Believe it or not, Marreese Speights has grown since he left the Philadelphia 76ers.
He feels he’s a better player. He feels he’s in a better situation, not the perfect situation, just a better one.
Speights returned to the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday as a Cleveland Cavalier to take on the Sixers in their 2012-13 home finale. Prior to Doug Collins' agent saying Collins was returning next season to coach the Sixers (see story), Speights was asked to recall his time under the head coach -- those 64 games he played before being traded to Memphis in January 2012.
“I’m not going to really sit and bad mouth people like that,” he told CSNPhilly.com, “but, I feel like, sometimes he gives up on people a little too quick. He’s an alright coach. Would I say he was one of my best coaches I had? No. My worst? No. He’s an alright coach.”
Speights had his flaws, but his production did go up when he departed Philly. He went from averaging 5.4 points and 3.3 rebounds in 11.5 minutes in his last season under Collins, to 8.8 points and 6.2 rebounds in 22.4 minutes in his first season under Lionel Hollins with the Grizzles. That production led to Memphis’ decision to re-sign Speights to a two-year deal worth around $8 million.
The Sixers drafted Speights in the first round of the 2008 NBA draft. He said he grew in his first few seasons, but then that growth came to a halt.
“When I first got here,” Speights said, “my first couple of years I had Mo Cheeks, Tony DiLeo, Eddie Jordan, I was growing. And it feels like something just happened my third year. I don’t really know what happened, but when I left here, I feel like I had opportunities to show different coaches how I can really play.”
When it was suggested that he didn’t fit in Collins' system, especially on the defensive end, Speights didn’t buy it.
“I don’t know, man,” he said. “Like I said, I don’t wanna say the wrong thing. I just feel like he lost hope, he gives up on players a little too quick. That’s about it.”
Told of Speights’ comments after the Sixers knocked off the Cavs, 91-77 (Speights scored 12 points and grabbed four rebounds in the loss), Collins just smiled and didn’t respond.
As Speights tells it, getting traded was a good thing. The University of Florida product said it humbled and rejuvenated him because he was concerned that his career was about to take a turn for the worse. Speights thought he was on his way out of the NBA.
“When I went to Memphis, I got another opportunity to play, regroup my career,” Speights said. “They gave me an opportunity to play, start and show people what I can really do.”
A victim of Memphis’ salary cap clearing, the Grizzlies traded Speights to the Cavaliers in January. He admitted there have been some rough times in Cleveland, but said, “That’s how the league goes and that’s how careers go. You can’t really complain about that.”
Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott said Speights has grown with the Cavaliers. Since being traded to Cleveland, Speights is averaging 10.3 points and 5.2 rebounds. Though Scott listed some positives, he said the forward still needs improvement in other areas. There's one particular area that could be a reason why Collins, according to Speights, “gave up” on him.
“Probably playing a little bit harder at times,” Scott said when asked what Speights needs to improve.
And the pick and roll game.
“I think at times he’ll give you that illusion that he can get out and show on pick and rolls and next time he doesn’t,” Scott said. “Just being a little more consistent more than anything.”
Speights aside, the subject switched to Scott and Collins’ future. Scott is hearing rumblings about his job being in jeopardy, as Collins has faced questions about his own future this week.
Scott is 64-163 in three seasons with the Cavaliers, his third NBA head coaching job. Overall, he has a 416-518 record, including two NBA Finals appearances with the New Jersey Nets.
“It really doesn’t bother me,” Scott said of the rumors. “It’s a part of the job. You just deal with it. Like I say, ‘Whatever happens, happens.’”
Told of the previous rumors surrounding Collins and asked if it’s disturbing, Scott responded: “When you have games, it’s kind of your outlet. When you're at practice, it’s your outlet. You're on the court, that’s kind of your outlet. It’s when you have idle time is probably when it bugs you probably more than anything cause you have to hear all this crap.
“Like I said, we’ve been doing this for a while. I know Coach Collins has been doing it much longer than I have and it’s part of the job. First time I ever got a coaching job, a good friend of mine told me, ‘Coaches are hired to be fired.’”
Scott said he does text Collins now and then, but the two have not spoken about their futures.
“We’ll probably talk about other stuff,” he said. “We don’t talk about firings and all that stuff. That’s just a part of life. We’ll talk about other things that are much more important in our eyes.”
More important things like other head coaches, particularly ex-Sixer head coach Eddie Jordan, who is expected to become the new head coach at Rutgers University, his alma mater. Jordan was the lead assistant for Scott while the two were with the Nets.
“That’s good for Eddie to go back to his alma mater,” Scott said. “I think he’ll do a good job there.”