Doug Collins has a roster full of young players with varying levels of maturity, skill and intellect. For the most part, he's done a very good job of using playing time to motivate this young squad, and as we hit the second half of the season, his methods seem to be paying dividends. Collins has used the proverbial carrot or the stick to get these young guys to buy in to the type of basketball he wants them to play. No one has received the stick more than Marreese Speights and it looks like he's finally coming out the other side.
I realize this was one game, against a terrible team, but this is also the perfect opportunity for Doug Collins to send two vital messages. Speights has been a healthy scratch 8 times this season. He's only averaged 12.6 minutes heading into last night. He's been yanked out of games for defensive lapses more times than you can count on your fingers and toes. Every form of tough love you can throw at a player, Doug Collins has thrown at Speights. Through it all, we haven't heard a word from Speights. Throughout it all, the guy starting in front of Speights has coasted.
Has Speights earned the starting spot? Under normal circumstances, I'd say absolutely not. But normal circumstances would involve having a legitimate center on your roster. The Sixers do not. Speights has been penalized for lazy play while Spencer Hawes has been rewarded for it, by default.
Collins has gone the tough love route for more than half the season. He's getting results from Speights, now is the time to go the other way. Coming off his best game of the season, a game in which he showed tremendous energy, effort and effectiveness, Collins should call Speights and Hawes into his office tomorrow and say, "Spencer, Marreese has taken your job." Send Speights out with the starting five on Friday night, make it his job to lose. Tell Hawes he can take it back, but he's going to have to prove that he wants it. Remind Speights of how long the road was to get here, and tell him if he reverts he can lose the job in the blink of an eye.
In the grand scheme of things, I'm not sure if putting Speights on the floor is going to make the team appreciably better. One thing I do know is that it would be hard for Speights to hurt the team as much as Hawes has recently, and if he's on offensively, he's at least close to being the athletic big Iguodala and Jrue desperately need to take advantage of their playmaking. Best-case, the Sixers will probably get better offensively and stay the same on defense in their starting lineup. Hawes shows a backbone and plays with a mean streak in a reserve role. Worst-case, being given the job will have the opposite effect on Speights, he'll stop hustling to spots and trying to draw charges and go back to taking nothing but 18-foot jumpers on the other end. Hawes will pout and continue to be a net-negative when he's on the floor.
From a psychological standpoint, I think this is the right move for both players. From a basketball standpoint, I think it's definitely worth a shot. The counter argument is that you don't want to mess around with the starting lineup. To me, though, this starting lineup consists of three legit players and two guys who you cross your fingers and pray they'll at least be average on any given day. On most days, they're drags on the team. You're just swapping one wild card for another, and who knows, maybe playing next to Brand with Iguodala and Jrue on the floor will elevate Speights' game.
At this point, I'm really not sure what Collins has to lose. I mean, so what if Hawes doesn't like it? He's gone after this season anyway, and his handful of halfway decent games happened about 20 games ago, since then, he's been the same stiff who blamed his slow start on an injury for the first 20 games.