The "word" was out there on Doug Collins. No one seemed to know where it came from, or whether it had any merit, but it was out there nonetheless.

The "word" was that Collins, the TNT analyst, three-time former NBA coach and four-time All-Star with the 76ers, was interested in coaching his former team.

There was enough talk about it yesterday, that the "word" needed to be further researched. And when it was, this is what surfaced:

John Langel, Collins' longtime agent, told the Daily News unequivocally that neither he nor Collins had, in any way, contacted the Sixers, nor had there been any contact from the Sixers.

Langel said that he did not know the source of the speculation, but that even though Collins has consistently left the door open to a return to coaching, he would not pursue any situation that had a coach in place.

In the Sixers' case, president/general manager Ed Stefanski has yet to make a decision on the future of Tony DiLeo, who moved from his position as senior vice president of basketball operations/assistant general manager to succeed the fired Maurice Cheeks after 23 games this season.

Collins, working the Los Angeles Lakers-Houston Rockets playoff series, declined to comment via Langel. Stefanski, via Sixers publicist Mike Preston, was termed "unavailable."

Collins, 57, has been courted in recent seasons to become a mentoring assistant coach with the Phoenix Suns and the Sixers, was a candidate for a front-office position with the Milwaukee Bucks, and very nearly began a second stint as the coach of the Chicago Bulls this season before withdrawing his name.

Collins has always had a passion for the Philadelphia area, which now includes a daughter who lives nearby. His son, Chris, is on the basketball staff at Duke. Collins also has four grandchildren.

Langel made it clear that Collins wanted to avoid becoming what he termed "a distraction" similar to the media frenzy created during last season's playoffs.

"Certainly last year, he had an interest [in coaching]," Langel said. "He said if the right situation ever arose, he would be intrigued, but it would have to be the right situation, the right group of players. But he does not seek positions, particularly when someone is already in that position with a team; he has a good relationship with Tony DiLeo and has great respect for him and the job he has done.

"At this point, Doug is totally invested in his broadcasting career, but has, as he has done in the past, left the door open."

Collins has a record of 332-287 in eight seasons coaching the Bulls, Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards. *

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