Collins still focused on being Sixers' 'fixer'

slideshow-021413-sixers-collins-uspresswire.jpg

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 Playoffs: Celtics win 3rd straight to grab series lead over Bulls

NBA Playoffs: Celtics win 3rd straight to grab series lead over Bulls

BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley scored 24 points apiece to help the Boston Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls 108-97 on Wednesday night and take a 3-2 lead in their first-round playoff series.

After the road team won each of the first four games, the Celtics won at home in Game 5 to earn a chance to eliminate the Bulls on Friday night in Chicago. A Bulls victory would force the series back to Boston for a decisive Game 7 on Sunday.

Dwyane Wade had 26 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists for Chicago.

But Wade and Robin Lopez were called for technical fouls 32 seconds apart with just under five minutes left, helping the Celtics to a 20-5 run that turned an 84-84 game into a 15-point Boston lead.

The Bulls cut it to nine before Al Horford got loose for a dunk, Wade missed a 3-pointer and then Horford fed Jae Crowder for a layup that made it 108-95 with 99 seconds to play.

Despite the technical fouls, there was little of the tension that characterized Game 4, when Jimmy Butler and Marcus Smart got in each other's face on the court and continued the criticism in their postgame comments (see full recap).

Beal, Wall push Wizards past Hawks for 3-2 series lead
WASHINGTON -- John Wall figured the credit went to the down-the-stretch defense displayed by his Washington Wizards.

Neither Dennis Schroder nor coach Mike Budenholzer found any flaws with the way their Atlanta Hawks handled things late.

Either way, the odd manner in which Atlanta seemed to allow the final half-minute or so to slip away while trailing -- not fouling Washington to try to extend things; passing around the ball, instead of shooting it, as the clock headed toward zero -- left the Wizards on the verge of closing out the teams' Eastern Conference first-round playoff series.

Back at home, and back in charge, Bradley Beal scored 27 points, and Wall added 20 points and 14 assists, leading Washington to a 103-99 victory in Game 5 on Wednesday night for a 3-2 series lead.

"I thought they were going to play the foul game -- or at least try to trap. But they let us run the clock down," Wall said, noting that he felt as if he and his teammates finished "with the best scrambling defense we had."

Schroder led the Hawks with 29 points, making a career high-tying five 3s, and 11 assists. But after his basket from beyond the arc pulled Atlanta within 101-99 with 70 seconds left, Wall responded with a 21-foot pull-up jumper. Neither team would score the rest of the way (see full recap).

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: Jahlil Okafor

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil Okafor

Position: Center

Status for 2017-18: Guaranteed — $4,995,120

Okafor in 2016-17
Okafor's second NBA season was up-and-down from the start. He dealt with right knee soreness during training camp and appeared in only one preseason game.

Once the regular season began, he was in a fluctuating role of backing up Joel Embiid and starting when Embiid was out. In December, the Sixers experimented with starting Okafor and Embiid together. They were not able to work out the challenges of two true centers sharing the court, the same situation the Sixers faced last season with Okafor and Nerlens Noel.

Okafor's season took another turn in early January. Noel slid into the backup center spot and Okafor fell out of the regular rotation. Okafor started when Embiid did not play and moved back into the starting lineup consistently once Embiid was sidelined in late January.

In February, the Sixers looked to trade Okafor at the deadline. They came so close to reaching a deal that they benched him and held him out of a road trip to Charlotte.

Instead, the Sixers sent Noel to the Mavericks. At that time Embiid still was sidelined by what turned into a season-ending injury. Okafor had the starting role locked up until injuries struck yet again. Okafor missed the final 11 games of the season because of right knee soreness.

He played in 50 games, three fewer than his rookie season that was cut short by meniscus surgery in his right knee. Okafor's stats tell the story of a frequently-changing season: 13.4 points and 5.2 rebounds in 33 games as a starter compared to 8.6 points and 3.9 boards in 17 games off the bench.

"It was an interesting year, something that I'm proud to say I handled the right way," Okafor said. "I can lay my head at night and know that I feel like I handled everything professionally."

Signature game
Okafor's strongest performance of the season was Feb. 25 against the Knicks. He scored a season-high 28 points along with 10 rebounds. Okafor took over down the stretch of this near-comeback for the Sixers. He scored 11 points in the fourth, including a go-ahead basket with nine seconds left before Carmelo Anthony hit the game-winner. Okafor, whose biggest need for improvement is defense, pulled down eight boards in the first half.

Looking ahead to 2017-18
There are two important facets of Okafor's offseason.

The first is health. This month Okafor said he had not discussed surgery for his lingering right knee soreness. He plans to spend time receiving treatment at the Sixers' training complex this offseason.

The second is determining where Okafor will play next season. The Sixers still are open to trading Okafor if a deal works for both player and team. Okafor has maintained he is happy being a member of the Sixers, and the Sixers have echoed they will welcome him back for a third season if a trade does not happen. How he would fit into the system would remain to be seen.

On Okafor
"He has an appropriate fear where he recognizes this is a hell of an important summer." -

- Head coach Brett Brown

"If a deal comes along that makes sense for both of us, then we'll go ahead and make the deal. But we're not in a race to make any decisions. We're taking a very measured toward path success and building an organization."

- President of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo

"The ability to expand his game is the exciting part for me. For us to say, 'This is Jahlil and that's only Jahlil and this is all he will ever be,' is just sort of unfair and not true."

- Brown