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Monday, April 22, 2013

A look back on the Collins years and who could be replacing him

By: Steve Zoladek
Follow him on Twitter @WarRoomPHLSteve by clicking here 
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(Photo: Eric Hartline, USA TODAY Sports)
If you haven't already heard, Doug Collins is resigning at the end of this season, leaving the Sixers without a head coach once again.  While Collins will not be returning to the sidelines, the terms of his resignation do not allow him to seek a job elsewhere until his contract expires after the 2014 season.  Essentially, this means that Collins will be remaining with the team in another role, as a "special consultant" to owner Josh Harris.  In memory of his three seasons being the most enthusiastic person in the entire Sixers organization, I want to look back at just exactly what he's done for this team.

On May 21 2010, Collins returned to the team that drafted him first overall in the 1973 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers, and immediately reinvigorated the franchise.  In his first season at the helm, he preached defense and effort, and transformed the Sixers from one of the worst teams in the league back into a playoff team. That's exactly what he did for all the teams he coached for, provided a quick turnaround that the franchise sorely needed.  Unfortunately, once he got them into the playoffs, he had to square off against the Miami Heat led by LeBron James, and lost the series 4-1.

Despite a lockout-shortened second season, Collins was able to build off his successful first campaign, thanks to a consistent roster, a defensive-minded team, and the emergence of Lou Williams as the go-to guy.  Collins led the team to a 35-31 record and a first round matchup against the Chicago Bulls.  Thanks to a lucky break, or should I say tear, the Sixers won that series 4-2.  They followed up that performance with a hard-fought series against the Boston Celtics, but came up short in game seven and were eliminated.

In the summer of 2012, Doug Collins reportedly had a ton of front-office control because of his relationship with owner Josh Harris, and that was the reason that many of the talented GM's stayed away (sorry, Tony DiLeo).  DiLeo shouldn't be blamed for the Andrew Bynum trade, however, as it was Collins that was pulling the strings.

Collins is a great coach, but he has had a bad history as an executive in this league.  In his three years at the helm for Detroit, the only noteworthy things he did were trade for a past-his-prime Otis Thorpe and acquire a 2003 first round draft pick (which was wasted on Darko Milicic by Joe Dumars).  He also traded Aaron McKie and Theo Ratliff to the Sixers in 1997, both of whom were key players on Philadelphia's 2001 NBA Finals team.

Add yet another bad move to Doug Collins record with the Bynum trade.  Although it looked like the right move at the time, things didn't go as expected.  Not only did Bynum never play a minute for the Sixers, but Jason Richardson, the starting shooting guard making $6 million a year, also went down for the year after 33 games.  Wrap your head around this; the Sixers traded Andre Iguodala (second best player on a contender in the West), Nikola Vucevic (second in rebounds per game), Maurice Harkless, and their 2016 first round pick for 33 games of Jason Richardson.

Without Bynum, this team was doomed.  They completely rebuilt the roster with three-point shooters so that they could play offense from the inside-out, much like the Orlando Magic did with Dwight Howard.  Obviously, Spencer Hawes isn't going to force the defense to collapse on him, so teams were able to stay home on the shooters, forcing a complete change in philosophy for the Sixers.  The team was never able to recover, and floundered to a 33-49 record, their worst mark since 2009-10.  Now that Doug is gone, who should the Sixers bring in to replace him? Here are my suggestions:

The Van Gundy's

Jeff Van Gundy  

Many people think of Jeff Van Gundy as just the color commentator for ESPN, but prior to that, he was one heck of a coach for the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets.  He took over the head coaching jobs at the young age of 34, replacing the all-time great Don Nelson.  While he had a mediocre first season at the helm, he led the Knicks to 57 wins in his first full year as head coach.

Stan (left) and Jeff (right) are focused on defense,
just what the Sixers need. 
In the lockout-shortened season of 1998-99, the Knicks were able to grab the eighth seed and put together a little playoff magic.  Led by Van Gundy and star center Patrick Ewing, the Knicks became the first eight seed to ever make it to the NBA Finals.  They went on to lose in those Finals to the Shaq & Kobe Lakers, but nobody was stopping Los Angeles that year.

After being fired by the Knicks at the start of the 2001-02 season,  JVG took the year off before accepting the head coaching job of the Houston Rocket in 2003-04, where he coached for four years.  Over that span, he won an average of 45 games a year, but failed to advance in the playoffs every year he made it there.  In his four years in Houston, the Rockets ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency three times.

For his career, JVG has compiled 430 wins and a .575 winning percentage.  In his eight full seasons as as a head coach, he has won 50 games or more four times.  Like Collins, JVG demands a lot from his players, especially on the defensive end.  Unlike Collins, Jeff's players don't get sick of him after a few years.  For a Sixers team that was average in just about every category this season and didn't really have an identity, a defensive maestro like JVG can finally right the ship.

Stan Van Gundy

The Sixers are going to hire Stan Van Gundy, and then sign Dwight Howard! Just kidding.  After this awkward encounter, I don't think these two even want to be in the same arena as one another.  However, it would be a great move for the Sixers to sign Stan Van.  He began his NBA coaching career in 2003-04 in Miami, where a young Dwayne Wade was just entering the league.

In his first season, he led the team to a 42 win season, 17 more than their previous season with the legendary Pat Riley.  After a first round win over the Hornets, the Heat fell to the Indiana Pacers in round two.  To follow up a successful first season, the Heat paired Wade with Shaquille O'Neal.  The Heat made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals before falling to the Detroit Pistons.

Unfortunately for Stan Van Gundy, the year that the Heat finally did break through and win a championship in 2005-06, he resigned just 21 games into the season.  Some people think Pat Riley pushed him out, others thought that Shaq asked for his release.  What really happened, we may never know.

Stan Van then moved onto Orlando, where he had another dominant center in Dwight Howard.  In his four seasons in Orlando, he won more than 50 games every single year.  In his fifth season, where he was fired, he still had a led the Magic to a respectable 37-29 record. In his eight years of coaching, he has 371 wins and a stellar .641 winning percentage.

Stan Van Gundy's offense has always relied on a dominant center than can draw the opposing defenses in and can be a threat in pick-and-roll situations.  If the Sixers do bring back Bynum, they have to make it a priority to go after, or already have gotten, Stan Van Gundy. Van Gundy knows how to make a contender out of three point shooters, a dominant big man, and a stretch-four.  Van Gundy will get the most out of Thaddeus Young, a hopefully healthy Bynum, and young All-Star Jrue Holiday.

The "Young" Guns

Mike Budenholzer

Budenholzer (left) coaching up Bruce Bowen (right)
Budenholzer, in his early 40's, has been the number one assistant for Gregg Popovich, perhaps the best coach in the entire league, since 2007-08.  Like Erik Spoelstra, a coach-of-the-year candidate for the Miami Heat, he also started his career as a video coordinator and worked his way up the coaching ladder.

When Popovich was absent for three games this season due to an illness, Budenholzer was able to step in and run the team without missing a beat.  The team went 3-0 without Popovich, defeating the New Orleans Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, and Phoenix Suns.  I know, that's not exactly a list of elite teams, but a win is a win.

Budenholzer would bring a completely different mentality to the City of Brotherly Love.  Although Philadelphia may be considered a large-market team, they haven't attracted a big name free agent within the last decade, unless you count Elton Brand...I don't count Elton Brand.   The Spurs, Budenholzer's current team, are a small-market team that develop their own stars and consistently get late pick draft steals (see: Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker).

San Antonio has been known to spit out successful NBA executives and coaches.  Look at the OKC Thunder.  The GM of that team is Sam Presti, a man who was taught the right way of doing things by the San Antonio Spurs.  Build through the draft, and develop your talent.  At the start of this season, there were three NBA head coaches who had been assistants under Popovich: Jacque Vaughn, Mike Brown, and P.J .Carlesimo.  Brown got an unfair wrap in LA, although he did stupidly try to implement the Princeton offense.  Vaughn had a bad first year, but little was expected from him after the team was gutted in the offseason.  Carlesimo led the Brooklyn Nets to the fourth seed in the East, after replacing the fired Avery Johnson.

Popovich has always been able to identify the potential in players and develop those skills.  I expect Budenholzer to be able to do the same.  Just like when Tom Thibodeau left Boston and brought his defensive intensity to Chicago, I expect Budenholzer to be able to leave San Antonio and bring that amazingly efficient offense predicated on pick-and-rolls, quick ball movement, and specific spacing (shown here and here) to Philadelphia.

Brian Shaw
Brian Shaw (right) coaching up Derek Fisher (left)

Brian Shaw, 47, was a longtime assistant under perhaps the greatest head coach in NBA history, the Zen master, Phil Jackson.  After the retirement of Jackson and after being passed over for the head coaching job of the Lakers, Shaw has since moved on to the Indiana Pacers as an assistant under Frank Vogel.

Shaw is a well-respected former player, and although he's never actually obtained a head coaching job, he has received offers. Just last offseason, he was offered the opportunity to coach the Charlotte Bobcats, which he turned down.  His reasoning? "I want to be in a situation where I have a chance."

Look no further than Philadelphia, a team with an established point guard in Holiday, a versatile forward in Thaddeus Young, and plenty of cap space.

As a student of Jackson, it's only natural that Shaw would believe in the Triangle offense, an offense that won Jackson 11, I repeat, 11 championships.  The Triangle Offense is predicated on all five players on the court being willing passers and decent shooters.  More specifically, a center than can pass, and a guard that can score.  Many people critique the triangle's success because it has only worked with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, but I believe it can succeed without a surefire hall-of-famer.

Now, I know Hawes, our current center, isn't exactly Pau Gasol, but he's an extremely gifted passer for a big man.  Holiday, surely will never be on the level of a Bryant or Jordan, but he is a talented scoring guard that can hit a shot from any range.  With cap space, they might also sign JR Smith, who I fully believe can be the first option for a playoff team.  I believe in the Triangle Offense.  I believe in Brian Shaw.

The Old Timer

Jerry Sloan

Old Man Sloan has some fight left in him
Jerry Sloan, at the ripe, old age of 71, still has a ton left in the tank and has been willing to make a return to coaching.  Sloan, who sits third on the all-time wins list (1,221), spent 23 seasons as the head coach of the Utah Jazz before resigning due to strife between he and Deron Williams.

In 23 years as the head coach, he missed the playoffs only three times.  That's a remarkable achievement.  Sloan famously ran the flex offense that was based on a pick-and-roll with a mid-range shooting big man, and a penetrating point guard.  He made stars out of John Stockton and Karl Malone, and then did the same with Williams and Carlos Boozer.

With Al Jefferson, a player who has already been a member of the Sloan offense, being a free agent this summer, and the Sixers in need of a scoring center, wouldn't it make sense for the Sixers to bring both Jefferson and Sloan in?  Sloan would turn Holiday from an All-Star into a bona fide superstar.

The Sixers lack a true leader on their team; Sloan forces the point guard of his system to take control of the team and be a leader.  I don't think that there is a single coach available that could develop Holiday the way Sloan could.  However, organizations don't get to choose Sloan; Sloan gets to choose an organization, as there will be multiple suitors.

In all likelihood, the Sixers are going to hire Michael Curry as their next head coach, as he's already been slated for an interview, and has also been backed by "special consultant" Doug Collins.  Personally, I'm not a fan.  I'd much rather see any of these five guys on the Sixers bench next season. Please, leave a comment and let me know what you think!


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