchise that suffered the Eddie Jordan virus.
Eddie Jordan virus: Career regular record (257-343, .43%), career playoff record (8-18, .31%), ’09-’10 season in Philadelphia, 27-55.
Notice a trend Rutgers?
You could say the lockout shortened ‘11-’12 season was somewhat of fools gold for the people who cared about basketball in Philly. The Sixers got off to an incredibly hot start due to the aid of a bunch of home games against subpar teams. The expectations for the season immediately swelled, which is what happens when the left column of the win-loss record unexpectedly fills up.
The roster of hybrids (Thaddius Young, Andre Iguodala, Spencer Hawes), plus an emerging Jrue Holiday and the right guy to be their sixth man (Lou Williams), could stand tall with playoff teams in the regular season, but as May approached, the team might as well have sent doormats to the Bulls as a pre-series gift.
For the second straight year the Sixers destiny was to maybe steal one game in the first round before bowing down to the superior team.
Instead the alternate universe theory actually played out in the world we’re currently living in. The still reigning MVP destroyed his knee on a play that he makes all of the time. Even with a top five (at the time) player gone, the Bulls could still use their Thibodeian training to get by the Sixers.
Then the heart and soul of the frontcourt, Joakim Noah, severely twisted his left ankle in game three. The Sixers would claw their way to a first round upset, which was only an upset because there was an (8) next to PHI on the television score graphic. Think about it, the Bulls were a couple minutes away from going on to the conference semifinals with a Carlos Boozer led offense.
I believe it’s fair to say not many people put too much stock into that playoff series. It’s easy enough to understand that the Sixers were extremely lucky, and would not have eliminated the Bulls if Rose and Noah were healthy. It was the next series that would change the team’s course.
Philly pushed Boston to a game seven in the conference semis and forced Rajon Rondo’s national TV alter-ego to appear. Lavoy Allen played a series well above his means. He essentially neutralized Kevin Garnett for stretches of games. The old Celtics were a good matchup for the Sixers because of the combination of, youth/speed/Thaddeus Young.
Due to Philly’s competitiveness in the series, it gave the front office a look into the future of the franchise. Those seven games against Boston proved to everyone who makes an important decision for the basketball team in Philadelphia that they had a middle-class basketball team, which was destined for a six, seven, or eight seed. AKA the death valley of the NBA.
Kind of easy to see why the trade for Bynum was necessary right?
What the city of Philadelphia got was the season that makes fan bases say, “Why isn’t life fair?”
“Why do I root for this team?”
Or worse they stop paying attention all together, because the beloved baseball team was about to open up their season. (This season could be their undoing as well.)
Just imagine how much different the Eastern Conference would be if Bynum made even an 80% recovery from his multiple knee procedures. The Sixers could easily be hosting a first round series as a three or four seed (hell maybe even the two, though I think the Knicks would still probably be the two if Bynum was healthy).
The risk was necessary, the result was unfair.
That doesn’t excuse Doug Collins from acting foolish this season. Maybe everyone should have seen the writing on the wall before the season started.
Doug Collins had never made it to a fourth year during his three previous coaching stints. Beyond the normal signs of decline, there is an interesting theme that appears to have followed Collins from job to job. Let’s take a ride in the time machine back to the year 1986.
The Zen Master
Collins was hired by the Chicago Bulls after Stan Albeck was let go. In Collins first season as head coach (86-87) he improved the team’s win column by ten games (40-42) and led the Bulls to the playoffs as an eight seed. They would bow out in the first round to the Boston Celtics. Coincidently, a young Michael Jordan was able to play all 82 games that season; he only played in 18 games the prior season.
In 87-88 the Bulls won 50 games, entered the playoffs as the three seed in the East and lost in the conference semis to the early “Bad-Boy” Pistons. The next season (88-89 if you’re keeping track), Chicago regressed by three wins (47), finished as the six seed in the East and lost in the conference finals to the dreaded Pistons (who would win the championship).
In what was at the time a questionable decision by some, the Chicago Bulls front office parted ways with Collins. Owner Jerry Reindorf stated there were “philosophical differences” between the front office and Collins on the future of the team. Here is the actual quote from Reindorf:
“We appreciate the effort Doug has given over the past three years; however, through the years, philosophical differences between management and Doug, over the direction the club was going, grew to a point where the move was required,”
The Bulls front office selected assistant coach Phil Jackson to take over for Collins. How exactly did that work out for them again?
“I didn’t enjoy life”
Collins reappeared on the sidelines for the ‘95-‘96 Detroit Pistons and hoped to turn the team around after an awful season the year before (28-54).
Once again the man worked his magic. The Pistons won 46 games, an 18 game improvement from the prior season and finished as the seven seed in the East. The Magic would sweep the Pistons in the first round of the playoffs.
Colllins rode his wave of success to the sidelines of the Eastern Conference all-star team in ’96-97. The Pistons won 54 games that season, finished as the fifth seed in the East and lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs (3-2).
Then the team totally fell apart. Detroit only won 37 games the next season and a riff appeared between Collins and his players.
Here is an actual quote from Grant Hill during that infamous season: “I didn’t enjoy going to practice, I didn’t enjoy going to games.”
Alright how many times have we heard a player say this? Grant Hill is on the all-time good guys team, but this isn’t something we haven’t heard before.
“I wasn’t going to quit,” Hill added. “But I didn’t enjoy life.”
Last time I checked your star player needs to be at least happy to wake up in the morning. Collins totally zapped Hill of his enthusiasm of his decision to play basketball for a living, which is much more serious than just being burned out on something. Hill knew that he had to keep playing to support his lifestyle, but if you could have given him the same paycheck and said you can get away from basketball forever, he probably would have said deal and retired.
Here was Hill’s quote after Collins was fired, “Now, I’m excited,” Hill said. “I don’t know if it will mean more wins for us, but I’m excited to play again.”
Bringing everything full circle
Three years later Collins would reunite in Washington with Michael Jordan during Jordan’s final years in the NBA. Again the storyline of Collins turning around a team was a discussion point in ’01-’02. The team won 18 more games than the previous year.
Hmm… where have you heard that before?
There would be no improvement in the ’02-’03 season, as the Wizards finished with the same record as the year before (37-45). Michael Jordan retired for good and the Wizards front office continued the upheaval by showing Doug Collins the door during the ’03-’04 season.
The money quote from Collins: “It was just a matter of time before I was fired.”
If you’re keeping track at home Collins had three jobs before showing up in Philadelphia three years ago. During the first two years of each of his three jobs, Collins improved the win-loss record, but didn’t make any noise in the playoffs. If Jordan doesn’t get Grinered by the Pistons in ’87-’88 and ’88-‘89, maybe Phil Jackson ends up coaching somewhere else, but it sure looked like the management was tired of Collins’ lust for power in the front office. It’s safe to wonder if he wanted some type of serious input into the composition of the roster.
Then he ran Grant Hill’s mentality into the ground and in doing so drove a promising Pistons team into a lottery team that didn’t care about playing for their coach. His two and a half years in Washington were a wash, because Jordan had his fingerprints all over the hiring.
Let’s just look at what happened in Philly by using the numbers and what we know based on Collins’ previous stints as a head coach.
|Doug Collins||’10-‘11||41-41||Yes, 1st round MIA|
|Doug Collins||’11-‘12||35-31||Yes, 2nd round BOS|
In Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia, Collins’ first year was viewed as a possible turning point for the franchise. Each team played just well enough to make the playoffs before getting manhandled in the first round (besides the Sixers who did give the Heat four competitive games. Remember when the Heat didn’t understand how to use the big three?)
In those three cities Collins’ second year would be his peak year. All three teams played even better than the first year, but the success would be short lived.
Collins had his fingerprints all over the Andrew Bynum trade. Again, it was a necessary move for the Sixers. Bynum would have transformed the Sixers into a legitimate, interesting opponent for Miami. Instead the trade blew up in Collins’ face, which left him so distraught, he furiously checked the box scores to see how the young guys who were shipped down to Orlando were doing.
Nikola Vucevic’s 11.9 rebounds per game is currently good enough for second place in the association, the only player in front of him? Dwight Howard.
Mo Harkless showed flashes of possibly sixth man/starting potential and Iguodala looks like he is a couple years younger as he throws up lobs to Kenneth Faried (get well soon).
Should it come as a surprise that Collins told the Sixers front office that he won’t be back next season?
This press conference from a couple months ago foreshadowed Adrian Wojnarowski’s report.
Collins was a frustrated individual who appeared to be losing control of his team, even though he said his players weren’t tuning him out. Maybe this was the beginning of his Grant Hill ’96-’97 moment. Maybe this was the start of Collins waking up in the morning and dreading coming into work. Maybe he saw the rebuilding graffiti on the wall, and knew that next year was going to be more of the same.
The lone positive from the 76ers ’12-’13 season is the emergence of Jrue Holiday as a breakout player, but there are so many negatives. In less than 365 days, the Sixers have transformed from one of the more intriguing teams in the league, to just another rebuilding project.
Where Collins’ goes from here is anyone’s guess. Hopefully he winds up back on television, either in the booth or in the studio (hopefully a Collins, Doc Rivers, and Charles Barkley sitting around a desk needs to happen within a couple years).
If you want to feel sorry for Doug Collins it’s completely okay. The guy was dealt a hand full of shit this season, but history does tend to repeat itself. There is a pattern that can’t be ignored.
Follow me on twitter @Scottdargis.
Kudos to: Basketball-reference.com, espn.com, the LA Times, and the Baltimore Sun