Do You Want Doug Collins Back? Because the Sixers Reportedly Do Not

Do You Want Doug Collins Back? Because the Sixers Reportedly Do Not

The big news story of the day comes to us from the
Philadelphia Inquirer, where Bob Ford reports that the 76ers organization hopes
Doug Collins will step down at season’s end according to league sources. The
head coach has one year remaining on his contract, but another extension is not
in the works.

Ford outlines a number of possibilities, from Collins
walking away on his own terms, to his transitioning to a front office role so he
can collect the final $4.5 million left on the final year of his deal. However,
there is also some belief pride could interfere, and Collins would come back
even as a lame duck to fight the stigma that he’s not a “long-term coach.”

One thing it seems the Sixers are not willing to do is fire
Collins, with Ford citing that as being a bad move from a public-relations
standpoint.

The organization will have a huge
season-ticket renewal problem this offseason, and the last thing it needs is
engaging in a popularity contest with Collins. Selling tickets for next season
will be difficult enough.

"They really want to avoid a
backlash if the fans sided with Doug," the first NBA source said.
"They will be happy if Doug makes the call and it works out that he
leaves."

There is no question Collins is a likeable figure, both as a
former player in Philly, and because of the energy, passion, and forthright
demeanor he’s brought to the position. I doubt there are many people here
who wanted to see him flame out quickly.

But then if reports are true, it also seems probable Sixers
brass might be overestimating just how much loyalty the fan base feels toward
Collins at this point. The product on the court is the real issue first and
foremost, and while how much of the responsibility for this mess can truthfully
be laid at Doug’s feet is debatable – as a head coach anyway – there is some
question as to whether he brings the right attitude to the situation, much less has
the longevity to see this rebuilding through.

And actually there has been plenty of disagreement about the
way Collins goes about his job. Young players such as Arnett
Moultrie this season, or Evan Turner and Nik Vucevic in the past, have wound up
in Doug’s doghouse for largely unknown reasons while observers clamored for those
kids to get more minutes. There is even a question of to what degree Collins’ system works, as his team often settles for low percentage shots.

Plus, Collins isn’t exactly innocent in the construction of
this current fiasco, either. When Andrew Bynum was acquired there was no
general manager in place, which would seem to indicate the head coach had a lot of say in the
matter, as he likely did in several more unpopular front-office-type decisions. Tony
DiLeo has since taken over as GM, but who knows how much influence Doug still wields.

I’m not necessarily anti-Doug Collins myself, if for no
other reason than it has been painful to watch the 76ers go through coach after
coach through the years, sometimes a change being made a season’s time or less. It’s been a
while since any decision that swift has been handed down, but the organization could benefit from some stability on the bench.

Even if we’re just being realistic about the situation and
not taking sides, the Sixers as a franchise are in no-man’s land right now.
Nobody is sure where the team is going to go from here, or how long it’s going
to take to build something that resembles a contender. What we do know is it will
take long enough that Collins wouldn't be here to see it regardless.

Should the head coach be sent packing? Does he deserve better? Is
that really going to be what causes the dozen or so of you who have season
ticket plans not to renew? Because even as a Doug Collins supporter of sorts, I would
have a hard time mustering any outrage for a change.

>> 76ers hope Doug Collins steps away, sources say [Inq]

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Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler played with Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez when the two were growing up in Cuba. They traveled together to Venezuela for a youth tournament.

Soler said Fernandez's ability was obvious, right from the start.

"Since he was a child, since we were kids, I knew he had something," Soler said through a translator. "He had a talent. It was very impressive."

Fernandez's death in a boating accident at the age of 24 cast a dark shadow over the major leagues on Sunday. Miami's home game against Atlanta was canceled, and several ballparks observed moments of silence. Wrigley Field's iconic hand-operated scoreboard displayed Fernandez's No. 16 in its pitching column next to Miami.

But the loss of Fernandez was felt most acutely in baseball's growing Cuban community.

"He was one of those guys that everybody loved," St. Louis Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena said. "He was one of those guys that everybody knew exactly what he meant to our community. For us, it's a big, big loss. It's one of those things where our thoughts and prayers are obviously with his family, the Marlins' organization and the fans. But it gets a little bit closer because he was part of our Cuban family."

There were 23 Cubans on opening-day major league rosters this year, an increase of five over last season and the most since the commissioner's office began releasing data in 1995. Many of the players share similar stories when it comes to their perilous journey from the communist country to the majors, and the difficulty of adjusting to life in the United States.

A native of Santa Clara, Cuba, Fernandez was unsuccessful in his first three attempts to defect, and spent several months in prison. At 15, Fernandez and his mother finally made it to Mexico, and were reunited in Florida with his father, who had escaped from Cuba two years earlier.

He was drafted by the Marlins in 2011, and quickly turned into one of the majors' top pitchers.

"How he was on the mound was a reflection of him," Oakland first baseman Yonder Alonso said. "A guy who had a lot of fun, was himself. A very talkative guy, he would come into the room and you'd know he was in the room. Never big-leagued anyone, very professional. No matter what, he would talk to you about hitting, because he thought he was the best hitter, and he (would) talk to you about pitching, because he thought he was the best pitcher."

Alonso said Fernandez's death was "a big-time shock." Yasiel Puig used torn pieces of white athletic tape to display Fernandez's jersey on the wall in the home dugout at Dodger Stadium. Cardinals rookie Aledmys Diaz, who had known Fernandez since they were little kids, declined an interview request through a team spokeswoman.

"We Cuban players know each other well and all of us have a great relationship," Pena said. "For us, it's devastating news when we woke up. We were sending text messages to each other and we were showing support. It's something that obviously nobody expects."

Fernandez, who became a U.S. citizen last year, also was beloved for his stature in the Cuban community in Miami.

"He was a great humanitarian," Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman said through a translator. "He gave a lot to the community and I think that's why he got a lot of respect from the community in terms of what a great person he was and always giving, in terms of always willing to help out in whatever way he can to try to better and progress within the community someone that perhaps wasn't as fortunate as he was."

The 28-year-old Chapman lives in the Miami-area in the offseason. He said he spent some time with Fernandez while he was home.

"He would come by my house. I would go by his," Chapman said. "We would have long conversations. We would talk a lot. We spent a lot of good amount of time together. It was very special for me."

Pressure is on Flyers' fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde to fend off competition

Pressure is on Flyers' fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde to fend off competition

VOORHEES, N.J. — Even before Flyers training camp opened, Ron Hextall talked about a plenitude of internal competition for jobs.
 
It’s all over the ice, too.
 
Who starts in goal: Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth, who came on strong at the end of last season? 
 
Does Ivan Provorov win a spot on the roster? And if he does, who gets sent packing?
 
Between Scott Laughton and Nick Cousins, who gets the lion's share of ice time? 
 
Can Travis Konecny or Roman Lyubimov force a veteran forward off the team?
 
Then there’s free-agent signee Boyd Gordon, a PK specialist who was second only to Claude Giroux in the league last season on winning defensive zone draws. More competition.
 
Well, one of the key battles in training camp for both roster space and minutes concerns how veteran fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde handles the competition from Lyubimov — the 24-year-old Russian who plays a heavy game and can handle special teams — and others.
 
VandeVelde saw a bit of an offensive drop-off last season with 14 points. Though just a point fewer than the year before, the bigger dip was going from nine goals to two.
 
With no real goal-scoring additions in the offseason, Hextall is expecting bigger outputs from returning players.
 
In VandeVelde’s case, two goals is something Lyubimov could easily match or exceed.
 
“You have to go out there and give it your all,” VandeVelde said. “Hopefully, work hard and kinda make an impression. There’s a lot of guys fighting for a fair amount of spots. It’s going to be interesting.
 
“I think I’ve felt pressure every year. Obviously, you want to make an impression and get noticed out there. Reassure [them] I can still do the job and add a few things to my offensive game.”
 
And his self-evaluation?
 
“I think I was solid,” he replied. “As a fourth line, we were very good at times. Individually, I can add a little more and chip in a little more.”
 
VandeVelde is not scheduled to play in either of Monday’s split-squad games in New Jersey or Brooklyn.
 
At stake here isn’t just his job on the fourth line but the penalty kill, as well. VandeVelde’s 2:17 shorthanded ice time per game was second only to linemate Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (2:35) among the forwards.
 
The 6-foot-2, 207-pound Lyubimov has played on the penalty kill in the KHL, and Gordon is a PK specialist. What was VandeVelde’s edge is now something up for grabs, especially given both Hextall and coach Dave Hakstol have vowed there will be improvement on the PK, which ranked 14th last season after being among the bottom 10 much of the year.
 
Hakstol has said he intends to tweak the PK with some structural changes. That sounds like personnel changes and Gordon could be a guy on the fourth unit and will certainly be in the mix on the penalty kill.
 
How to make the kill better remains at large.
 
“We have to start a little more aggressively,” VandeVelde said. “Kinda like we finished last couple games there against Washington (in the playoffs). We kinda got burnt there 6-1 (in Game 3). We switched styles a little too late.”
 
The Flyers gave up five power play goals in Game 3 to the Caps.
 
VandeVelde admits his penalty kill experience gives him a bit of an edge going into camp.
 
“If I can bring that extra edge and solidify a role, that is huge,” he said.
 
VandeVelde returned to his home in Moorhead, Minn., over the summer to focus on his skating, hoping to get a more explosive start on the ice that he could utilize better during the penalty kill.
 
One thing seems certain: VandeVelde says there’s a greater comfort level for returning players as to what to expect from Hakstol. Also, whereas last year’s camp was one of implementing systems, this year’s camp is one of expanding on them.
 
“Everyone knows what to expect,” VandeVelde said. “So do all three coaches. They are going to tweak some things, whether it's penalty kill or power play or other systems. We’ll learn that. That is what preseason is for. All the players know what to expect and are ready to go.”
 
VandeVelde said he’s already been informed what the team expects from him this season. The competition could push him in that direction.
 
“I know what they want,” he said. “Obviously, I can do more offensively and want to chip in a little more as a fourth line and as an individual. Maybe just work on that.”