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.