PHILADELPHIA(AP) – On the day the Philadelphia 76ers hired Doug Collins, his boss was blunt about his expectations.
“Doug Collins is a coach that can make an immediate impact,” chairman Ed Snider said.
In that category, consider the hire a success.
The Sixers matter again, and they can thank Collins for turning the fallen franchise into winners a year after they won 27 games and fired Eddie Jordan.
Collins was rewarded for his faith in a young nucleus that included Jrue Holiday and Jodie Meeks, and he coaxed solid seasons out of demoralized veterans such as Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand.
On Thursday, it was Collins’ turn to issue the lofty edict.
It’s time for the Sixers to become one of the NBA’s elite teams.
This year, the Sixers won 41 games and stretched the Miami Heat to a five-game playoff series before losing Wednesday night. Collins refused to let a 3-13 start turn into another lost season, instead guiding them a seventh-place finish.
“Getting to 41 wins is a great step,” Collins said. “Getting into the elite is bigger. To do that, we’re going to have to keep adding.”
Team president Rod Thorn, in his first full summer in charge, general manager Ed Stefanski and Collins agree about the need for a center. Trading Samuel Dalembert last summer relieved the Sixers of a headache in the locker room, but they failed to replace him with a dominant shot blocker to pair with Brand.
“The beauty of it is, we all see what we have to do to get better,” Collins said. “It’s not like there’s any conflicting thing about it.”
From there, it’s about adding the right pieces around the core: Holiday, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams. Toss in Meeks, Brand and Iguodala and the Sixers have every reason to feel pumped for the future.
They started four players under 24: Turner (22), Spencer Hawes (22), Meeks (23) and Holiday (20). It’s a promising nucleus that the Sixers expect to grow into a contender — with or without Iguodala.
Iguodala was still the go-to shooter in closing time, but otherwise tried to fit in with a more team-oriented style that he learned playing for Team USA at last year’s world championships.
He had three triple-doubles, was again one of the NBA’s top defenders and was more successful at working his teammates into the offense early for confidence-boosting buckets.
The 27-year-old Iguodala has just never turned into the franchise player that was expected of him once they traded Allen Iverson. He has three years left on an $80-million, six-year contract and hits yet another offseason stuffed with trade speculation.
Iguodala, the ninth overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft, plans to take an extended break after dealing with various knee, ankle and wrist injuries during the season. Collins said Iguodala will need two months of rest before he is completely recovered.
Iguodala has never made a public trade demand — and he wasn’t about to start before the Sixers held their exit meetings Thursday.
“I never said I didn’t want to be here,” Iguodala said.
Do you want to be here?
“Like I said, I just want to compete for titles. We made a lot of strides this year. I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
In a league where superstars and super teams rule, the Sixers proved 12 talented players working hard and working together can win.
Collins’ preseason proclamation that Holiday would be one of the top-five point guards in the league next season is a safe bet. Turner, the 2010 No. 2 overall pick, had more downs than ups this year until he came alive in the postseason and played with the guts and big-shot confidence expected out him over a full season. Young, a restricted free agent, and Williams were perhaps the most potent 1-2 bench tandem in the league.
Young’s revival as one of the league’s top sixth men proved just how badly he was misused by Jordan.
In fact, the 27-to-41 leap showed that Collins’ arrival was a year too late.
“We left it on the court each and every night. Last year, I didn’t feel that way,” Young said. “I felt like, OK, we’re just going through the motions. It was just an unfortunate season. This year, I feel we built something.”
Collins may win the coach of the year award. At the very least, he can take pride in instilling passion for the game and accountability into a wide-eyed roster.
“He made everyone take their roles and use them to the fullest. That was the greatest thing that could have been done for us,” Williams said. “He made everybody accountable for what they brought to the table. He expected those guys to do that. I think that was something we lacked in the past and it worked for us this year.’
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