People, as a general rule, don’t like things that remind them of their mortality. The fact that we’re all slowly dying is a downer and people hate downers (I guess Percocet is an exception). This is, in part, why it’s so painful to watch the decline of a veteran athlete as his body breaks down and betrays him: It doesn’t take a huge imaginative leap to understand the same thing is happening to us. There are worse betrayals though. That’s just the physical, white collar folks can convince themselves, a man is much more than that. What offers no quarter for rationalization though is a much more complete, much more ghastly, and only slightly less inevitable sort of fall; a mental one. The point where the accumulation of rich experience and the wisdom it affords ceases to offset the natural loss of neurons that come invariably with age and you just get…well, you get dumber. And that, I’m starting to sense, is the sort of fall people think Doug Collins has taken.
Collins has had a rough go of it for sure. He’s playing Evan Turner too erratically, he’s made demands of Jrue Holiday that are often peculiar, sometimes contradictory, and occasionally wildly different from one night to the next, and most damning, he just doesn’t seem to have a hold on the team: See Andre Iguodala’s off-balance, wing-and-a-prayer, I-hope-they-foul-me, “shot” with time expiring against the Wiz the other night. Was that the sort of shot a well-coached team takes with the game on the line? And what to make of the “post-concussion symptoms?” The vertigo, the headaches, the missed time: are those the maladies of a hearty, capable man?
Maybe not, but Collins, I think, is fine. An important thing to bear in mind when evaluating the Sixers messy 4-13 start, and a thing that is somehow missed or under-accounted for by many casual fans and Monday-morning point guards, is that this team is terrible. We were always going to be terrible. F or us to be anything less than terrible would require one of the greatest coaching efforts of our time. It would take some Million Dollar Man-style remodeling to get these schleps into shape.
How should the Sixers be doing this year? Let’s see, they won 27 games last year. Then they traded a guy who produced 10 of those wins for a pair that produced negative 2.6 (the brilliant Dalembert for Noicioni and Haws swap). So that puts us at 14.5 wins. But wait, there’s more! They traded a sort-of crummy guard (the inimitable Willie Green) for the worst player in the NBA in ’09-10 (Darius “He’s our other white guy, right?”Songaila). They did add two pick Evan Turner, but rookies generally don’t do much in year one, so let’s say the addition of DG and Turner cancel themselves out. That gives us a baseline of (I’ll round up here) 15 wins. And a team that should win 15 out of 82 games can expect to win about 3 out of 15. Which is exactlywhat the Sixers have done. This team may be a lot of things, but they are not underachievers.
If we’re looking for signs of slippage though, it’s probably best to compare Doug Collins against himself. This is a less flattering comparison: Young Doug had success out the gate at every gate. He led a 30 win Bull team to 40 wins and a playoff birth his first season in Chicago. His first year with the Pistons he took the 28 win team he inherited and rode them to 46. With the Wiz in 2001 he led his guys from 19 to 37. Dude is an alchemist. But judging by the Sixers’ first 15 in 2010-11, he may have lost the Midas touch.
A closer look though shows that those inaugural Collins teams, though eventual overachievers all, struggled early. The ’86 Bulls started 8-7, but the ’95 Pistons went 6-9 and the ’01 Wiz started 2-9 before rallying to 5-10. His first year teams have gone 19-26 in their first 15 games and 104-97 the rest of the way, a winning percentage split of over 90 percentage points. I might be taping some leaps here the data doesn’t warrant, but it seems like maybe Collins’ message –a message that his track record demonstrates pretty convincing is worthwhile – takes a while to set in.
Doug Collins might be ready to be put out to pasture, he might not, but 15 games is not enough games to say for sure.