Thursday, February 16, 2017

Lack of transparency still an issue for the Sixers

It might have been the biggest factor that led to former Sixers' general manager Sam Hinkie being pushed out the door.  Media members complained about Hinkie’s reluctance to speak on the record and hold press conferences.  Agents reportedly did not like dealing with him given his knack for team-friendly bargains when it came to negotiating contracts. He did not have the relationships across the NBA that were necessary to quell some of these fears about his reputation after the Sixers tanked three consecutive seasons.  All of this resulted in the Sixers' ownership group minimizing Hinkie which ultimately led to a change in the front office.

                                                                 Yong Kim/
Colangelo has not been forthcoming in
his short time working for the Sixers so far.
Many felt that Bryan Colangelo was hired last April to help fix the image of a franchise that won 47 games in three seasons. It seemed as if ownership’s belief was that Hinkie set the organization up for future success in reshaping the roster with several lottery picks, but that he was not the man for the next step of the rebuild. Colangelo’s name carried more weight. He won the NBA’s Executive of the Year award in 2005 with the Phoenix Suns and in 2007 with the Toronto Raptors. His father Jerry, who helped facilitated the transition, worked as the Chairman of USA Basketball for over a decade and had tons of connections around the NBA.

Less than a year into Colangelo’s tenure as the Sixers' President of Basketball Operations, things haven’t quite been so transparent. The team has dealt with a myriad of injuries during the last four years. This season, Colangelo has not been very upfront in disclosing the details of several injuries, namely involving the team’s two clear building blocks for the future. Most recently, news broke that Joel Embiid had a minor meniscus tear. Embiid has not played since January 27 against Houston, a game that was nationally televised. Shortly after that game, the Sixers leaked that Embiid was day-to-day thanks to a bone bruise in his left knee. However, the recent report by Derek Bodner cited that the minor meniscus tear was discovered in an MRI after the Sixers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers on January 20.

In late September, just weeks before the 2016-17 season began, last year’s number one overall pick Ben Simmons suffered a fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone of his right foot. From the moment Simmons suffered the injury, the team was very mum on a timetable.  In October, head coach Brett Brown had to backtrack on an initial statement indicating Simmons would return at some point in January. It’s the middle of February, and there’s no sign of when Simmons may play for the Sixers and speculation is growing that it won’t be until the start of next season.

On top of the ambiguity surrounding both Embiid and Simmons’ injuries, another issue for the Sixers has been the inability to get a Jahlil Okafor trade finalized. Ten days ago, several NBA reporters claimed the Sixers were in “advanced talks” with the New Orleans Pelicans for Okafor. Later last week, the Bulls emerged as the favorite to land Okafor. On Saturday, during a win against the Miami Heat, Okafor was seen hugging several teammates on the sideline, which was an indication that a trade was imminent. After the game, Brown said that trade rumors were the reason Okafor did not play. The big man out of Duke did not make the trip with the Sixers for Monday’s win in Charlotte against the Hornets. Yet on Tuesday night, when a trade still had not been completed, Okafor rejoined the Sixers in Boston and played in last night’s game against the Celtics. The team still has one week until the February 23 trade deadline, but this is certainly not a good look for Colangelo, regardless of how it ends. Whatever was going on in his trade negotiations, after almost everyone believed a trade was on the horizon, it is now unclear when or if Okafor will be traded.

It’s anybody’s guess as to when Embiid will next play for the Sixers, when Simmons will debut for the Sixers, and what team Jahlil Okafor will be playing for after the trade deadline. It’s not supposed to be that way, but Bryan Colangelo has made it that way. For someone that was supposed to clean up the organization’s transparency issues, Colangelo has done a horrendous job.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Flying under the radar all the way to Houston

The Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots meet in Super Bowl LI this weekend in Houston, Texas. One team is the subject of constant chatter amongst fans throughout the National Football League while the other was relatively unnoticed for most of the year. It’s not rocket science to figure out which is which.

This season, thanks to a four-game suspension to quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots were right back in the national discussion as the Deflategate saga wore on. Now, this week, as the buildup intensifies with kickoff just over 72 hours away, it’s hard to watch a sports television show without hearing about Brady’s extra motivation to receive the Lombardi trophy this year from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

It seems like the Falcons are taking a back seat to New England this week in Houston, and they’re probably just fine with that. Coming off a Super Bowl appearance last year, the Carolina Panthers were the clear favorite to win their third consecutive NFC South division title. However, Atlanta won four out of five to open the season and looked like the real deal out of the gate. But, plenty remained leery of Atlanta given the hot start the Falcons got off to last season winning their first five games and six of their first seven only to finish 8-8. Back-to-back losses to Seattle and San Diego and a week 10 loss in Philadelphia left Atlanta at 6-4 heading into its bye week and certainly did not quell the doubts. However, the Falcons returned from their bye to end the regular season by winning five out of six and clinching the NFC South and a first-round bye. But, those five wins were all against teams that finished the year below .500 and the one loss was to the playoff-bound Kansas City Chiefs. It seemed like many people, myself included, needed a show-me win from the Falcons to feel like they were a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
                                               David Goldman/Associated Press
The Falcons celebrate with owner Arthur Blank after
defeating the Packers to advance to Super Bowl LI.

The Falcons gave us just that and then some in the playoffs. A 36-20 whitewashing of the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC divisional round allowed the nation to see just how good the Falcons were. Yet, despite being favored in the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers, it felt like many analysts were leaning towards Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers was on a mission. He’s the MVP. The Packers haven’t lost since they were 4-6 and Rodgers said they would run the table. I fell for all of that too and was yet again suckered only to see another playoff blowout in the Georgia Dome’s last hurrah as Atlanta trounced Green Bay 44-21.

Which brings us back to Houston. As most of the hot takes leading up to the Super Bowl are centered around Brady and the Patriots, here are the Falcons in a role they’ve seemingly thrived in all season. They finished the regular season with the number one ranked offense statistically in the NFL. New England finished first in total defense. The five previous times the number one offense met the number one defense in the Super Bowl, the team with the top-ranked defense won four times, another narrative that generates Patriots’ buzz. Wouldn’t it be fitting for Atlanta to wrap things up this way? Regardless, full credit to second-year coach Dan Quinn, his staff, and the entire organization for having an outstanding season no matter what the score is on Sunday.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

2017 National Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

The 2017 National Baseball Hall of Fame announcement is tomorrow. I don’t have a hall of fame vote, but have attended induction weekend in July every year since 2009 and am eagerly awaiting another class. Here’s how I’d vote if I was lucky enough to be able to.

Tim Raines: It’s absurd that Raines has had to wait this long. He has a better stolen base success rate than Rickey Henderson and a higher career on-base percentage than Willie Mays. Yet he is still not in the hall of fame as he enters his final year of eligibility. It’s hard to think of a player whose long wait was as unwarranted as Raines’ exclusion for so many years. It looks like he’s going to get in, but it’s way overdue. He should be at the top of everyone’s ballots.

Jeff Bagwell: 1991 NL rookie of the year, 1994 NL MVP, 449 career homers, a lifetime batting average of .297, and a career on-base percentage of .408. Bagwell’s case is strong. While he’s shy of the 500-homer plateau, Bagwell was still a very productive player in 2003 and 2004 before a shoulder injury in 2005 put an abrupt end to his career. Without the shoulder injury, Bagwell likely could have easily stuck it out for a couple more seasons and hit 51 more home runs. But that should not be an argument used against him. He belongs in Cooperstown.

Vladimir Guerrero: Guerrero is often remembered for his free-swinging approach at the plate. But his offensive numbers were terrific as his home run total was identical to Bagwell’s 449, but his lifetime batting average 21 points higher at .318. Not only was he one of the game’s most dangerous hitters throughout his career, but in his time as a right fielder in Montreal and his early days in Anaheim, running on Guerrero and his arm was like playing Russian roulette. He may not make it this year, but he shouldn’t wait much past 2018.

Ivan Rodriguez: Jose Canseco’s book isn’t enough for me to leave Pudge off my ballot. Rodriguez is one of the best two-way catchers the game has ever seen. Canseco’s book is the only known evidence against Rodriguez and if you look at his numbers, there is a not a huge spike that would indicate Rodriguez was a steroid user.  His statistics increased steadily as he entered his prime and for the most part decreased steadily coming out of his prime. However, due to the speculation, Rodriguez’s voting percentage is the one I’m most interested in seeing tomorrow.

Fred McGriff: Despite being known as the crime dog, McGriff was a victim of playing by the rules throughout his career. As Tom Verducci points out here, McGriff is the only player without steroid ties to hit more than 475 home runs and not be enshrined in the hall. If there was no strike in 1994 and 1995, McGriff would have had another 67 games to hit seven more home runs to get to the 500-homer benchmark. It does not make any sense why he never gets close every year.

Curt Schilling: Yes, he is certainly not a model citizen. But it’s silly to invoke the character clause as many do against Schilling. His career peaked in the heat of the steroid era which says a lot for a starting pitcher at that time. Additionally, he was one of the game’s best postseason pitchers. He’s borderline for sure, but gets a nod from me.

Edgar Martinez: This is where it got tough for me. My last three players all played positions that just simply are not as valuable. That said, Martinez’s offensive numbers and advanced metrics are too good to ignore. As a National League purist, it hurts my soul to advocate for a designated hitter, but I don’t think the argument against Edgar is strong enough to keep him out.

Trevor Hoffman: I don’t put much weight into saves as a statistic, but Hoffman continually found ways to get outs 25, 26, and 27 without the overpowering stuff that other closers possessed. His change-up carried him throughout his career and if it weren’t for Tony Gwynn, he’d probably be the face of the San Diego Padres. Whether that says more about the Padres or Hoffman is a debate for another day. I can see where those that do not vote for Hoffman are coming from, but for Hoffman to have the kind of career he had as a closer without a fastball that topped out in the upper 90s, is impressive enough for me.

Billy Wagner: From an analytical perspective, plenty of people will argue that Wagner was better than Hoffman.  Wagner’s voting percentages have not been close, and he’s in danger of coming in below five percent and falling off the ballot. But in addition to the analytical argument in his favor, it’s hard to say he didn’t pass the eye test either. He had that overpowering stuff Hoffman didn’t have and would regularly blaze his upper 90s, and occasionally triple digits, fastball past hitters. It was hard not to enjoy.

Notable exclusions: I understand the arguments for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and agree with them to an extent. Yes, both are Hall of Famers without taking steroids. However, we never got to see that play out throughout their respective careers and I cannot get behind placing either one or any known steroid user into the Hall of Fame. Of course, the Baseball Writers Association of America cannot vote for Pete Rose, but the fact that any player that used performance-enhancing drugs would get into the hall of fame over Pete Rose makes me cringe. Mike Mussina is an interesting name and certainly had a terrific career. But, he did not pass my eye test when it comes to Cooperstown. There are many great players that are left out of the hall of fame and in my opinion, Mussina is another one. Lastly, Larry Walker had an exceptional career, but there’s too much inflation in his home-road splits for me to vote for him. Take that Coors Field.