Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Another Christmas, another day of NBA Basketball

The last couple days it’s been hard to watch ESPN for more than 15 minutes and not see a commercial for the NBA Christmas Day games.  It’s become an annual tradition.  The first game starts at 12 noon and by the time the fifth and final game ends it’s no longer Christmas Day.  While Christmas and the NBA will never be as popular or the NFL and Thanksgiving, I don’t fault the NBA for trying to have a holiday of their own.

In having five games, one following the other, the NBA gives its fans the opportunity to see some of the best players and best teams in the Association and not miss a beat since none of the games overlap.  When you think about it, Christmas is good timing for the NBA to try and showcase its best talent during the winter.  Thanksgiving is for the NFL and New Year’s Day belongs to college football, though that has recently been rivaled by the NHL in the last five years with the inception of the Winter Classic.  So that leaves Christmas for the NBA.  The hard part is forecasting the prospects of the selected teams for Christmas Day.

The Brooklyn Nets host the Chicago Bulls in the first game at noon.  Both these teams have severely underachieved.  The Bulls lost their superstar point guard Derrick Rose again, and the Nets just lost their center Brook Lopez for the rest of the season.  But make no excuse, the Bulls made the playoffs without Rose last season and the Nets were thought to have improved in the offseason which ought to lessen the blow that was delivered when Lopez went down.   Here we are on Christmas Eve and the Nets are 9-18, and the Bulls 10-16.  I’m sure two sub-500 teams wasn’t the plan for a Christmas Day game.

The second game has the Oklahoma City Thunder traveling to the Big Apple to play the New York Knicks.  Much like the Bulls and the Nets, the Knicks are struggling mightily after making the playoffs as the second seed in the East last season.  The Knicks have the same 9-18 record as the rival Nets do and an uncertain future looms over the franchise as Mike Woodson may be on the hot seat and Carmelo Anthony may leave after this season.  No such underachieving for Oklahoma City as they sit at 22-5 and second in the West.

The third game has the two-time defending champions, the Miami Heat, traveling cross country to play the Los Angeles Lakers.  I’m sure schedule makers were relying on Kobe Bryant being back for the Lakers for this game and while he made his season debut earlier this month, he is now sidelined again by injury.  At 13-15 and 10th in the West the Lakers are going to have a hard time winning games without Bryant and the fact that their hovering around .500 without him for most of the season is probably their ceiling.  You would think Miami would handle the Kobe-less Lakers with ease tomorrow.

The two night games are the best on the schedule tomorrow.  The defending Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs host the Houston Rockets and the last game features the upstart Golden State Warriors home to the Los Angeles Clippers.  All four of these teams figure to be right in the thick of things the talent-rife Western conference throughout the spring.

So in running through the schedule what am I really saying? It’s hard to guarantee good games when teams are almost 30 games into their season by now.  Injuries and underachievers are bound to happen making the scheduled games not as compelling.  On the other side of the coin there are the overachievers and breakout players that make their presence felt in the first two months of the season that aren’t scheduled for Christmas Day.  Case in point this year would be the Portland Trail Blazers.  They lead the West and LaMarcus Aldridge is an early candidate for NBA MVP. The Indiana Pacers are another team that has come out of the gate strong.  What’s confusing though is that Indiana’s early surge isn’t as surprising after seeing them take Miami to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals last year.  So Indiana would have been a good team to schedule for Christmas Day and for whatever reason they won’t see action tomorrow.

I give the NBA credit for making the annual effort to draw attention nationwide to the Association.  But unlike the other sports on the winter holidays, I’m not sure there’s enough of a wow factor.  Thanksgiving and NFL Football have been synonymous for years.  The history behind the tradition makes football a part of most Americans’ Thanksgivings regardless of the quality of the teams featured.  There’s also a lot of history behind New Year’s Day college football as a lot of the bigger bowl games, most notably the Rose Bowl, are played on New Year’s Day.  While the Winter Classic has only been going on since 2008, the spectacle it creates gives the NHL some well-deserved attention on New Year’s Day as well.

The underachieving teams are the unknown about NBA Christmas Day games.  It’s so hard to know when scheduling what you think are the premier teams in the NBA, which ones aren’t going to live up to expectations.  I’m not sure they’ll ever try and call a surprise team either.  I think the person who suggested Portland for Christmas Day three months ago would have been laughed at…a lot.  So it comes down to a matter of luck.  Maybe one year the ten teams will all be contenders, and the five games will all be great.  The only thing to do is to keep trying.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Expectations for the Eagles stretch run with Les Bowen

Back in August, when the Eagles were wrapping up training camp and getting ready for the first season of the Chip Kelly era, expectations were not too lofty.  After the bottom had fallen out and the Eagles seemingly quit during a 4-12 season which put a disappointing end to the Andy Reid era, 7 or 8 wins would have been viewed as a success in 2013.  Fast forward to December 10, 2013, and take a look at the standings and you’ll find the Philadelphia Eagles all alone in first place in the NFC East already with 8 wins and three games to play.  I talked to Eagles beat writer Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News to get a feel for the new expectations for this Eagles team now that they seem to have exceeded those set back in August.

The playoffs certainly look to be a strong possibility, but Bowen said regardless of if the Eagles play into January, what’s more encouraging is that the Eagles seem to have brought in a good coach and may have found a franchise quarterback.  “Whether they make the playoffs or not, what you want to know is that you hired the right coach and I think we’re on pretty solid ground there.  The other thing you want to know is if Nick Foles is a franchise quarterback and we’re close to being on solid ground there,” Bowen said. 

                                                                                  Nhat V. Meyer
Nick Foles has been a catalyst behind the Eagles five-game winning streak.
Nick Foles finally threw his first interception of the season on Sunday against Detroit.  But Bowen said he was impressed with the way Foles responded and stayed poised despite the fact that the Eagles were looking to run the ball a lot in the snow.  “I think they really like his makeup,” Bowen said of the Eagles' coaches on Foles.  Now we will see if Foles can lead the Eagles to the playoffs.

Holding a one-game lead in the NFC East, the Eagles control their own destiny to make the postseason.  They travel to Minnesota this week in a game they should win with Adrian Peterson likely not to play for the Vikings.  Then the Eagles host the Chicago Bears before traveling to Dallas for the season finale.  “I expect them to beat the Vikings and the last two are probably going to tell the story,” Bowen said.  With Chicago and Dallas still very much alive in the playoff hunt, the last two games certainly will tell everyone a lot about who the Eagles really are.

While Chip Kelly is an offensive guru, one of the more impressive things about the Eagles in this five-game winning streak has been the evolution of Billy Davis’s 3-4 defense.  The Eagles were embarrassed back in September in a week four game in Denver, losing to the Broncos 52-20 and while Peyton Manning seems to light up just about any defense he faces, this performance from the defense was still very much alarming.  Following this game Billy Davis urged everyone to be patient and said that he was seeing progress despite not seeing results on the field.  Surely enough, his defense has shown progressive improvement since the disaster in Denver.
                                                                             David Maialetti
Billy Davis has his defense playing well at the right time of year.

Since that Denver game, the Eagles are 7-2 and currently on a five-game winning streak.  The Eagles defense has been very good in this nine-game stretch even in the two loses, divisional home games to Dallas and the Giants, in which the Eagles offense surprisingly let them down. “It’s really apparent now that early in the season they were struggling to figure out how to play in the 3-4, what the nuances of it were, and what guys roles in it should be,” Bowen said noting particularly the improved play of Nate Allen as an indictment on previous defensive coaches in the Eagles organization.  The entire coaching staff on the defensive side of the ball has proved they were good hires in Bowen’s opinion.

In addition to the defense, the single most important player on the Eagles roster has certainly asserted himself this season.  In a run-first offense (been a while since we can say that about the Eagles right?) tailor made for explosive plays from the running backs, Lesean McCoy looks to be on track to win the rushing title.  While Peyton Manning looks to be in the driver’s seat for league MVP, I asked Bowen if McCoy deserves to be looked at as a viable MVP candidate.
Lesean McCoy set an Eagles franchise record Sunday against
Detroit with 217 rushing yards.

“I haven’t really thought about that but if they make the playoffs and he leads the league in rushing it’s still going to be tough.  Peyton Manning probably has it locked up but if something were to happen to him we’ll see.  But a candidate…yeah I think he’s one of those people,” Bowen said.  Now while McCoy may not win the NFL MVP, it was worth asking Bowen about another NFL award.

Ron Rivera and Andy Reid seem to be two of the primary candidates for the coach of the year award.  Carolina has had their fair share of struggles in recent years but Rivera has the Panthers in the playoff hunt after a 1-3 start.  Andy Reid has turned a two-win Chiefs team into a virtual lock for the playoffs.  But given Chip Kelly is in his first year as an NFL head coach coming right out of college in a situation in which a lot of people doubted his schemes would be able to work in the NFL and was thrown into a tough spot given the way the last few years went for Andy Reid, doesn’t he deserve at least consideration for NFL coach of the year?

                                                                              Associated Press
Chip Kelly has had plenty to smile about recently and
figures to keep smiling if the Eagles can win the division.
“That’s a good question and another thing I haven’t really thought about.   Because people know Andy and are familiar with his story I think he has a bit of an advantage over Chip.  But if the Eagles finish with the same record as Kansas City, yeah I would vote for Chip, but I don’t have a vote,” Bowen said.
A lot of these speculations about what to expect from the Eagles the rest of the season and moving forward into the future hinge on if they are able to make the playoffs this season.  In a year in which the playoffs were a far cry from reality, to have this kind of a season so far, 13 games in, many would have said in August would be an overwhelming success.  So that left one more question for Les Bowen.

“I think they are.  They’ve impressed me immensely these last couple weeks.  They ought to be a playoff team at this point,” Bowen said when asked if it’s going to happen.  Chip Kelly has tended not to look much past the next game.  He was asked about the quarterback controversy between Michael Vick and Foles many times in the middle of the season and refused to answer until both were fully healthy.  He finally named Foles the quarterback for the rest of the season two weeks ago coming out of the bye.  Surely he is not looking ahead to the playoffs and is probably putting all his focus on Minnesota.  But if this keeps up, he might be putting all his focus on a home playoff game after winning a division title.






Monday, November 25, 2013

Ray Emery and the fight that ignited the Flyers

Over the course of an 82-game NHL season there are going to be ups and downs.  So often we hear from players in all sports how it’s important not to get too excited about the highs and not get too down about the lows and keep that even keel.  In the first month of the season for the Flyers, there were lots of lows, and almost nothing to be happy about.

Three games into the season, Peter Laviolette was fired after a 0-3 start in which the Flyers were outplayed and showing no life whatsoever.  Ed Snider then sounded off at a press conference saying that the organization did not need a culture change when asked why they choose to promote Craig Berube from assistant coach to interim head coach as opposed to bringing in a new voice from outside of the organization.

In the beginning of the Berube era, it certainly looked like Snider was wrong and that an outside voice would have been better as the coaching change didn’t seem to spark the orange and black as they got off to their worst start in franchise history at 1-7.

It looked as if a 7-0 loss to Washington on November 1 was rock bottom as fans began to call for general manager Paul Holmgren's head and chants of “Fire Holmgren” serenaded throughout the Wells Fargo Center.  However, late in that game a scrum broke out and multiple players on each team dropped the gloves and received fighting majors. 

                                                                              Tim Mihalek
Emery puts his finishing touches on Holtby.
What seemed to stand out in all of this was goaltender Ray Emery skating to the other end of the ice to go get Washington net minder Braden Holtby.  While Holtby did not seem to comply, Emery proceeded to bludgeon his counterpart time and time again in what appeared to be an effort to light a fire under the rest of the Flyers.

Fast forward just over three weeks and here we are on November 25, 2013 with the Flyers at .500 for the first time all season and only two points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern conference heading into tonight’s game in Sunrise against the Florida Panthers.  Since that 7-0 beat down they took on November 1, the Flyers are 7-1-2.   Emery himself has played a big role in the hot streak shutting out the Devils one night after his fight with Holtby, and played his best game of the season against the Penguins in a 2-1 win in Pittsburgh. 

                                                                                          CBS Sports
Giroux smiles after his first goal of the season
in a 5-2 win against Edmonton.
Emery’s spirited play seemed to be contagious as offensively the Flyers are starting to score more as a team having scored at least four goals in five of the last ten games.  Individually, captain Claude Giroux has tallied his first two goals of the season in this ten-game stretch in which the Flyers have recorded at least a point in nine of the ten games and left winger Brayden Schenn has registered eight of his 14 points for the season in the last ten.

The other goalie, Steve Mason, who had been playing well earlier in the season when the Flyers couldn’t help him out and score goals, has continued his strong play between the pipes.  Mason has won four of his last five decisions and has allowed two goals or fewer in every one of his starts since the November 1 game against Washington. 

While it’s clear the Flyers have raised their level, there are still 60 games left in the season.  There’s a lot of hockey yet to be played.  But if it weren’t for this recent stretch of victories, who knows what would be happening right now.  The coaching change did not seem to turn things around right away as I’m sure Holmgren and Snider thought it would.  Maybe Emery’s self-provided spark was just what the doctor order.  All things so far seem to indicate as such.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Evolution of the Fantasy Sports Industry

As we are inside an hour away from another action-packed Sunday of NFL Football, we also near another Sunday of fantasy football.  While fantasy sports have been around for quite some time now, they have really taken off in the last five to ten years with lots of fantasy publications, websites, a TV show on ESPN2 on Sunday mornings before kickoff, NFL Redzone, and even satellite radio programs have came along.  I caught up with Adam Ronis who writes for Rotoexperts.com and also hosts one of those satellite radio programs on Sirus XM weekdays from 7-10 to discuss how and why fantasy sports have became so popular.
Much like anyone else, Ronis was surprised at how much the industry has grown.  “It’s definitely surprising how much the industry has grown.  I’ve always wanted to do radio but I never thought I would have been for fantasy,” Ronis said.

Ronis believes the growing popularity can be attributed to lots of diehard fans whose appetite for more fantasy coverage always seems to increase.  Fantasy sports have taken off to the point where it’s a whole new world.  There’s the real world where winning and losing is predicated upon the success or lack thereof of teams and then there’s the fantasy world where winning and losing is dependent totally on the individual’s performance.

With so many fans engrossed in the fantasy world as they are the real sports world nowadays, it begs the question…Would a channel like NFL RedZone, where all they do is show scoring plays and teams getting close to crossing the goal line, even exist without fantasy football?

“Probably not,” Ronis said.  “I think it’s a great tool for fantasy players because they want to see who’s about to score.  I think that’s huge in the fantasy community,” he added.  But for fantasy enthusiasts there’s a lot more to it than the weekly indulgence of football on Sundays.

Ronis said that Rotoexperts does a great job with fantasy baseball and baseball is one of their most popular services aside from football.  Football and baseball seem to be the more popular fantasy sports but basketball has been growing a lot in the fantasy community.  In addition to basketball, Ronis said there are a lot of daily games offered on Rotoexperts which offer fantasy aficionados yet another way of diving deeper into the world of fantasy sports.

Moving forward, believe it or not, Ronis believes there’s room for even more growth.   He noted that Rotoexperts is working on a TV station and with lots of media outlets on the internet now he believes that the industry can continue to thrive.  But he did say that he feels that some of these outlets aren’t having the success they expected.
“Unless you’re a big site you’re not making money,” said Ronis.  While this is true, as most people look to ESPN, Yahoo, and other big name sites for their fantasy services, it could drive these other smaller sites to think outside the box.  There seems to be a lot of new stuff in the fantasy world and in an industry that’s always evolving, it might help to try and be one step ahead of the game.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sam Hinkie: The man with the plan

                                                          Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
Though he's now officially retired, Allen Iverson
will always be loved by Sixers fans.
Allen Iverson officially announced his retirement today.  He is one of the Sixers best players in franchise history without a doubt.  But since Iverson’s departure the Sixers have long lacked a superstar, franchise face, kind of player.  In the last eight years there have been some feel-good stories within the organization with former players Maurice Cheeks and Doug Collins returning to coach, Iverson made a brief return to the Sixers in 2009-2010, but the Sixers have never been a championship caliber team.

In addition to the lack of a star, the Sixers have had a coaching carousel since Larry Brown left with Randy Ayers, Chris Ford, Jim O’Brien and Tony DiLeo all manning the bench in addition to aforementioned Cheeks and Collins.  It’s been messy in the front office with Billy King, Ed Stefanski, Rod Thorn, and DiLeo all having spent time as the GMs of the organization.  There have been attempts by these general managers to get to the next level but all have fell short. 

Stefanski brought in Elton Brand expecting him to put up numbers similar to his days with the Los Angeles Clippers, that didn’t happen.  Thorn was the primary mind that orchestrated the Sixers end of the four-team trade that landed the Sixers Andrew Bynum, and we all know how that turned out.  With all the brief stints of coaches and GMs, but rosters that have enough talent to win 35-45 games, the Sixers have been trapped in mediocrity for almost a decade. 

Purgatory is the last place any NBA team should want to be.  In the Eastern Conference 35-45 wins year after year has been good enough to make the playoffs most years but all that’s led to is a first round exit for the Sixers, excluding the 2012 playoff series in which the Sixers were eighth in the East and thanks to Derrick Rose’s unfortunate ACL injury were able to beat the Bulls in the first round.  With that I say, enter Sam Hinkie.
                                                 Eric Hartline/USA Today Sports
Hinkie is the orchestrator behind
the long-term rebuild of the Sixers.

Unlike his predecessors Hinkie has a long-term plan in place to build the Sixers to become a contender.  This summer Hinkie blew up the Sixers roster leaving only Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young, and Lavoy Allen from the 2011-2012 team that was one game from the Eastern Conference Finals.  But based on the fact that even last year with their supposed franchise face out for the year, the Sixers won 34 games which did not qualify for the playoffs but they remained in the middle with almost no chance at getting a high lottery pick and ended up with the 11th overall selection in last year’s draft, I believe Hinkie had no choice but to blow it up.  In letting Bynum walk, trading All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday for Kentucky center Nerlens Noel and a future first-round pick, and drafting Michael Carter-Williams at 11, Hinkie has seemingly found the point guard and center for the future of the franchise.

While Noel is still recovering from a torn ACL and may miss the whole season, before his injury Noel was the consensus first overall pick in the 2013 draft so to get him at six and acquire a future first round pick was a good move for the Sixers even despite having to part ways with Jrue Holiday.  It’s important not to compare Noel to Andrew Bynum, whose knees seem to be chronically injured.  ACL injuries take a long time to recover from and at 19 years old on a team that is not intending to compete for a title this year, it makes no sense to risk the long-term future of a guy like Noel who averaged over four blocks a game in college and has a defensive player of the year ceiling.

Taking a look at the roster right now it’s up for debate that this may be the worst collection of talent on a Sixers team since the 1972-1973 Sixers that went 9-73.   Now they may not be that bad but there’s a good chance the Sixers finish with the worst record in the NBA this year, which believe it or not is better for the organization long term than the mediocre records we got used to.

For a team like the Sixers that can’t attract big name free agents to come play in Philadelphia, it’s best to sink to the bottom of the NBA and acquire talent through the draft and what better draft to acquire talent in than 2014. 

                                          James Linn-Rock Chalk-Pinterest.com
Wiggins is the top prize of the 2014 Draft Class
filled with many gifts.
Kansas swingman Andrew Wiggins is the consensus number one overall selection and the Sixers figure to have as good a shot as anybody to land Wiggins first overall much like they drafted Iverson first overall in 1996.  Wiggins is being hyped as the best prospect since LeBron James in the best draft since the one that saw James go first overall in 2003.  The counterargument to why the Sixers should not be “tanking” as it’s referred to is because in the NBA the team with the worst record only has a 25% chance of winning the lottery and getting the first pick. 

But even so, 25% is still a better percentage than any other team in the lottery and the 2014 draft is a lot more than Wiggins if the Sixers don’t get the first overall pick.  Duke wing player Jabari Parker and Kentucky power forward Julius Randle are both potential future NBA stars in addition to more athletic wingers in Wiggins college teammate Wayne Selden at Kansas and Kentucky’s James Young, and power forwards Aaron Gordon and Noah Vonleh out of Arizona and Indiana respectively.  There are many more talented prospects whose names will be called on draft night 2014, but I think you get the idea, it’s a loaded class and having two first round picks is ideal for a team looking to add a star or two.

In trading Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans, Hinkie did three good things.  The first of which was making their own 2014 pick a higher one than if they had kept Holiday, the second was adding Noel who figures to be a defensive focal point once healthy, and lastly he acquired another first round pick which he can use to add another potential star in next year’s first round barring New Orleans is not in the top five  of the draft as the pick was top-five protected. 

                                                                  Australian Associated Press
Brett Brown is the coach who Sam Hinkie
wanted to be a part of the rebuilding process.
After this draft night frenzy Hinkie took his time in hiring a head coach but found the right man for the right situation.  Brett Brown had been an assistant in San Antonio under Gregg Poppovich for years and with a rebuilding team it’s the perfect spot for an understudy to one of the association’s best coaches, to take on a team of his own and be a part of the future.

To sum it all up, though it may seem like I’m the biggest advocate in the world for the tanking philosophy, I’m having a hard time seeing how else the Sixers can assemble a contender.  As I mentioned earlier they brought in Elton Brand via free agency and he wasn’t the player he was with the Clippers.  They traded for Andrew Bynum.  He didn’t play a game.  Even with Holiday last season it’s hard to imagine Philadelphia is high on the list of many free agents when it comes to desired cities to play NBA basketball in.  So the only solution was to trade off the best thing they had and start the rebuilding process. 

Sometimes in the NBA teams have to get really bad to get good and this is the Sixers way of trying that.  Allen Iverson was “The Answer” and maybe Andrew Wiggins will be “The Solution” and while it’s a maybe and not a guarantee given the state of the lottery, I don’t think any Sixers fan has been saying “Maybe we’ll win the NBA Championship this year” since Allen Iverson’s prime had past.  Sam Hinkie has laid the blueprint to build a championship caliber team.   Sometimes it just takes time.



Saturday, October 26, 2013

Philadelphia reacts to Andy Reid’s hot start in Kansas City

It’s no secret that Andy Reid and the Chiefs are the only unbeaten left heading into the week eight Sunday slate.  A win for Kansas City against Cleveland will improve their win-loss record to 8-0 and quadruple their win total from 2012 of two.  I was able to talk to CSNPhilly.com columnist John Gonzalez to get his take on Reid’s success.

“I think he did a lot of really good things for Philadelphia.  He made the Eagles relevant again. He might have stayed a little too long.  It was time for him to go and it might be one of those things where it was better for everyone,” Gonzalez said as he believed the mutual breakup was the only option after 14 years together.  While the Eagles have had their ups and downs through seven games things are certainly a bit brighter than they were at the end of Reid’s tenure in Philadelphia.  But if that’s the case for the Eagles, then Reid’s found a whole new level of brightness in Kansas City. 

After 14 years, it seemed like it was
in everyone's best interests to move on.
Seeing videos of Reid and the Chiefs celebrating wins week after week, and especially the video of Reid kissing another CSNPhilly guy Derrick Gun on the forehead in an interview following the Chiefs week three win in Philadelphia in Reid’s homecoming, would make it seem like it’s a different Andy Reid than the one we saw in Philadelphia week in and week out.  The Andy Reid that stood in front of the podium, reeled off the injuries suffered during the game, and then reciting his signature “Time’s yours” seems to have disappeared.  

Gonzalez downplayed the fact that it’s a whole new Andy Reid in Kansas City and implied that Reid is merely enjoying every win he can get.  “He’s moved on and he’s winning and of course you’re going to be having fun if you’re winning, succeeding, and you’re undefeated,” Gonzalez said. 

But it was easy to get used to regular season success followed by playoff disappointment, with Reid at the helm for the Eagles.  That’s where we’ll really see if Andy Reid’s true colors show.  Kansas City is going to be in the playoffs.  But, once they get there, if Reid mismanages the clock or gets pass happy with a game manager in Alex Smith and a formidable running back in Jamaal Charles, and blows a playoff game and maybe a chance at a Super Bowl then it will be easy to sit back and say I told you so to Chiefs fans that had their hopes up.  But what if that doesn’t happen? What if Andy Reid wins a Super Bowl as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs?
Reid has transitioned smoothly after 14 years in Philadelphia
to his new role in Kansas City.

“I’m sure people would be a little jealous and a little envious. He got close a number of times and it didn’t happen,” Gonzalez said when asked how the city would react to Reid winning a Super Bowl.  Winning a super bowl is really the only way that will prove Andy Reid has changed because after all, no one ever said he couldn’t win in the regular season. 

Though Gonzalez did acknowledge there is a blueprint in place for Kansas City to contend for the Lombardi trophy.  “I think they’re legit.  The Kansas City defense has been the best in terms of turnovers and disruption.  They have a quarterback who doesn’t make mistakes and they have a good running back,” Gonzalez said.  Sounds a lot like the Andy Reid-Jim Johnson teams of the 2000s right?  Good defense, Brian Westbrook was that good running back, and Donovan Mcnabb put up monster numbers.  In the end those teams never got over the hump, but can Reid’s Chiefs eventually get to the top?   That’s the million-dollar question.

I also talked to some Eagles fans about Reid's success. Take a look here.



Monday, October 7, 2013

The state of Philadelphia sports under the microscope

The last time I posted I had talked with Chris Therien about the Flyers upcoming season and was putting my hope in the fact that maybe the Flyers would be the one Philly sports team worth counting on for some consistently good results.  What a difference two weeks makes.  This morning the Flyers fired head coach Peter Laviolette.  Twitter blew up and the tweet I kept on seeing was “Chip Kelly now the longest tenured coach in Philadelphia,” or some variation of that.  In less than a year Philadelphia has now seen every major sports team part ways with its coach, so there’s no time like the present to take a look at where we are.

I’ll start with the Flyers because Laviolette’s firing is what sparked this post.  It’s hard to really be optimistic about the hockey team.  While it’s only been three games a lot of the stuff that we saw last year which led to the Flyers missing the playoffs, has came back as a reason for the Flyers 0-3 start. 

                                                                                     Gene J. Puskar
Laviolette (right) is out and Craig Berube takes over as Flyers head coach.
Lack of goal scoring is the biggest reason they are where they are right now.  Three goals in three games won’t cut it.  I asked Therien when we talked about goal scoring and how important it will be given the uncertainty of the defense and goaltending, and right now it’s the downfall of the team. Goaltending has been pretty good actually and the defense hasn’t been terrible.  The Flyers have been outshot in three games 93-73 which has led to them being outscored 9-3 in the three losses.  For a team that relies so heavily on scoring goals, that’s not going to get it done.  Steve Mason and Ray Emery have held their own but it’s unfair to expect either one to be Bernie Parent, which is what you’re asking for when you only getting one goal a game.

It’s hard to say what happens next for the Flyers.  Maybe Craig Berube, a guy who’s been with the organization for quite a while can light a fire under them and they get play some inspired hockey.  But what’s a little unsettling about the Flyers is that they don’t seem to have a long term plan.  It’s one thing to miss the playoffs back-to-back years but carry some positives moving forward.  If the Flyers are to miss the playoffs again this season, it’ll be hard to pull any positives away because it will have been two straight down years which they failed to live up to expectations and there will be more problems than hopes for optimism, which explains why Paul Holmgren may be on the hot seat.

                                          Associated Press
Chip Kelly's Eagles are tied for first place
in the NFC East through five weeks.
On to the Eagles, who right now thanks for the mediocrity of the NFC East are in a first place tie in the division with the Dallas Cowboys.  I wrote in August expressing optimism for the Chip Kelly era in Philadelphia.  At 2-3 thus far with both wins in the division and all three losses out of the conference and some very winnable games on the horizon, the Eagles might be Philadelphia’s best hope right now.  But last week after losing 52-20 to Denver it seemed like it was going to be a long season and the Flyers would be the saving grace to what was otherwise a bleak outlook on Philadelphia sports.

While a lot can change in a week, there is some hope for the Eagles.  The quarterback situation is a little hairy right now with Michael Vick’s hamstring injury in yesterday’s win over the Giants as conversation about Vick or Nick Foles has came back again as it was the hot topic of discussion throughout training camp.  While neither one may be the answer long term the innovative mind of Chip Kelly should keep the Eagles afloat in the future, and if the Eagles are able to win the NFC East this year, then the first year of the Chip Kelly era should be viewed as an overwhelming success, regardless of how bad the rest of the division is.

Brett Brown and the 76ers open the season on October 30th
hosting the two-time defending NBA Champion Miami Heat.
I want to save a lot of my Sixers thoughts for a couple weeks as the regular season opener gets closer and closer but to sum up, general manager Sam Hinkie blew it up this summer and the direction seems to be the right one under head coach Brett Brown.

The Phillies are similar to the Flyers in my opinion.  The last two seasons the Phillies have entered thinking they are a playoff team and severely underachieved which led to Charlie Manuel’s firing in August.  Ruben Amaro Jr. could be, and probably should be, next as the Phillies failures the last two seasons can be viewed as a reflection on him as much as anyone else much like the finger can be pointed at Holmgren for the Flyers struggles.  While Ryne Sandberg’s winning percentage was a little bit better than Manuel’s in 2013, the Phillies problems go beyond the manager.  An aging nucleus continues to get older and health has been an issue with the Phillies as well.   I’m not really sure Paul Holmgren has a long term plan for the Flyers, and I don’t think Ruben Amaro has one for the Phillies either, which is why it wouldn’t surprise me if either one was fired.
                                                                                   Matt Rourke
The future holds lots of question marks for Amaro and the Phillies.

To sum it all up, times have certainly changed.  From 2007-2011 we had five years where seeing all four teams in the playoffs was normal.  Now, in this time of turnover, while some of the teams are in better shape than others, and though there are some positive signs despite four new head coaches in less than a year, it’s hard to really project and know what to expect.   Might as well hang in there, since that’s what we’re used to right?






Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Previewing the 2013-2014 Philadelphia Flyers season with Chris Therien

The Flyers are set to open their season in just over a week on October 2 as they will host Toronto.  I spoke with Flyers radio analyst and former Flyers defensemen Chris Therien about the upcoming season.

Therien is set for another season of Flyers
hockey alongside Tim Saunders in the booth.

Question: What are your expectations for the 2013-2014 Philadelphia Flyers?

Answer: I think it’s going to be a lot better.  Coming off a season like last year where they didn’t do very well I think it’s going to motivate them to do a lot better.  They made some good acquisitions this offseason and all in all my expectations are that I expect this team to be a playoff team.

Question: With the realignment taking effect this year and the Flyers division being very deep from top to bottom, as well as the entire Eastern conference, how do you think the Flyers match up with the rest of the East?

Answer:  Since I expect them to be a playoff team I expect their lineup to be healthy and I know it’s a lot tougher but you look at Pittsburgh, the Rangers, Washington, Carolina and Columbus coming over it’s going to be hard but if everything falls in place for the Flyers looking at it today yes the Flyers are a playoff team but a lot of things have to go their way this season like a lot of things have to go the right way for a lot of other teams this season.

Question: If you had to give the Flyers a grade based on their offseason moves, most notably Vincent Lecavalier, Mark Streit, and Ray Emery, what grade would you give them?

Answer: To me they improved at every single position on the team, there’s a lot of upside with experience but maybe a little downside with age.  I think I would give the Flyers a B+.  It’s not perfect but based on every position I feel like they improved and though you’d like to have a guy who’s 28 and not 36 they got better this offseason.

                                                                                      Alejandro A. Alvarez
General Manager Paul Holmgren and Chief Operating Officer of Comcast Spectacor Peter Luukko introduce Lecavalier, Streit, and Emery at a press conference over the summer.
Question: With another season of Flyers hockey, come more question marks about goaltending.  How do you see the Flyers goaltending battle between Steve Mason and Ray Emery?

Answer: Right now it’s a healthy competition I don’t think either guy is out to get the other guy.  It’s good competition which is always good.  I think this is a situation where both guys can come out and really be effective and help one another but ultimately it comes down to who’s playing better at the certain point in time.

Question: What do you expect the next eight to nine months hold for Flyers 2013 first round pick defensemen Samuel Morin?

Answer: He’s going back to juniors so I’m not really sure.  I loved what I saw in preseason he’s a big guy and in going back to juniors I expect him to progress and get a lot better.  I hope he gets better and is going to have a bright future in the NHL.

Question: After the trades of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter two summers ago, the ensuing season saw lots of young new faces like Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Matt Read, and Sean Couturier step in and fill the scoring voids left by Richards and Carter and a big reason why the Flyers were 3rd in the NHL in goals scored in the 2011-2012 season.  But last year the Flyers slipped to 9th in the NHL in goals scored.  For a team that always has its fair share of question marks on the blue line and between the pipes how important is it for them to get back to scoring a lot of goals which was key to their success two years ago?

Answer: Obviously there’s some guys that had down years last year.  It’s hard to gauge last year because of the lockout.  In fairness to a lot of guys because of the numbers it’s easy to look at it and think their numbers are less than they should be.  Couturier and Schenn are two guys that know the league well know, how you’re supposed to take care of themselves and those are two guys that need to have better years if this Flyers team is going to take big strides.

                                                                                      John DiGiacomo        
Captain Claude Giroux appears to be ready to go and figures to be
right in the middle of it all for the Flyers again this year.
Question: Any concern that Claude Giroux might be rushing back from his hand injury to play in the opener next week against Toronto?

Answer: I think he’ll be fine, he wouldn’t play if he weren’t able to play and I have no worries about that at all.

Question: We’ve seen the other Philadelphia teams over the past year fail to live up to expectations and it resulted in the Eagles firing Andy Reid, the Phillies showing the door to Charlie Manuel, and Doug Collins resigning as Sixers head coach.  What kind of pressure is on Peter Laviolette to get the Flyers back to the playoffs after having missed the playoffs last season, a rare occurrence for the Flyers within the last 20 years?

Peter Laviolette will look to get things fixed
and get the Flyers back in the playoffs.


Answer: I don’t want to say it’s make or break, obviously he needs to do better like everyone else.  Obviously they missed the playoffs last year but in terms of job status if you’re not winning you lose your job.  There’s no grey area about that.  From that standpoint I think Peter Laviolette wants to come out and have a good season because he’s a good coach.  You can’t coach being afraid of losing your job.





Friday, September 13, 2013

Lighten up and enjoy the greatness that is Johnny Manziel

                It’s games like tomorrow that make college football awesome.   Alabama is once again the number one team in the nation, primed to make a run at their third straight national championship.   Nick Saban and company have been in the headlines considering they’re looking to avenge their regular season loss to Texas A&M last season but especially given the recent reports about certain players receiving improper benefits.  But when it comes to headlines, there’s no one more discussed than the quarterback for the Texas A&M Aggies and defending Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel.

                It was hard not to watch SportsCenter over the summer and hear his name.   Yet time and time again I found myself questioning such reports and wondering if things were as bad as made out to be.  Whether it be his alcohol “issues” or autograph signings at the end of the day it only led to a suspension of one half in the opening game of the season which begs the question…Why can’t we just go back to looking at this guy the way we did last season when he successfully launched his campaign to be the first freshmen to win the Heisman?

                Last season in putting the Aggies on his back and bursting onto the scene in the victory in Tuscaloosa, Manziel had his Heisman moment and never looked back.  Tomorrow represents a chance for him to get the focus back to his on-field greatness and away from his supposed off the field problems.  By January this may not end up being the best game of the college football season.  But it sure seems like this has all the makings of what could be a wire to wire thriller and go down as the game of the year.

                                              Rich Grassle
Don't count him out in this year's race either.
                Manziel proved to all of us last year that he is arguably the most exciting player in all of college football.  He can make plays with his arms and his legs and his ability to escape the rush and turn nothing into something is like no other.  Whether or not he’ll translate to the National Football League is another conversation for another day.  But without question he’s still one of best players in college football which has been masked by all this offseason drama which really proved to be a whole bunch of nothing.

                Should his Aggies defeat the Crimson Tide for the second straight year, he’ll still be all over Sportscenter, but this time for the right reason.  All of a sudden the talk will shift from how long his suspension should be to what kind of a chance he has to win the Heisman Trophy again and what the win does for his Texas A&M Aggies as a contender in the SEC.  I maintained support for him all summer because I was amazed by what he did on the field last year and knew that once he got back on the field to expect the same thing. 

                The bottom line is that Johnny Manziel is used to being the center of attention.  Johnny Manziel is going to have the entire crowd at Kyle Field going nuts tomorrow in College Station in support of their Aggies and their Heisman Trophy winner in one of the most ruckus environments in all of a college football.  I believe he will embrace this chance to turn the attention back to how great he is on the football field.  Texas A&M 30 Alabama 27.



Thursday, August 29, 2013

Previewing the 2013 Heisman Race with Mike Kern

                                                                                  Kim Klement
The college football season kicks off tonight as South Carolina plays North Carolina. Like every sport there are preseason predictions that everyone likes to make and perhaps the toughest preseason prediction to make when it comes to college football is the Heisman trophy winner. Mike Kern of the Philadelphia Daily News has a Heisman vote and wrote about the Heisman race in today’s paper and the headline was “Never too early to start Heisman talk.” He’s right, and with the season starting up today I got in touch with Kern and got his thoughts on the competition for the 2013 Heisman trophy.    

                                                               Sam Greenwood
If you’re a college football fan, or even if you aren’t, you probably know who Jadevon Clowney is. He’ll lead his South Carolina Gamecocks tonight in the first game of the 2013 college football season against North Carolina. Clowney’s vicious hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl last season has been all over Sportscenter ever since New Year’s Day this year. While Kern believes Clowney will get a fair share of recognition ultimately it may not be enough. “I think Clowney will get a lot of support because he’s Clowney. But it’s hard to judge what a defensive player does compared to what a quarterback or running back does.” Kern said.

Assuming conventional wisdom prevails and 2013 is another year where a defensive player fails to break through and win the Heisman for the first time, the field is wide open this year ranging from quarterbacks such as Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, Georgia's Aaron Murray, and of course Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel who survived the off season and should play the whole season minus the first half of Texas A&M’s opening game against Rice which was the length of his suspension from the NCAA.

Then there are guys like USC wide receiver Marquise Lee, Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, and Miami running back Duke Johnson. All three could figure into the race but as Kern pointed out 11 of the last 13 Heisman trophy winners have been quarterbacks.

But over the span of a college football season a lot can change when it comes to forecasting the Heisman winner. “It can start whatever way it wants to start, what happens with the Heisman trophy is in week two someone’s in it and in week four he isn’t.” Kern said using Geno Smith last season as an example of this trend. West Virginia’s offense came out firing on all cylinders after a month of the season last year and Smith was the early favorite and by December he was nowhere to be seen when it came to the Heisman announcement.

                                                             Andy Lyons
Going into more detail about Manziel’s situation, now he’s at the point where he can be as much of a factor as anyone else in this race. Manziel’s coming out party was last year as he led the Aggies into Tuscaloosa and stormed out with a victory as this proved to be the defining moment in his Heisman season.
We now know that on September 14th Johnny Manziel will be on the field as Texas A&M plays Alabama this time on home turf in College Station. “If they beat Alabama in week three Johnny Manziel is the favorite to win the Heisman again.” Kern said, but being the Heisman favorite in week three is almost pointless because things are guaranteed to change week to week.
This is why it’s so hard to gauge where the Heisman race is going. Before last year no one knew who Johnny Manziel was, before Robert Griffin III’s Heisman season no one really knew who he was, and before Cam Newton won his Heisman he was just another college football player. So there’s a chance the winner of this year’s Heisman winds up being a name not even referenced in this piece.

“The Heisman trophy winds up going in a lot of cases to the guy who is the most visible on the highest profile team. It’s hard to define what makes the best player in the country. It almost becomes a popularity contest.” Kern said when providing insight on what he believes ultimately leads up some special player flashing the pose.
                                                                            Jay LaPrete
Kern used this rationale to lean towards Braxton Miller as his early pick for the Heisman trophy sighting Ohio State being in the Big 10 and making the most of their schedule to remain afloat and in the top ten for most of the season.

We’ll see if there’s a Geno Smith of this year, and if there’s yet another breakout performer that takes the college football world by surprise. Whatever happens, don’t be surprised by anything.








Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Expectations for the Chip Kelly era in Philadelphia

On January 16, 2013, the Eagles franchise officially turned the page. Jeffery Lurie and company had found the successor to Andy Reid after Reid had been their man for 14 years. That successor was Chip Kelly who bolted from the University of Oregon after a very successful four-year stint to take his up tempo, fast-paced offense to the NFL.

I believe this was the right hire for the Eagles. Now while many wanted former Seahawks defensive coordinator and now Jaguars head man Gus Bradley, after the Eagles had failed to accomplish their ultimate goal of hoisting the Lombardi trophy under a West-coast style offense it was time for a change, time to adapt to the new college-oriented option offense and who better to hire than Kelly.

Conventional wisdom says defense wins championships, and while that may be true, that doesn’t necessarily mean a defensive-minded head coach is who the Eagles needed to one day have that parade down Broad Street. Last year the Ravens won the Super Bowl and coach John Harbaugh was in his fourth season with the team but before being hired by Baltimore Harbaugh was the Eagles special teams coach.

Andy Reid was never a defensive mastermind, but in large part the reason why the Eagles got to five NFC Championships and one Super Bowl under Reid was due to the genius that was Jim Johnson. Since Johnson’s tragic passing, the Eagles have yet to find that defensive coordinator to engineer a top flight defense. Sean McDermott didn’t exactly get the job done, neither did Juan Castillo, and as for Todd Bowles…that didn’t work out either.

Now while current defensive coordinator Bill Davis and his new 3-4 defense might be as much of a flop if not more so than recent defensive coordinators and schemes, it’s important if the Eagles struggle defensively not to blame too much of that on Kelly. After all Jeffery Lurie, Howie Roseman, and the rest of the front office have shown year in and year out since Johnson’s death the inability to bring in another coordinator that could keep them stout defensively.

Getting back to Kelly though, the NFL is a changing league and an innovative head coach is just the guy to have in this situation. With guys like Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, and even Russell Wilson running read option now in the NFL, the popularity of something that was originally only seen on Saturdays is now becoming more and more prevalent on Sundays. Last year quarterback Marcus Mariota and running backs Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas combined for 3,220 rushing yards for Oregon and all three averaged well over six yards a carry.

Chip Kelly has earned a chance to coach in the NFL.
So now the question becomes does Kelly have the personnel on the Eagles roster right now to make a flawless transition and keep his offensive scheme through it all? One of the first moves the Eagles made after Kelly’s hire was to restructure Michael Vick’s contract and bring him back for the 2013 season. So after this move to me it became evident Vick would be team’s starting quarterback in 2013 barring injury, and we all know health has been a problem for Vick in his time in Eagles green. But why bring the veteran back on a one year deal with no intention of starting him for that one year? So the recent questions of who the quarterback will be have been in my mind unwarranted. Yes Vick has had turnover problems the last couple years but it’s not really fair to hold the last couple years against Vick and thus conclude the Eagles are better off with Nick Foles or rookie Matt Barkely this season.

The Eagles had three fatal injuries on the offensive line last season. Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, and Todd Herremans all missed significant time. This subjected Vick to lots of hits and was probably more than anything else the reason he missed time last season with a concussion. In addition, the Eagles are running a completely different offense this year as opposed to the style under Reid. Vick is without question the best suited quarterback for Chip Kelly’s up tempo style as Vick can make lots of plays with his legs in addition to having a strong left arm to air it out with as we saw Friday night on his 48-yard touchdown pass to Desean Jackson in the preseason opener. Couple Vick’s playmaking ability with a now healthy and improved offensive line after the Eagles drafted mobile offensive linemen Lane Johnson from Oklahoma, and to me it’s a no brainer for this year that when healthy Michael Vick needs to be the starting quarterback.

But Chip Kelly got a five-year contract. So if this year doesn’t go as planned, the defense struggles, and Vick goes down it’s important not to abandon ship. While Kelly’s fast-paced offense may or may not work this year, Eagles fans need to be slow in judgment, which may be tough after years of Super Bowl or bust. Since when does a first-year head coach come in, inheriting a 4-12 team and win a Super Bowl? I’m not trying to sound negative; as a matter of fact I’m very excited about the future of the team. We just don’t know what’s going to happen in 2013.

Best case-scenario Michael Vick thrives in the new offense and the Eagles overachieve and contend for a playoff spot this season. But even in a worst case-scenario where Vick goes down and maybe the Eagles have another 4-12 season, that’s not the end of the world. If Vick proves he is not the guy this season, the Eagles will have options at quarterback moving forward. Matt Barkley in the 4th round could wind up being the steal of the 2013 draft, but if the Eagles are high enough in next year’s draft dual-threat quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, and Tahj Boyd could become a reality and have lots of success in a Chip Kelly offense.

The Eagles have a plan moving forward with Chip Kelly at the helm and I’m all in. Kelly was 46-7 in four years at Oregon; he proved he deserved a chance at the next level. Now he has five years in Philadelphia. Don’t jump to any conclusions after one year, this is a project and maybe they have to take a step back before taking two steps forward, or maybe this is an instant success. Time will tell.



Friday, August 2, 2013

The fight goes on for NBA Basketball in Seattle

Growing up just outside of Philadelphia, it’s easy to for me to see what it’s like for a passionate sports city to go through hard times filled with disappointment. In a city that has one championship in the last 30 years, the connection between the teams and the fans has never diminished over time. That said Philadelphia isn’t even close to the bottom when it comes to heartbreak and disappointment.

The final game of an NBA season for a team with one of the worst records in the NBA wouldn’t be a game you would expect to draw a big crowd. But this was exactly what happened for final game for the Seattle Supersonics in the 2007-2008 season. A packed house of 16,272 fans at Key Arena watched their Sonics defeat the Dallas Mavericks 99-95. And that was it.

It’s been more than five years since the Seattle Supersonics left Seattle for Oklahoma City, since Clay Bennett and David Stern ripped the hearts out of the Sonics fans, since cheers of “Save Our Sonics” resonated throughout the city. Fans shouted profanities for the entire final game at Key Arena directed towards the two businessmen. But no one seemed to care enough to do anything about the outrage.

The documentary film Sonicsgate vividly depicts the rise and fall of the Sonics. “We wanted to get the history of the Seattle Supersonics all in one place. But we also wanted to expose all the people who wronged us and provide a place where people could come together about the topic and learn about it” said Jason Reid director and producer of the film.

Most people in Seattle had a bad feeling about the future when the team was sold to Clay Bennett and his Oklahoma City based ownership group. While Bennett lied continually saying he wanted to stay in Seattle, it’s fair to put some of the blame for the Sonics departure on previous owner Howard Schultz for selling the team to Bennett. Schultz had settled down in Seattle as the Chairman, Presdient, and CEO of Starbucks, and Reid said as time has gone by he gets even more angry with Howard Schultz who was working in the area and let the team get away.

When it became evident to Schultz that the team was all but gone, he filed a lawsuit against Bennett for breach of contract as Schultz believed the team was in good hands when he sold the team to Bennett and that they would stay in Seattle despite the need for a Key Arena remodel. This last-ditch effort to prevent the team from leaving was foiled by Stern who quickly intervened, and had been supporting Bennett’s efforts throughout the whole process in getting the team to Oklahoma City. To this day Schultz has remained quiet through it all refusing to accept blame and shying away from questions about allowing the team to be stolen by Clay Bennett.

Reid and the rest of the Sonicsgate crew are all Seattle natives and have continued to support the return of the Sonics since the release of the documentary traveling to NBA games and sitting courtside dressing as zombies, wearing Sonics gear, and holding signs, in an effort to gain attention for their cause.

                  per Reid's twitter acount @reid206
Reid (left) and another Sonicsgate staff member campaign for the Sonics and cheer against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the same time at a 2012 NBA Finals game in Miami.
Reid said while they love Kevin Durant, who played his rookie season in Seattle, they can never root for him while he’s playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder as they refuse to root for the organization that once was the Sonics. “It’s basically been a full time job for the last five years” said Reid when asked how he keeps his hand in advocating the return of the Sonics since the release of Sonicsgate.

Someone who can attest to high-intensity and strong passion for basketball in the city of Seattle is former Sonics star power forward Shawn Kemp. “The fans were so passionate and it’s one of the reasons my career really took off. I had to do a lot of hustle things and kind of get the crowd into it” said Kemp.

Aside from winning the NBA Championship in 1979 one of the better seasons in Sonics history was in 1995-1996 when the team made it all the way to the NBA Finals only to fall to Michael Jordan and the Bulls in six games. Kemp said he never would have imagined playing in that series that in just over a decade the team would no longer play in Seattle. But he remains in touch with point guard Gary Payton and forward Detlef Schrempf, two other key pieces to the run to the finals that year, and they frequently talk about the game today and how it has evolved from when they played together.

Michael Jordan watches as Kemp throws one down in the 1996 NBA Finals.

Though it’s been a long time since relocating, the city of Seattle continues to support the return of the Sonics, which is something Kemp realizes today as he makes his home in Seattle. “One of the reasons I’m still here is because of the close ties with the community” he said. It appears as if the community has transformed Kemp into one of their own and now he continues to fight with the rest of them for the return of basketball in Seattle.

Reid and Kemp both remain optimistic despite unsuccessful efforts from the Seattle based ownership group led by Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer to relocate the Sacramento Kings to Seattle. “The ownership group put up close to 600 million dollars to bring basketball back. That’s how badly we want basketball back, and we put up a heck of a fight” Kemp said. Both believe that league expansion is the best hope for their city moving forward. “You’re dealing with Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer and they don’t want to steal a team from a city like what happened to us. I guarantee you they’re telling the NBA they want expansion because they don’t want to be seen as predators” said Reid.

Given recent efforts, it seems to be only a matter of time as to when it will happen and not a question of if the Sonics will ever return and rightfully so. Lack of fan support was never among the reasons the Sonics left Seattle to begin with as a lot of it was beyond the fans control. If the Hansen-Ballmer group can get the job done, expect fans in Seattle to fill the stands like they never left.