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
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 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?