From a distance, you could see this coming once it became apparent the 7-foot Bynum – who somehow managed to make it through a complete compact 66-game season last year yet hasn’t played a single minute this season – would not be coming to their rescue until it would be far too late. The Sixers – and to be fair, Collins – had gone all-in on Bynum since they announced they had acquired him (with Jason Richardson) in that memorable four-team deal that sent Dwight Howard to Hollywood to join Bryant and the Lakers.
No one complained the cost was prohibitive: enigmatic Andre Iguodala, who had worn out his welcome after eight years here; rookie center Nik Vucevic, who presumably wouldn’t be needed with Bynum around; top draft pick Moe Harkless; and a future first-round pick.
Of course, no one foresaw Vucevic churning out double-doubles on a nightly basis, since Collins had buried him on the bench during last year’s playoffs. Imagine the reaction when Vucevic hauled down 19 rebounds in Tuesday’s embarrassment, while Sixers big men Lavoy Allen (4) and Spencer Hawes managed five between them. That was one of many things which infuriated Collins.
The other was the disinterested play of the rest of his team, which has come to accept its severe limitations. At first there was hope, not only that Bynum – who was shut down just before the start of training camp due to soreness in his knees – would be back soon, but they could still compete without him.
For a while that rang true. The Sixers hustled all over the court, took care of the ball, worked for the open shot and relied on their youth and athleticism to hover around the .500 mark the first two months of the season.
But eventually. reality set in. They had no inside game. All those supposed great shooters weren’t so hot when those wide open shots weren’t there anymore, forcing them to try to create something. Instead of being a big team, they were painfully small, which meant opponents could pound it inside almost at will. On the other hand, other than Holiday and occasionally Turner, they had no one going to the rim on offense, relying on perimeter scoring since it usually takes an act of God for them to get to the line.
Eventually the losses began to mount in bunches, to the point where the Sixers now trail the 28-28 Bucks by 5 ½ games for the East’s final playoff spot. Plus, Milwaukee has already clinched the tiebreaker. You don’t have to be Kreskin to read the tea leaves. The Sixers are bound for the lottery again.
That’s why he went off the other night, calling their latest loss “mind-numbing,” lamenting how he’s done everything in his power to motivate them and make them want to care, and now it’s up to them. Without naming names, he indicted just about everyone except one: Bynum.
Maybe that’s because Collins can identify with an athlete who says he’s too hurt too play and is met by a chorus of cynics, because once that was him. Maybe he realizes there’s little to be gained by calling out the man they were building this team around, even though it turned out to be shoddy construction.