- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2002

As their playoff chances have become increasingly remote with each improbable victory by the Toronto Raptors minus injured Vince Carter, talk of offseason plans is becoming more audible around the Washington Wizards, especially from coach Doug Collins.

Although he is coaching every game to the last second these days, just as he did at the start of the season when hope sprang eternal, Collins already has his offseason planned. Feeling he has reached the point where both he and the players need to be away from each other whenever the season ends the playoffs or more likely in their regular-season finale April 16 Collins wants to put some space between himself and his team.

"What I'm going to do this summer is something that I've never done before," Collins said. "I've always been too actively involved with our players during the summer. I've always been around. This summer I'm going to get away."

And during that time, Collins, who has seen his team fight through numerous crucial injures to players like Richard Hamilton and the shelved Michael Jordan, is going to go under the knife as well, to have both of his gimpy hips replaced.

Collins had planned on having the surgery, which he has needed for the last four years, last summer. But when Jordan asked him to coach the Wizards almost immediately after last season, Collins put it off until this summer.

"When I took the job, I didn't have enough time," said Collins, who had his NBA career cut short because of knee injuries. "I'm going to go through this summer and focus on getting myself healthy. I'm really excited about that."

The surgery, scheduled for May 7, will come on the heels of his son's wedding on May 4. After the operation maybe around the same time Jordan will have his left knee cleaned out Collins will do a month's worth of rehabilitation and therapy in Chicago.

Collins, who has a home in Phoenix, plans to attend the Chicago Pre-Draft Camp in early June in preparation for the June 26 draft. He might make an appearance or two at the summer league, then he plans to get back to Phoenix. While he's gone, assistant coaches Brian James and Larry Drew will likely run the summer league team.

Collins is not the only coach in the league in need of a hip replacement; Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson needs one, too.

According to Collins, despite the look of his walk, the pain is not overwhelming. Like Jordan, Collins says when he's coaching, basketball is the only thing on his mind.

"Sure, my hips hurt," Collins said. "But I don't even think about it when I'm on the court. That place is such a haven for me in terms of that I just love to be out there. It's a haven for me. It's a painkiller being out there and teaching. It's a high."

Whether or not Jordan returns next season, Collins, 50, is committed to returning to the Wizards beyond Jordan's eventual retirement.

"I want this too be my last stop as a coach," Collins said. "And I'm having a lot of fun doing this."

In years past, not being able to step away from the team has been Collins' downfall, particularly at Detroit, where he coached and oversaw basketball operations.

Then, Collins would watch basketball games on TV until after midnight, get up the next morning and do it all over again.

Not anymore.

"I just watch Duke games and video of our next opponent," Collins said.

"And as a result I'm much more energized at this time of year than I have ever been at any point in my coaching career."

That is why Collins plans on getting away this summer.

"The players get sick of me," Collins said. "They get sick of the head coach. And if they're seeing you this summer they may never get a break from you. I want to get away so that when the time comes they'll be excited to see me, and I'll be excited to see them."

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