Just beyond the court at the Boston Garden, in the hallway that funnels from the media room to the visiting and home locker rooms, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers ran into Sixers owners Josh Harris and Adam Aron. It was the last night of the Sixers' season. The Celtics had just dumped them from the playoffs in seven long, ugly, difficult games.
Rivers was on his way to do a postgame interview, but he paused to talk to Harris and Aron and compliment their crew. Rivers said he was glad his guys didn’t have to play the Sixers again because “they’re a real pain in the ass.”
That was true. The Sixers – a team that started Jodie Meeks for much of the year, a team that had no real stars and needed 10 different contributors to play 15 or more minutes per night during the regular season – came within one win of the Eastern Conference Finals. That was as remarkable as it was unexpected, and it had more to do with Doug Collins than it did with anyone else.
The Sixers need to answer countless questions this offseason. Do they trade Andre Iguodala? Do they amnesty Elton Brand? Do they bring back Lou Williams and Spencer Hawes? Or do they only bring back one? Or neither? What about the draft? And now there are reports that Rod Thorn is on his way out as president, and that the team is looking for someone to assume operational control and make all the important decisions about which pegs would best fit into the Sixers' open holes moving forward.
There have been rumors and reports that the Sixers are interested in all sorts of candidates to run their ever-improving show – everyone from Spurs vice president Danny Ferry to Atlanta Hawks GM Rick Sund (but, no, not Charles Barkley) – but the best potential master of basketball ceremonies is already in-house.
Collins took a close approximation of the team that won just 27 games under Eddie Jordan and transformed it into a squad that won with defense (third in the NBA during the regular season) and not a whole lot else. More than any of the players, he is already the face of the franchise. He has done more to resurrect the long-dead organization than anyone. Why not let him attempt to outfit a now-breathing team with better organs harvested from the draft and free agency?
Giving Collins control, allowing him to have the final say in the same way that Andy Reid is the ultimate decision-maker with the Eagles, wouldn’t mean moving him from the sideline to the front office, and it wouldn't force him to swap his whistle for a contract calculator. On the contrary, the Sixers should hire a functionary to manage the salary cap and evaluate deals – but that person should report to, and take direction from, Collins.
After all, who knows this team – who is more aware of its abilities and pronounced deficiencies – better than Collins?
“We have to get better,” Collins said after the season ended. “It is great to be an overachiever, that’s great, but to be a champion you can’t overachieve.
"We have to sit down and evaluate every player on our team and see how it all fits together. We have to get where we can score the ball. Our defense was as good as anybody’s. We have to get bigger and stronger and more athletic on the front line. We need bigger wings.”
Some coaches and general managers are willfully deceptive – to the public and sometimes to themselves. That isn’t Collins. He is painfully aware of the Sixers issues, like when he rightly admitted that it had been “a nightmare” for his team to score (during the postseason, four players averaged 11 or more points per game, but no one averaged more than 15.8).
If there is anyone who can identify what the Sixers need most and what they should do next to remedy various problems, it is the man who knows the roster, the same man who rolled up what used to be a dirty dish rag of a team and squeezed out some something salvageable, some real ability and potential.
On the day the Sixers had their postseason player evaluations, Harris said the team needed to evaluate its options. “What’s the value of your assets?” he asked.
That is a difficult question, and the answer is subjective as far as the players are concerned. You could make a case for keeping or jettisoning just about anyone on the roster. It’s far different with Collins. He has become the brain and the heart and pulse of the operation. Collins is the Sixers and the Sixers are Collins. They might as well make it official.
E-mail John Gonzalez at email@example.com.