As word came out from Yahoo! Sports that Doug Collins does not want to return to coach the 76ers next season, one of the primary reactions 76ers fans had was that the team could finally embrace rebuilding.
(What, exactly, rebuilding means we'll leave for another day, as the 76ers by and large do not have a lot of long term, older pieces in place, nor is their salary structure all that damaged. Really, what I think we're talking about here, is not so much what actions you would take regarding those currently on roster, but to avoid making future moves that, while they may provide immediate wins or excitement, may be long term mistakes. Rebuilding, in this instance, will simply mean not placing immediate winning as the top priority).
I am an avid draft aficionado. I love player development, and I find watching a player develop through the years perhaps the most enjoyable thing in sports outside of winning a championship. I am 100% on-board with the philosophy that building through the draft is the way to go. You don't have to argue this with me, you're preaching to the choir.
However, I would caution those who think that now with the 61 year old Collins out of the picture that there is nothing in the way between the 76ers and rebuilding.
That's not to say that this is an argument that Collins leaving makes it less likely that the team embraces rebuilding. That's not what I'm arguing. Collins' intense desire to win and his advancing age make it difficult to see him fully embrace a rebuilding effort. But Doug Collins, even in his capacity as rumored de factor general manager, was never the biggest obstacle between the 76ers and Andrew Wiggins.
As I argued at this time last season, the owner (or, in this case, the ownership group) is the most important cog in the rebuilding wheel. Without an owner that fully embraces the rebuilding mindset and sets what the short term priority is, nothing is possible.
It's not that Doug Collins leaving makes the odds less likely that the 76ers will embrace rebuilding, it's that I'm worried Doug Collins leaving won't have an appreciable impact on whether the 76ers embrace rebuilding.
This is an ownership group of business men, business men who see the Wells Fargo Center half packed on most nights, and business men without a basketball pedigree. It's hard for me to envision them being willing to sit around with a half-filled stadium for 3-5 years while the team accumulates the talent necessary to truly contend.
It's not that there isn't a business case to be made for rebuilding, there is. Where owners make their money isn't only the day to day, year to year operating income related to owning a team but also the appreciation in the value of the franchise they own. The value of the franchise will increase the most by obtaining a marketable superstar and by becoming a perennial contender.
But that's going to be a hard, and risky, sell from a general manager trying to make it, with 3-5 years of little fan interest perhaps a best case scenario. The ownership group may very well be lured in by the prospects of continual 6th-8th seeds, playoff revenue and marginal relevance.
And really, that's what you want to see before celebrating. You want to see some evidence that ownership, not the coach, has a long term goal, and you want to know what strategy they have for reaching that goal.
If word comes out that Doug Collins was frustrated because management told him they were going to shift priorities next season and he didn't want to coach a rebuilding team, that may be reason to get excited (if you believe in that philosophy). If Collins simply looked at the roster and decided that the short term prospects weren't very appealing, that may not signify all that much.
More interesting than who will replace Doug Collins the coach will be who will be the lead decision maker in basketball related decisions. Doug Collins the coach only had limited impact in the teams future. Sure, how much he played (or didn't play) Arnett Moultrie had some impact, but the impact overall was fairly minimal. How good of a teacher Collins was (or wasn't) also had some impact, but that overall won't change the talent level on this team, which we all agree is the crux of the problem.
But with Doug Collins, long rumored as the de facto general manager, leaving, that opens up the door for a fresh take on team building, perhaps one with a longer term outlook.
Of those on the site, I probably had a higher opinion on Collins' ability to recognize talent than most, and I think he clearly knows the game of basketball. That being said, there were two things I absolutely did not feel comfortable with: 1) one person filling both the coaching and general manager role, and 2) long term decisions being made by someone who, by virtue of both his age and his track record, wasn't likely to be around here for very long.
The real focus over these next few weeks/months/years will not be who the 76ers hire to be the coach, although that will say quite a bit about their upcoming approach -- the team isn't going to hire one of the established coaches to have them guide a 30 game winner. If the ownership group does head in a direction where winning isn't the current focus, whomever they peg as the coach won't be around long enough to see the fruits of the rebuilding labor.
The most interesting part will be who they tap to have the final say on basketball decisions. Will Tony DiLeo, who conveniently has only one year remaining on his contract, step up and show himself capable of being the man for the job long term? Would he, in his first role with final say, be willing to take a few losing seasons at the top of his GM resume? Will the team look in another direction? Will the general manager have enough influence and say to convince ownership that winning is not the primary short term goal?
We've seen the coach with too much power step down before when Larry Brown left town in 2003. We've seen the shortsighted general manager who thought we were closer than we were shown the door when Ed Stefanski was replaced. And we've seen coach, after coach, after unbearably mediocre coach replaced while we searched for a long term replacement.
It's not that I think Doug Collins deciding to head in another direction pushes the 76ers further away from entering a rebuilding mode. It's just that, until we see an indication from management that they are willing to go down that path, we might be reacting a little bit prematurely. None of those past moves have yet allowed us to escape the doldrums of mediocrity. I'm not ready to celebrate just yet.