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.”

Sixers intend to use Ben Simmons, Dario Saric in same lineup

Sixers intend to use Ben Simmons, Dario Saric in same lineup

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Training camp is an opportunity for Brett Brown to assess all the pieces he has available to construct the best roster possible. There are no clear-cut formulas to create the most successful lineups, not when the team has so many players that can be utilized at multiple positions. 

“There are a lot of moving parts,” Brown said Wednesday after Day 2 of training camp. “You’re going to see a bunch of different looks, blue and white. That’s part of my job. That’s part of what I’ve got to get done when we play on opening night.” 

Among these combinations is pairing Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. Given their versatility, the rookies can play multiple positions to share the court. Brown has eyed their size and skills at the two- and three-spots.

“The pluses are you have 6-10, do-alls that really can jump into a very versatile defensive world with perhaps a lot of switching,” Brown said. “I think they’re elite defensive rebounders that can rebound and lead a break and take off. ...

“The disadvantages are, you’re playing two guys out of position that’ve never played a second of NBA basketball and have never played together. It comes down to familiarity, it comes down to some type of comfort level that they’re going to have to navigate and figure out each other a little bit more.”

Saric and Simmons, like the rest of the Sixers, are learning one another’s games in training camp. Saric described Simmons’ skill set as “amazing” considering his stature and speed, noting, “I never played with somebody who’s that [many] kilograms.” 

“I think we will find a way to play together,” Saric said. “I think we can do it. Coach said most of the time we will play together. Maybe I can push the ball, he can push the ball too. ... He’s an unbelievably good passer and I think we’ll find a way how to play and I’m very happy because of that.”

Simmons entered the league touted as a point-forward. Exceeding the combo position, Simmons has played pure point at times, both on the offensive and defensive ends. He has been tapping into the Sixers' guards and veteran leader Elton Brand to help enhance his communication running the floor.

“[The] challenge is probably guarding the point guard position. They’re a lot quicker,” Simmons said. “But I also have a lot more length and strength. I think just being able to get to the rim. Also, if I have a smaller guy I can post it up.”

Saric also has ball handling skills in his arsenal. He grew up playing point guard from ages 8 to 14 before hitting a growth spurt. Saric looked up to Magic Johnson at the position. 

“To make other players happy and to make other players better, I think that’s the role of point guard,” Saric said. 

Brown will use the next four weeks as a trial period to maneuver different combinations and looks, including a towering duo of rookies.  

“Now is the time to do that," Brown said, "with the end game being whenever that type of thing happens, you have something quite special if they’re paired — when they’re paired, because I’m going to play them together — when they start really feeling each other’s game out in the environment that I've put them in a lot better."

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers lost Jahlil Okafor for the final 23 games last season because of a small meniscus tear in his right knee. Now they are being cautious as he prepares for his second year.

As part of the Sixers’ prescheduled load management for Okafor, he participated in a portion of practice and then worked out individually with head strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright.

“They just told me to relax once I did what they wanted me to do today,” Okafor said. “I was off to the sidelines. I feel fine. I’ll be good tomorrow.”

Okafor learned during his first NBA season that he should speak more openly with the staff about his body.

“Communication is key,” he said. “I think last year I didn’t really communicate how I was feeling, so I wasn’t able to get the help I needed.”

The team held three practice sessions in the first two days of training camp. Okafor said he knew the Sixers would be cautious with his workload. He is poised to improve upon his rookie year in which he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 53 games last season.

“I’m 100 percent healthy,” he said. “I’m all good.”