If there is one trait in a person that 76ers coach Doug Collins relishes, it's trust. He wants to be able to trust you as a person and as a player. He also wants you to be able to do the same, to know that he will do anything for you. There is no gray area with the 60-year-old coach. If you're good and true to him, he's your friend for life. Cross him too many times and you're out.

He lets that be known to just about everyone he knows and cares about. It has garnered him many valuable friendships through the years, and maybe cost him a couple, too.

Collins is the ultimate communicator. During the Sixers' win over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, when rookie Nikola Vucevic was getting his first minutes as a pro, Collins and Vucevic had their arms around each other during timeouts as much as the newlyweds in the first row.

Whether he knows it or not, forward Andre Iguodala needed a steady relationship with a head coach. Not that Iguodala didn't get along with previous coaches, but it's hard to form a bond when coaches are rotating in and out faster than seasons can be completed.

In Collins, Iguodala seems to finally have the type of relationship with a coach that can make him prosper even more as a player. And so far in this early season, it has shown.

Iguodala always has been a top-notch talent. The numbers he produces among points, rebounds and assists are rarely duplicated by anyone in the NBA not named LeBron James. He can also disrupt the likes of James with his hounding defense, which combines length and athleticism.

You know all about what Iguodala can do on the court, Sixers fans. You've seen it for seven seasons now. But this season could really be different. There is something different about the one player whom fans have called to be traded a million times over the past few years. Collins likes to say Iguodala is engaged. Others could say he is having more fun playing basketball now than he has in many years.

Both probably are right.

The past two seasons may have been a couple of the most frustrating of Iguodala's career. In Eddie Jordan, Iguodala had to adjust to yet another new head coach, the fourth in his first six seasons. The 2009-10 season was disastrous as the team accumulated 55 losses, lost all belief in Jordan, and couldn't wait for the season to end.

Last season, after a summer of playing for the U.S. national team, Iguodala came to training camp already physically spent. It wasn't surprising that for the first time in his career he battled a myriad injuries, including tendinitis in his right knee, which he played through for most of the season.

But as his numbers dipped and games were lost because of the injuries, Iguodala was gaining. He and Collins were forming a bond that is proving very beneficial to both.

"He's been great from moment one this season," Collins said. "Actually, it started during the summer when the players got together on their own dime and worked out and had some dinners together. Dre was a big part of pulling all that off."

This offseason, of course, was stranger than most. The NBA lockout forced players and coaches not to communicate with one another. Collins and his staff met with all of the players just before the work stoppage to give them an idea of what he and his staff would like them to do to be prepared once the lockout was over.

Iguodala, Elton Brand and Lou Williams were instrumental in getting the players together for workouts in Los Angeles and Atlanta. As much as it was a chance to play ball together, it also was a chance to keep friendships fresh and show how committed Iguodala and others were in staying the course Collins has laid.

It also helped that after such a physically grueling season, Iguodala got a chance to rest and recover. His play thus far this season has been exactly what Collins has needed - scoring, rebounding, defending, playmaking.

"Dre has come back healthy, in a great frame of mind," Collins said. "He enjoys this group, likes the way we play. He's been a real rock for us. His offense has been terrific, he's played great defense and, most importantly, he's shown the most leadership I've ever seen from him."

For maybe the first time since he's been here, Iguodala knows he has a coach who will be here for a while and whom he trusts.

"I try to communicate with our guys, I think it's healthy to communicate," Collins said. "And those relationships are truthful and honest and built on trust. I think last year, Dre realized when he spoke to me, I was honest with him in telling him what I needed from him and what he could do for the team. One of the big things, I think, that helped was that two players Dre admired growing up were Scottie Pippen and Grant Hill, two players that I had coached. I talked to him about the experiences I had with those two guys and the relationships we built.

"My big thing with him was I wanted him to have fun playing again. I don't think anyone can play at their highest level if they're not having fun. I know he has a lot of pressure on him in Philly, but he's been through so many different coaches. When we first met, I told him to judge me as a coach on a day-to-day basis. I told him that I would always be there for him, that I would always have his back."

Seems to be working.

For more Sixers coverage, read the Daily News' Sixers blog, Sixerville, at www.philly.com/Sixerville.
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