Doug Collins is asking the wrong questions. The Sixers coach bared his soul following his team’s unsightly loss to the Magic on Tuesday, grasping at ways to transfer his own heart as a player — “I ran through my sneakers” — to the inconsistent bunch he now leads.
By Collins’ account, he has even gone to team executives Rod Thorn and Tony DiLeo to ask for advice on how he should turn around a Sixers’ season that has gone south.
“If everybody looked at themselves as much as I did, this world would be a CAT scan,” Collins told reporters. “There’s not two days that go by that I don’t go to Rod, that I don’t go to Tony, and say, ‘What can I do? Can I do anything different? How can I be a better coach? How can I be a better leader? How can I help these guys?’ Sometimes, you’ve got to help yourself.”
Whereas Collins’ accountability is refreshing, he is being too kind to his bosses. The Sixers’ struggles did not begin two weeks ago, when they were blown out by the Lakers to start their current six-game losing streak, or in early December, when a 10-6 start devolved into a 9-20 record over the next two months. Their struggles began Aug. 10, when they dealt their best player, a promising rookie and a young center primed for a breakout campaign for a mercurial, injury-prone Andrew Bynum.
This is not second-guessing the move, which was roundly lauded inside and outside of Philadelphia when it was made. This is simply reasserting the first guesses that were made immediately and shortly thereafter when the four-way trade was made last summer.
Not wanting to pile on, since Bynum has yet to play for the Sixers as his hair and bowling exploits have dominated the headlines, we have held off from the “I told you sos” for a long time. But this is it. We told you so.
The Sixers’ eagerness to land Bynum was understandable. When the opportunity arises to add an All-Star level center, teams usually need to seize that opportunity. The Lakers won the quest for Dwight Howard last year, but they had ample competition from Brooklyn, Houston and Dallas. If the Sixers had not joined the fray, some other team would have helped facilitate the deal to acquire Bynum while sending Howard to Los Angeles.
There was always reason for trepidation, though, and not all of it had to do with Bynum’s shaky injury history. Andre Iguodala, for all the criticism he attracted, was the unique wing player who could affect the game with his defense, which was as valuable as any 20-point scorer. Maurice Harkless was a top-15 pick with tangible skills that a coach like Collins could exploit. Nikola Vucevic, 22, was a young big man whose potential should have been obvious.
Although Iguodala was an All-Star, Vucevic might be the most unforgivable piece the Sixers included in the trade. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound youngster from Switzerland by way of USC averaged a double-double per 36 minutes as a rookie in Philadelphia and showed no unusual signs of fragility. (He has played in all 57 games for Orlando this year.) He was under team control through 2015 for no more than $1.8 million until the fourth year of his rookie contract. So far for the Magic, he is averaging 12.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.
Bynum, meanwhile, is an outstanding talent — when he is on the court, which is virtually never. He was due $16.8 million this season, which he has presumably poured into bad haircuts, and is eligible for a huge raise this summer as an unrestricted free agent. His reputation for misbehavior precedes him, a drastic departure from the respect the squeaky-clean Iguodala commanded in Philadelphia’s locker room.
While the Lakers’ season has lurched forward in fits and starts, the Sixers so far are the massive losers in the deal. The rebuilding Magic have a solid, low-cost pivot, and the Nuggets are fighting for a top-four playoff seed with Iguodala improving the team’s defense by nearly seven points per 100 possessions. The Sixers are 22-33, ostensibly only two spots out of the playoffs but realistically light years from postseason contention. A once-exciting young team has crumbled into a major disappointment as a result of its “blockbuster” deal, and the Sixers should have seen it coming.