Collins feels Sixers' core is strong for future

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Collins feels Sixers' core is strong for future

INDIANAPOLIS -- Doug Collins didn’t need to explain how disappointing the 2012-13 season was for the 76ers. 

He did anyway.

Prior to the regular-season finale against the Central Division champion Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Collins talked briefly about how things haven’t worked out for the Sixers this season but added there is a strong nucleus for next season.

Then again, it’s not like Collins will be around to see it. Sources say he is coaching his last game with the Sixers on Wednesday night, ending his tenure after just three years. The team has made no official announcement, and the players still haven’t been updated on their coach’s future.

They will hear it soon enough.

In the meantime, Collins reflected on a season of “great expectations” that just didn’t work out.

“It was exciting to come to training camp, and then right before training camp we got the news that Andrew [Bynum] had bruised his kneecap,” Collins said.

“We had a lot of pieces that we thought we’re going to fit in nicely with what we had. Then all of sudden the group that we had, we saw that we didn’t have. All of a sudden we had to figure things differently.”

It didn’t come together until late in the season. By then it didn’t matter.

“The last six weeks we’ve probably played as well as we have all season long,” Collins said. “We’ve had some very good wins and been really cohesive as a team. I think we enjoyed playing and I’m proud of that.”

The Sixers could have played out the string, and the players working on the last year of contracts could have played to pad their stats. Instead, Collins said the team remained focused on staying competitive.

It doesn’t always work that way, the coach said.

“It’s easy when you go through a season where you expected a lot and you go through the injuries and all and you’re losing to mail it in,” Collins said. “Our guys never, ever mailed it in.”

The future remains unclear. With Collins on his way out and six players on the last year of their contracts and another with a player option, there is sure to be another major roster overhaul this summer.

A coaching search, the draft lottery and draft workouts and then free agency is going to keep the front office busy. In the meantime, Collins says the Sixers’ core is strong. Jrue Holiday will be back and Evan Turner, Thad Young and Spencer Hawes are under contract for next year. If that’s the Sixers’ base, it’s young.

“When you look at the team now, I think you have a nice nucleus to build,” Collins said. “You have Evan for three years and Jrue for four. Spencer has really developed and proud of what he’s done. You know what you have with Thad. I’m excited watching Justin Holiday play here. Arnett [Moultrie] has played well and he goes into the summer knowing exactly what he has to do.”

Then there is Bynum, whose future is unclear, and until it gets figured out, the Sixers’ prospects remain just as murky.

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

NEW ORLEANS -- Of all the players Joel Embiid could be compared to, a similarity between a 7-foot-2, 270-something-pound center and a 6-foot-3, 190-pound point guard wouldn’t seem like a match.

That’s exactly what Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry sees, however, when looking at Embiid and reigning MVP Steph Curry.

“He’s different than anybody that’s been in this league in a long, long time,” Gentry said Thursday before the Sixers win over the Pelicans. “He’s a tremendous talent, he really is. I’ve never seen a guy that size, and with that kind of strength, that’s got such a soft touch. He shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry. It’s so soft when it leaves his hand.”

Curry is shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three. Embiid is 45.8 percent from the floor is 44.2 percent from long range.

Embiid flashed a big smile and paused to react when hearing of Gentry’s praise. He had been feeling hard on himself after going 0 for 5 beyond the arc against the Pelicans (see story).

“Steph is probably one of the best shooters in the league right now," Embiid said. "So that compliment means a lot."

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”