Doug Collins didn't want this to be a telephone conversation. This had to be done face to face. The 76ers' new coach needed to meet with guard-forward Andre Iguodala to begin the process of revitalizing arguably the team's best player.
That's why Collins spent 2 hours Thursday afternoon in Los Angeles with Iguodala in the office of Rob Pelinka, Iguodala's agent. Collins was already in town to serve as the TNT analyst for Game 5 of the NBA's Western Conference finals between the Lakers and Phoenix Suns. But he was also in town as Iguodala's latest (fifth) coach.
"I told Andre he's very important to our team," Collins said yesterday. "He's a little down right now, playing 6 years with so many different coaches, just going through a season in which the team was 12-29 at home. I told him I want the joy back in his game.
"I told him, 'I've got your back. I want you on the floor.' I've always found that the best players are the hardest workers. I said, 'If you work like that, I'll help you in any situation I possibly can.' Then we've got to get other guys on board, showing the same dedication. After a while, the guys who don't do it suddenly stand out. We'll sort through things, see who can be there, who might have to move on.
"I told him he hasn't scratched the surface of the player he can become, but we have to tighten up his game. He can't live on long jump shots. I've coached wing players like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Grant Hill, Jerry Stackhouse, Rip Hamilton and Allan Houston, and they've all played well. That's exactly what I want to do with Andre. He can become a first-team All-Defense guy, a very good all-around player. If he plays to his strengths, it can make the game easy for him."
To that end, Collins wants to see Iguodala reduce his three-point attempts (94-for-303 this season) and increase his free-throw attempts (315-for-430).
"I'd rather see 175 to 200 threes, and 500 or so free throws," Collins said. "I want to see him slash and cut, get to open areas. He has seen the nameplate on the coach's office change several times, but I asked him to give me a chance to change things, to change the culture, to restore accountability and responsibility within the group. I've found that that's what really good players want."
Iguodala was the only Sixer to start all 82 games this season, the fifth time he has done that in his six seasons. He led the league with 3,193 minutes played and averaged a team-high 17.1 points; he also averaged 6.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists.
"This has been one of the league's proudest franchises, and I want these players to take pride in putting on the jersey the way I did," Collins said. "I know what it's like to go from rock bottom to the Finals. Players want to do what's right. That's a big reason I wanted this job. They're ripe to be turned around. They're tired of losing. I want them to see a chance to move up."
Doug Collins scheduled June 21 to 24 for a group of players to work out in Philadelphia "to begin to plant the seeds of a relationship." He also hopes to meet with forward Elton Brand, either in Durham, N.C., or in California. "When you've been injured, when you've been losing, you can lose the joy of the game, too," Collins said. "We have to get him back to doing what he does best." *