Collins still focused on being Sixers' 'fixer'

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Collins still focused on being Sixers' 'fixer'

The opportunity was there to stay in the hunt for the postseason. There was a 10-point lead after the first 12 minutes, which shrunk to seven at halftime and three going into the fourth quarter.

The Sixers’ play in Milwaukee Wednesday night looked like that of a group asking, “Can we do this?” as opposed to saying, “We can do this.”

After the 94-92 loss, head coach Doug Collins was short with his answers to the media during his press conference -- visibly frustrated after suffering a 29th loss in 51 tries.

One day earlier, Collins sat at the team’s practice facility and described what was so visual in his face 24 hours later. No, he didn’t know the two-point loss to the Bucks would happen, but too many nights this season he has felt the pain that comes with falling short.

“Our guys, last year going into the playoffs, we knew what we could hang our hat on each and every night,” Collins said. “And in the offseason we had the draft and we were very happy with that. And then in July we made the big trade. And since that point in time, it has been more disappointment than anything else. It just seems at every turn there is something else that keeps coming up.”

The disappointment that accompanies Andrew Bynum is seven months long. The former All-Star center has yet to practice with the team that gave up an All-Star, two young, talented players and a draft pick for his services.

Sure, injuries to Jrue Holiday, Nick Young, Thaddeus Young and Jason Richardson have hurt in their given moments. But quite frankly, they could have been by-products of Bynum’s sustained absence. After all, the presence of a seven-foot scoring player in the post changes the game for everyone involved.

“I never coached a dominant low-post scorer,” Collins said. “I watched the Lakers play the other night against Charlotte. I watched and I said now watch the Lakers’ plays here in the last 12 minutes of the game. Come down, throw the ball into Kobe [Bryant] in the post. If he doesn’t get double-teamed, go to work. If he does, kick it out for a three-point shot.”

Collins was speaking like a teacher in a classroom, passionate to get his lessons across and understood.

“Andrew Bynum was a guy you were going to play through the post,” he said. “The way you calm the game down is you play through the post. When you don’t play through the post there is a movement and a lot of ups and downs in a game because a lot of times you are not getting those easy shots.”

Easy shots have been hard to come by for the Sixers. The Sixers attempt the NBA’s second-fewest free throws per game (16.5) and make the least (11.9). They rank among the bottom 10 teams when it comes to three-pointers made (6.1).

Collins went into the season thinking the foul line and three-point line would add up to 40 points a night for the team. On average, that combination has fallen 10 points shy, leaving the Sixers the second-worst scoring team in the league.

How can Collins get more, given less? It is a question he contemplates daily when the 60-year-old rides the elliptical for an hour.

“First of all, I always say, ‘What can I do to help this team?’” Collins said. “I am very hard on myself, very, very hard because I see everything that goes on and I am a fixer by nature -- I am a problem-solver. Ever since I was in the eighth grade, in my family I have been the kid that all that responsibility falls on. That’s what I do. When I can’t reach guys or I can’t get something switched, it frustrates me.”

But in a day and age that is drastically different between players and coaches compared to when Collins played, frustrations need to be tempered if not hidden.

Relationships are the very thing that keeps Collins wanting to be in the gym every day -- that and teaching. But Twitter, texting and the guardedness of a “me” generation makes building bonds with the players he coaches a legitimate challenge.

“Players don’t want to talk on the phone, not to me,” Collins said. “I talk to the parents all the time and they say they try and call their children on the phone and they won’t answer. They shoot them a text and they get right back to them. You don’t take it personally. You just understand that’s the way it is.”

Eye contact, a voice on the phone, those allow for personable exchanges that cannot be duplicated in 140 characters. Still, Collins spends time every evening reaching out to his players in that manner to bridge a generation gap and forge a union.

“It is getting harder and harder in this business to create those kind of relationships,” Collins said of those bonds he has with the likes of Grant Hill and Michael Jordan. “Number 1, the players are getting much younger and I am older, and they don’t allow that many people in. So there is a real trust that you have to build and sometimes a trust is so hard to build and so easily broken. I mean, one little thing can break a trust. I have to be consistent and true every single day. When I show up there cannot be any wavering.”

Every day, Collins wants to win. Every day, he wants his team to be better than they were the day before. Every day he is working to guide young men into becoming polished professionals.

For those who think the exasperation often seen on his face in the course of a game this season is a sign of his wanting to move on -- as he has by the end of three years in each of his previous three NBA coaching stops -- hold that thought.

“The one thing that has helped me is I have had brakes between coaching,” Collins said. “I think that keeps you fresh. I think you keep learning. Then you get to be 60 and whatever happens this season is not going to decide who I am after 40 years of being in this business in three different areas.

“The neat thing about it for me is the one thing you want is to be respected. Through the years, the friendships from players and coaches from other teams and the respect they give you, you really feel that.

“As long as I am having fun and feel like I am making a difference, I will try [to keep coaching]. The moment I feel like I am not making a difference in the young players’ lives or doing my job to get the winning in a place that it should be, then I will make that decision.”

Report: Raptors contact Sixers regarding Nerlens Noel

Report: Raptors contact Sixers regarding Nerlens Noel

General managers talk to other general managers about players all the time. 

Sometimes, news of these discussions leak.

Sounds like this is one of those cases.

According to ESPN's Zach Lowe, the Toronto Raptors have contacted the Sixers regarding Nerlens Noel. Lowe cites sources who state that the Raptors have offered a "rotation player — perhaps Terrence Ross, and other goodies — in exchange for Nerlens Noel" but also noted that "the talks haven't gained much traction yet."

Probably because the trade depends on the value of the so-called goodies.

A 6-foot-7, 195-pound swingman, Ross has been inconsistent over his four-year career. After starting 123 games the previous two seasons, Ross, 25, primarily came off the bench last season, starting seven of 73 games. He averaged 9.9 points and shot 38.6 percent from three, right around his career averages (9.3 and 37.8).

He's a three-point shooter and finisher (a little like Harrison Barnes). In his second year in the league, he erupted for 51 points in a loss to the Clippers and hit 10 of 17 from three.

Ross was drafted by the Raptors in 2012 out of Washington with the eighth overall pick. He signed a three-year extension late last year that will pay him $10.5 million per season.

Toronto is interested in Noel because big man Bismack Biyombo may leave during free agency, which begins Friday.

Sixers free-agent fits: Frontcourt — Horford, Anderson, Ezeli, more

Sixers free-agent fits: Frontcourt — Horford, Anderson, Ezeli, more

Over the course of this week, we will look at the Sixers' free-agent possibilites at each position. We've already analyzed point guardsshooting guards and small forwards. Today, we'll break down frontcourt players.

Sixers frontcourt players for 2016-17
Joel Embiid (guaranteed, $4,826,160)

Richaun Holmes (guaranteed, $1,025,831)

Carl Landry (guaranteed, $6,500,000)

Nerlens Noel (guaranteed, $4,384,490)

Jahlil Okafor (guaranteed, $4,788,840)

Dario Saric (yet to sign)

Ben Simmons (yet to sign rookie deal)

Current frontcourt situation
In case you haven't heard, the Sixers have a few big men. By my list, that's five under contract, one that will sign his rookie contract shortly, and another that claims he'll be under contract soon enough.

Of course, there have been rumors of Okafor and/or Noel being shipped off for backcourt pieces, but as of now, they are Sixers. If the team were to move one or both of them, they'd be moving their most proven NBA frontcourt pieces, even if the experiment of playing them together was a disaster.

Simmons has infinite potential, but has yet to play an NBA minute. Same goes for Embiid and Saric. Landry and Holmes are solid bench big men. They'll be valuable depth if Bryan Colangelo pulls off a move or two. Stay tuned.

Reach free agent

Al Horford, unrestricted
Horford, a four-time All-Star, has been a focal point for the Hawks' offense for almost a decade. More of a finesse big man than a banger down low, Horford has an excellent midrange game and possesses great touch around the basket. He's also a decent passer from the post, averaging 2.7 assists per game for his career. He's averaged 14.3 points per game on a robust 54 percent from the field. With all that said, Horford is not the guy for this team. Even if Noel and Okafor are traded, Horford is 30. Also, Simmons would be better playing with a center that offers better rim protection.

Possible fits

It's hard to look into any of these guys seriously with the Sixers' current logjam. We'll dissect them as if a shakeup in the frontcourt has occurred and the team needs to fill a gap or two.

Ryan Anderson, unrestricted
If you were to Google the term "stretch four" a picture of Anderson would appear (not even kidding, it actually does). Anderson has shot 38 percent for his career from downtown. Back in 2011-12, he led the NBA in threes made and attempted while playing for the Magic. Last season he averaged 17 points per game, the second-highest number of his career. Assuming Simmons expands his game beyond the power forward position, a guy like Anderson would make a ton of sense playing alongside him.

Marvin Williams, unrestricted
Williams is an interesting case. He's never lived up to the billing of being the No. 2 overall pick back in 2005, but he's had a solid NBA career as a role player. The element he's added to his game that should intrigue the Sixers is his three-point shooting. Williams hit a career-high 40 percent from distance on 378 attempts, also a career mark. Williams also offers defensive versatility with his ability to play on the wing at times.

Festus Ezeli, restricted
Ezeli has made himself into a solid rotational big in Golden State. With the Warriors' success, guys like Ezeli are bound to be poached from their roster. Ezeli is nothing special but would come in handy if the Sixers find a suitor for Noel. They'd need someone like Ezeli (2.5 blocks per 36 minutes last season) to help fill the void Noel would leave as a strong rim protector.

Report: Isaiah Canaan becomes free agent as Sixers don't extend qualifying offer

Report: Isaiah Canaan becomes free agent as Sixers don't extend qualifying offer

It appears the Sixers are letting guard Isaiah Canaan walk.

Canaan, who was set to be a restricted free agent this offseason, is now unrestricted as the Sixers did not extend him a qualifying offer, according to a report Wednesday night by Chris Haynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The qualifying offer would have been worth $1,215,696. Canaan made $947,276 last season.

Canaan, 25, has played parts of two seasons with the Sixers after coming over from the Rockets in 2014-15 as part of the K.J. McDaniels trade.

The 6-foot, 201-pound guard averaged 11 points per game in 77 contests (39 starts) last season, while shooting 36.3 percent from three-point range.

Canaan has not fit with the Sixers as a shoot-first point guard, averaging just 1.8 assists per game in 2015-16, a season in which he essentially turned into an undersized, volume-shooting two-guard.

The backcourt — specifically point guard — remains the biggest priority for the Sixers this offseason.

On Wednesday, the Sixers decided to retain Hollis Thompson for next season by exercising his team option.