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.”

NBA Notes: Derrick Rose reportedly in contract talks with Cavaliers

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NBA Notes: Derrick Rose reportedly in contract talks with Cavaliers

CLEVELAND -- The Cavaliers could be adding another former MVP to their roster.

Looking to close the gap on the champion Golden State Warriors, Cleveland is in contract talks with free agent guard Derrick Rose, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press on Thursday. Rose, whose career has been sidetracked by injuries, could sign a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum, according to the person, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks.

Cleveland has salary cap issues and is limited in what it can offer Rose, who made $21.3 million while playing in 64 games for the New York Knicks last season.

ESPN.com first reported the Cavs' pursuit of the 28-year-old Rose. Other teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers, are interested in him.

Although Rose may not be the same player he was in 2011 when he was named the league's MVP while with the Chicago Bulls, he can still score and would be another nice compliment to LeBron James, a four-time MVP (see full story).

Heat: Haslem returns for 15th season
MIAMI -- Udonis Haslem believes he can still play, and the Miami Heat apparently agree.

The three-time NBA champion has signed a one-year, $2.3 million deal to remain with the Heat for what will be his 15th season. Haslem was already the longest-tenured player in Heat history, with all of his NBA seasons coming for his hometown team.

Among active players, only Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have spent the entirety of a career spanning at least 15 years with one franchise.

"It is a great, great, day to have Udonis Haslem sign a contract for his 15th season with the Miami Heat," team president Pat Riley said Thursday, when the contract was announced. "He isn't just Mr. 305, he is a true patriarch of the team. Today we are proud to announce that he is back to lead the Heat again" (see full story).

Jazz: Griffin inks two-way contract
SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Jazz signed big man Eric Griffin to a two-way contract Thursday.

Contract details were not released.

Griffin was a member of the Jazz during NBA summer leagues in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. He averaged 10.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in Vegas.

The 6-foot-8, 205-pound center/forward played for Hapoel Galil Gilboa in the Israeli Basketball Premier League last season, averaging 14.9 points and 7.1 rebounds.

This is the first time the Jazz have used the two-way contracts implemented by the NBA for the upcoming season.

Teams can sign two players to these deals in addition to the 15-man roster. The contracts allow NBA teams to better compensate Gatorade League players expected to spend time with the big league team. Griffin can spend up to 45 days in the NBA.

As a Sixers fan, could you actually say no to LeBron James?

As a Sixers fan, could you actually say no to LeBron James?

Admit it, you see that headline and you say to yourself, "Really?" A case needs to be made for the most dominant, all-around player the league has seen since M.J. A guy who will go down as a top-five player ever at worst, arguably one or two in the history of the game. You’re saying, "Here we go again," this is clearly click bait or someone who has lost their flipping mind. James Naismith wouldn’t even bother turning over in his grave when pondering this one.

I mean, this is LeBron James we are talking about here. Forget the individual numbers, which are staggering. The MVPs, All-Star appearances, etc. Never mind the fact that he would be only 33 years old in the summer of 2018, when he is eligible to be a free agent. Hell, he looked older in high school than he does now (minus that pesky hairline thing). Greek gods are envious of the guy’s body. You can even put aside his considerable acting chops in Trainwreck — maybe I went a click too far there. Try focusing on the team aspect for a minute. He has led his squad to the NBA Finals seven consecutive seasons, winning three.

So what’s the catch here? Why wouldn’t any Sixers fan in the name of Alexey Shved want LeBron James playing for their team?    

Let’s assume, for our purpose, he would want to come here. Big assumption. But let’s dream for a minute. The 2017-18 Sixers, first and foremost, remain upright. Injuries are not an issue.

Joel Embiid, while staying healthy, dominates on the floor like he does on social media.

Ben Simmons is, in fact, the visionary, ball-dominant, 6-foot-10 Magic Johnson Jr.

Markelle Fultz is the peanut butter to Simmons' chocolate.

Dario Saric continues to be the all-purpose, tough, steadying presence while improving his jumper.

JJ Redick provides that sniper this team hasn’t seen in decades.

And Brett Brown can flat out coach.

In other words, all things work out perfectly. Add to that the Sixers' deep pocketbooks and payroll flexibility despite the need to take care of said core players. Plus, James and Simmons share representation. The two have even been tweeting at each other the last few days, and LeBron even wished Simmons a happy birthday.

Voila. Seems like a match made in heaven, right?

Wrong. At least for some Sixers fans.

Let me preface this by saying I am a believer in “The Process.” Have been from the start. But there seems to be a faction of Sixers fans or “Processors” who are against bringing in an established superstar of the ilk of LeBron James. Is this a linear thing? A championship can be achieved only by those core drafted pieces, by the nucleus of Embiid, Simmons, Fultz and Saric? Would LeBron somehow sully the purity of those Lake Hinkotonka waters? Would Sam disapprove? Would his brilliant mind somehow spontaneously combust in a Starbucks in Palo Alto with the news of adding a such an expensive and established piece? Do we really know what Hinkie’s vision at this point would be? Wasn’t this a key part of "The Process?" Clear cap space, and when the time is right, spend money with the big boys. Not bad money. Not Timofey Mozgov, Joakim Noah or Chandler Parsons.

We’re talking LeBron Freakin' James here.   

Is there not a need for someone with his skill set? Is it a chemistry thing? Clearly, that can’t be it. James is a chameleon, able to play any of four positions if needed. And while he may not be 25-year-old peak LeBron, he will still be great for a couple of years. And he has clearly proven that he can blend with talent around him.

Is it as simple as just good old fashion LeBron hate for “The Decision” or his perceived whininess? Golden State added Kevin Durant to an established, championship winning core that proved it could win without him. And that group was able to put egos aside. I’m confident the Sixers' young nucleus could do the same.

Are we really in a position in this town  — of any sports cities — to put parameters on how we get to the mountain top? Who cares how you get there so long as you get one — and hopefully more?  

Not me.