It always seems like Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins is just one foot away from glory.
For the 76ers organization, Collins is a guy that everybody loves and respects. He was the first overall pick in the 1973 NBA Draft and was an integral part in the 76ers rise atop the Eastern Conference in the 70s. Collins made four all-star appearances in the late 70s and seemed to be on his way to a great NBA career. That was until the 1978-79 season where Collins suffered a very serious knee injury which cut his playing career short at the age of just 29.
Everyone felt for Collins. He was the type of player Philadelphians loved. He was gritty and hard-nosed. He led by example and always had the right things to say.
Just a couple years later in 1983, the 76ers rose atop the NBA as champions. Collins watched the parade down Broad Street, but it wasn't the same as mounting the trucks with the entire city of Philadelphia cheering you on.
This is Doug Collins—the guy in the shadows.
An example of Collins' misfortune is the 1972 Summer Olympics against the Soviet Union. Collins hit two clutch free throws to give the United States a 50-49 lead, only to see his efforts disappear from ensuing calls which led to a Soviet Union layup with no time left on the clock.
No gold medal, just a bitter taste in his mouth.
As a coach it's been more of the same. He coached Michael Jordan before his prime with the Chicago Bulls and after his prime with the Washington Wizards; he coached the Detroit Pistons right after the "bad boys" of the 80s and early 90s had decided to call it a career.
When he saw his beloved 76ers franchise suffer their eighth lowest win total in franchise history during the 2009-10 season with just 27, he wanted to lend a helping hand.
To say that Collins didn't go above and beyond his coaching duties in just his first season with the team would be a disservice to the man. He brought the lowly, undisciplined 76ers from one of the worst teams in the league to the seventh seed in the 2011 Eastern Conference playoffs.
In the 2011-12 season, he turned a just above-average 76ers roster into one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. They shocked the NBA when they knocked off the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls, who were the No. 1 seed, and pushed the Boston Celtics to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
This was a great feat for an above-average team, but Collins wanted more. Collins wanted to have his own parade down Broad Street. He even said it to a slew of reporters in his first press conference with the team.
“It’s my fourth stop; it’s my last stop,” Collins said. “And when I leave here I want this to be a championship city.”
So he did his best to make that happen.
He worked closely with the 76ers ownership group on basketball decisions. The 76ers let Lou Williams walk, they amnestied Elton Brand and the biggest move of all came when they traded Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets along with Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless and a first-round pick to the Orlando Magic in order to receive Andrew Bynum from the Los Angeles Lakers and Jason Richardson from the Magic.
In hindsight, the move was a colossal failure. From a coaching standpoint, Collins has had little to work with all season.
Andrew Bynum didn't play a game, Jason Richardson played 33 and the slew of one-year contract players the 76ers signed like Dorell Wright and Nick Young were suddenly thrown into the starting lineup. Lavoy Allen, the 50th pick of the second round of last year's NBA Draft, even played a good portion of the season as the teams starting center.
In the city of Philadelphia that expects winning, Collins quickly became the scapegoat.
Do you see this guy's rotations? Why did Collins trade Nikola Vucevic? Why did Collins get Andrew Bynum, if he knew it would be a risk? Why did Collins want players like Nick Young, Dorell Wright and Kwame Brown if he's not going to give them extended minutes? Why does Collins keep saying the same things in his press conferences? Are the 76ers just another three-and-out type team for Collins' tenure? Has he given up?
The worse the season got, the more the questions piled up.
Fans disregard the fact that Collins has had two players (Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young) who actually play consistent on a nightly basis and two other players (Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes) who decide when they do or don't want to play.
Sure, you can say Collins should be giving more minutes to Arnett Moultrie, or that Collins shouldn't have toyed with Turner's minutes earlier in his career. You could even say that the way he's treated Dorell Wright this season has been wrong as well. Realistically, though, it wouldn't have made too much of a difference.
At best the 76ers would be the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference right now.
So now it seems as if Collins' fourth and final stop is coming to an end. CSNPhilly.com reported that it doesn't sound like Collins is coming back. His championship aspirations fell apart with Andrew Bynum's knees.
He still has one year left on his contract and is due $4.5 million, but unless drastic changes are made to the roster there's no way Collins can reach his goal. The 76ers ownership already went public stating that they weren't going to renew his contract to the Philadelphia Inquirer, so does Collins really want to put himself through yet another disappointing, stressful and mediocre season with players who have started to tune him out?
He already proved that he could make the 76ers competitive again, no matter how bleak the talent he has to work with is. He can either wait for the status of Andrew Bynum's knees or it might just be better off he enters the shadows again.
With Collins' luck he'll step down, Andrew Bynum will become fully healthy and in three years the 76ers will be NBA champions.
That seems to be the legacy of Collins. So close, yet so far. The unlucky one. The forgotten soldier.