With playoffs nearing, Sixers can only reminisce

With playoffs nearing, Sixers can only reminisce
April 10, 2013, 10:15 pm

The Sixers have only won 31 games this season after winning 35 in last year's lockout-shortened campaign. (AP)

The Sixers took their team picture on Wednesday. Their were plenty of new faces in this year's photo, but two in particular were absent (see story).

Can you imagine being the poor photographer who drew that assignment? Had to be tougher than doing a family portrait at the mall with a bunch of unhappy children. You could shake a stuffed animal above the camera and remind them all to say cheese and it probably still wouldn’t make the Sixers smile. It’s been that kind of season.

The annual exercise made Doug Collins wistful. The Sixers head coach said he spent some time thinking about this year and how the team is in a very different spot now than it was when it took its team picture last season.

When I told Spencer Hawes that picture day prompted Collins to reflect on this year and how it contrasted with last season, the center responded with two words: “Uh oh.”

So you didn’t do the same thing?

“No,” Hawes said before the Atlanta Hawks smacked the Sixers, 124-101, at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay). “I haven’t reflected on this year too much. I’d like to reflect on taking the positive and leaving the rest behind.”

The season is almost over. Only four games remain. If taking the positive and leaving the rest behind is like cleaning out your desk when you leave a job, then the Sixers should be able to fit all the cheery stuff into a single cardboard box. (Jrue Holiday becoming an All-Star. Thad Young becoming a consistent frontcourt option. That's about it.) Again, it’s been that kind of season.

The Sixers are 31-47. That’s four fewer wins in full season than they had last year in a 66-game lockout-shortened campaign. That says so much, none of which is good. How quickly things change.

“A year ago, we played Indiana on our team photo [day], lost, and played five straight road games to get into the playoffs and won four of them,” Collins said. “It’s just interesting where you are from this year to last year. And just the thoughts you have when you take that picture.”

Thoughts. Yes. He had a few. Even as he admitted what everyone already knows -- that this season has been “disappointing” -- Collins reminisced about last year’s Sixers, how they slipped into the playoffs and came within one win of the Eastern Conference Finals. It was a good run, and it all began with that Indiana game toward the end of the regular season.

“I’ll never forget,” Collins said. “We had our picture that night. Lost the game. Tough game. We fought back against Indy. I remember Lou [Williams] had a three late in that game. I don’t remember if it put us up, but it at least tied it. But we lost that game. I remember Julius [Erving] talking to our guys after the game. And we had to go out on the road and we had five games staring at us out on the road.

“That’s what I thought about. And I thought about how that team was really able to gather themselves. We had such tremendous leadership on that team. We had guys that had been around. I don’t think people really realize -- guys like Elton Brand and [Andre Iguodala] and Lou and Jodie [Meeks] and guys we’ve really missed this year as we’ve changed our team and our injuries and all.”

He’s right. They have missed Brand and Iguodala and Williams (Meeks was a memory too far) -- not just their leadership but also their production. Looking back on all that has to be bittersweet. Because that team accomplished more than anyone expected -- and then that team was dismantled by Collins and the rest of the Sixers power brokers.

That isn’t second-guessing. Along with lots of other people, I endorsed the decision to jettison those players and bring in new personnel. It obviously hasn’t worked out. Injuries and awful basketball have conspired to render the Sixers irrelevant this year -- which is why reflecting on last season has to be particularly painful. That’s as close as these Sixers will come to the playoffs -- leftover recollections from a year ago. How sad.

Back to photo day. It was the 11th time in his coaching career that Collins took part in one. Someone wondered whether -- since he’s the nostalgic sort -- Collins has kept all those pictures from all those teams over all those years. Collins smirked before responding.

“No,” he said.

Everyone laughed. Gallows humor is hard to beat.