MEMPHIS - There may be only one thing in life more important than basketball to 76ers coach Doug Collins, and that is family. In fact, the two aren't even close, that's how much Collins cherishes his wife, two kids and five grandchildren. So when the holidays roll around, he doesn't try to stop his players from venturing to wherever they must go to be with their loved ones.
For center Spencer Hawes, it meant starting his trek back to Washington state in a helicopter. Swingman Nick Young flew back to California to be with his family, and guard Jason Richardson went to Colorado to spend Christmas with his.
It was not an easy excursion for anybody, as the Sixers played Sunday in Brooklyn, then had to be in Memphis on Tuesday for a practice before facing the Grizzlies on Wednesday.
"I took a helicopter from LaGuardia to Newark then flew home," Hawes said. "I barely made that flight, then to get here, I had to fly through Salt Lake City, Utah. I did that [Tuesday], so that made for a nice, long day. The helicopter was necessary, only after I looked at all the other flights, and my only other option was to fly through Canada, so that's what I did. We got done our game around 5:30, and I had a 7:30 flight. I barely made it.
"It's always nice to get home. My family has a crab theme, so to be able to make that every year is important to me. To get to catch up with everybody, even if it is for a couple of hours, is nice. If it's at all possible, I'm going to be there. Coach is a family guy, so he understands how much it means. As long as I can physically be there, I'm going to keep doing it. Plus, we're going to Portland during this road trip, so I can see a lot of family there, too."
This road trip is hard enough, as Wednesday was the second of eight road games. Add in some players bopping all around the country to see family, and that could be a recipe for disaster. But Collins is well aware of that and goes to great lengths to make sure the right frame of mind is achieved before his team heads back onto the court.
"From my standpoint, getting to see Kelly [his daughter] and my grandkids and just watch the innocence and joy of just opening presents and the joy they have is very important," Collins said. "We have to give these guys [players] a chance to enjoy their families, because once you get into the season, normally during the holidays, you play. There's very rarely a time that you have to be with your family [during various holidays]. So I'm big on that.
"We came back [Tuesday] and tried to get some running in. I knew mentally we wouldn't be very good, but I was hoping to get some work done and get the food and travel out of our systems."
It doesn't get any easier for anybody. After Wednesday's game, the team was to leave directly from FedEx Forum to fly to San Francisco for a Thursday afternoon practice in preparation for Friday's game against Golden State. They will fly after that to Portland for a game Saturday, then leave following that contest for Los Angeles. At least in L.A., they'll have a couple of days to right themselves, as they won't face the Lakers until Tuesday.
Jason Richardson was out of Wednesday's game with a strained back. Collins said he is day-to-day. In his absence, and with such a grueling schedule, Collins said he will need contributions from everyone, guard Royal Ivey chief among them. Entering Wednesday, Ivey had played in 14 games and not more than 8 minutes in any of them since mid-November. Recently, he missed three games with a groin strain and two with strep throat.
"I'm hoping we get some minutes out of Royal," Collins said. "He seems to be having a little bit more energy now. He had the leg problem and then he got strep throat, and this is a kid who has a ton of energy and he's just been wiped out. I was kidding him; his nickname is Smoke, and I told him that smoke is a residual of fire, I want to see the fire before the smoke."