In all seriousness, he looks a little like a grouper in this picture. - Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
The Sixers have built their church on the rock of a franchise legend. But with the team foundering, should they look in another direction?
The other day, our blog kommisar, Michael Levin, posed a question over our ongoing mass email chain: Is Doug Collins on the hot seat? I volunteered to tackle the topic, and here's what I think.
Who the hell do you think you're kidding? Doug Collins isn't going anywhere, and nor should he. The end.
(turns off computer, gets in car, drives to McDonald's. Phone rings.)
Michael Levin: Hey, Mike, it's Mike.
Me: Oh, hey, Mike. What's up?
Levin: I read your post on Collins not being on the hot seat that's in the queue right now.
Me: Nice. Did you like it?
Levin: It's 19 words long.
Levin: You gotta write more than that, buddy.
Me: Fine. I'll write more. Here goes.....
The Sixers have lost 13 of their past 16 games, in case you hadn't heard. They've fallen to ninth in the Eastern Conference, with (as of Thursday afternoon) only a 12.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, if ESPN's projections are to be believed.
They're playing spirited, but incredibly turgid and uninspiring basketball, ranking slightly below-average in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but bottom five in true shooting percentage and pace. The giddy optimism that caused most observers--including me--to wet their underpants in anticipation of the future is gone, swept away in a deluge of knee injuries, long two-point jumpers and boring losses to bad teams.
So does the supervisor of this ship of fools, the Fazlur Khan of this Willis Tower of periodontically agonizing play, one Doug Collins, fear for his job?
I say no.
Again, probably not.
When we look at the situation rationally, how have things changed between the summer and now?
Well, Andrew Bynum is less likely to play a significant role this year than we previously thought. But we knew he carried the risk of being irreparably damaged when they traded for him. But even knowing that, most of us approved of the deal at the time. And even now, most of us would do it again.
The Sixers burst out of the gate to a slightly-over-.500 record, thanks to a schedule populated primarily by home games against bad teams. Now that they've been on the road for most of the past six weeks, and played a couple actual championship-caliber teams, they've regressed some. And by "they've regressed some" I mean "things have gone catastrophically awry."
So the question remains--fair or not, expectations have been dashed. Should Collins pay for it with his job?
My three biggest complaints about Collins, as coach of the Sixers, are as follows, in this order:
- His teams don't attack the rim very often. Which leads to fewer turnovers but also means the opposing defense doesn't have to worry about its bigs getting in foul trouble, and the Sixers--from the halfcourt, at least--wind up shooting very, very few foul shots, layups and dunks (which are high-efficiency looks) and take a ton of long two-point jumpers (which are literally the worst shot you can have, from a points-per-possession outlook).
- He has an old-school, by-the-gut, anti-numbers approach to strategy, which would bother me less if he didn't also seem to exert a lot of pressure on the front office, which leads to low-risk, low-upside moves like signing Kwame Brown and extending Spencer Hawes' contract.
- His teams play a very slow, low-pressure offense. Which is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself--it's just not all that much fun to watch.
But Collins does other things well. He's coached up a dogged defensive team. He's a superb motivator of young players and has a reputation as a superb mentor of young guards (most notably the young Michael Jordan). And if you think the frontcourt is getting worn out like a seven-year-old's favorite shirt because of Collins, and not because of the absence of a certain unfortunately-coiffed taller gentleman from New Jersey, you've got another thing coming.
Thad Young is a useful offensive player and is turning into a ferocious defender of stretch fours, but he's nobody's primary rebounder. And he's the only big man the Sixers have who anyone but a complete lunatic would ever have intended to start for a winning NBA team.
Some years ago, Mike Shanahan, then coach of the Denver Broncos, made the controversial move of replacing veteran starting quarterback Jake Plummer with rookie first-round pick Jay Cutler in the middle of the season, even though the Broncos were, at the time, in a position to make the playoffs. Cutler came in, the Broncos lost a couple games, and they missed the playoffs altogether. I can't find the direct quote, but Shanahan's rationale was something along the lines of: "It's not about making the playoffs. It's about winning the Super Bowl."
With that in mind, the Sixers aren't going to win the NBA championship this season. I don't know if anyone really thought they had a chance of doing so to begin with. So I don't give a tinker's damn if they miss the playoffs. In order to keep me happy as a fan, Collins has to continue to mentor Young, Jrue Holiday and Even Turner into the quality supporting cast they've shown flashes of being, so that if and when Bynum comes back for good, the Sixers can make him the cheese filling in the danish that will contend for championships.
Until that time, the emphasis really shouldn't be on winning, or on entertaining, or even on making sure Twitter doesn't blow up every time Spencer Hawes misses a contested 20-footer and, by virtue of their center being at the top of the key, the Sixers have no chance at corralling the offensive rebound. Though that last bit I could do without.
If the Sixers don't think he's the right person to rebuild this team from the ground up, that's another matter. If that's the case, then he should go. But I can't see that happening. Collins is the same coach now that he was in June, and the same then as he was when they hired him in 2010. If they didn't think he was their guy, they should have fired him ages ago.
Is there a problem with the Sixers? Yeah. Their schedule got tougher. Their frontcourt is crap. They've been ravaged by injuries. Very little of what's wrong with the team is Doug Collins' fault, and what is his fault isn't much different now than it was last season, when we were dancing around the maypole.
Doug Collins isn't going anywhere, and nor should he be. The end.