It was a perfect storm of unfortunate events and ultimately, the Sixers let the ball—and the season—get away from them.
For those of you who may have just awakened from a six-month coma, in addition to wondering why the Kardashians are still relevant, you’re probably doing a double-take on your beloved Philadelphia 76ers’ final record.
First of all, welcome back and congrats on the recovery! As for your team, you most likely entered the season—while conscious, of course—with more anticipation and confidence than you’ve had in about a decade. Fast forward half a year and the box scores lately have featured a lineup that resembles an NBDL roster.
So what the hell happened?
As the season has now mercifully come to an end, there are several moments which stick out like a sore thumb (or, in some cases, sore knees), and one in particular that may instill future hope in an otherwise forgettable campaign.
Let’s start with the obvious one. The trade for arguably one of the most talented centers in the game, the mercurial Andrew Bynum, wound up backfiring colossally.
The frustration of it all is that it’s hard to fault management for taking a chance.
But then you see Andre Iguodala as a key contributor for a contending Denver Nuggets, or Moe Harkless as a promising rookie with the Orlando Magic or his teammate Nikola Vucevic averaging a double-double and the likely leading contender for Most Improved Player, and it’s quite understandable if you want to throw up in your mouth a little.
Same trade, similar repercussions, but yet the season-ending—and perhaps career-threatening—injury to Jason Richardson has been grossly overlooked.
Beginning the season as the starting shooting guard and just two years removed from a 19.3 points per game showing for the Phoenix Suns, the loss of J-Rich not only took away one of the few players on the roster with the ability to penetrate to the net and draw contact, but also the presence of much-needed veteran leadership.
Furthermore, with another two years left on a contract paying him nearly $13 million in guaranteed money that he may or may not be able to play out (latest reports have him aiming, optimistically, for a return by early 2014), it also hamstrings the Sixers’ payroll flexibility heading into a critical offseason.
It was something posed as a likelihood as far back as last season that the players may be tuning out their coach’s message. However, when it was addressed to him as a possibility during a post-game conference in January, the normally media-friendly and candid Collins took offense to the line of questioning.
Offended or not, his reputation for rubbing his guys the wrong way preceded him, even long before his tenure in Philly. And, with the concerning amount of negative body language and mental lapses on the court, it’s kind of tough not to come to that conclusion.
The one silver lining to an otherwise cloudy year has been the resurgence of Jrue Holiday.
Thrust into the spotlight, he rose to the occasion and established himself as a top-tier point guard in the league—at least until he started showing signs of fatigue these last few weeks.
Amazingly, just 22 years old, it should be exciting to watch him continue to mature and develop his game—especially if the Sixers can acquire a complementary piece in the paint.
The conjecture that the players had tuned Collins out became even more real after an especially embarrassing effort against the lowly Orlando Magic on Feb. 26. And Collins let his feelings of disgust be known.
Looking back, it could have been that which officially signaled the beginning of the end for not just this incarnation of the Sixers’ roster, but also the coaching tenure of Doug Collins in Philadelphia.
It’s one thing when effort is apparent, but the results simply aren’t there. But once the former dissipates, it’s near impossible to get it back until the pieces change.
Collins likely realized this as well, ultimately taking himself out of the future equation.
Inserting Damien Wilkins into the starting lineup after essentially forgetting he was on the roster for much of the season was likely the equivalent of waving the white flag.
Although he did a yeoman’s job considering his offensive limitations, there were certainly other options with greater upside than a 33-year-old career journeyman. Sliding Evan Turner over to the "2," for example. Or redistributing the minutes to the younger guys, like Lavoy Allen and, especially, Arnett Moultrie, who are at least assured of being on the team next year.
Instead, Doug Collins seemed to have sent a message which indicated that a short-term fix trumps a long-term solution.