One Month of Christmas, Day 2

Good day and Happy Monday, November 26th, 2018. Today is 29 days until Christmas. Here’s today’s random thoughts…

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Our Immigration System Has Been Broken for a Century Plus, but Trump is Creating a National Disgrace

What’s happening at our Southern Border Right Now is a disgrace. Trump sent several thousand troops to the border in a basic political stunt, to pretend he’s getting tough on illegal immigration. The reality? It was a publicity stunt. Now he’s violating American and international law by not allowing asylum seekers to enter our country while their claims are investigated and decided. This is not supposed to be something up for discussion- it’s long-standing law. To make matters worse, he’s literally having us tear-gas people on the Mexican side of the border, for some unknown, indefensible reason. In the ultimate sign that their isn’t intelligent decision making going on here, he might just close some border points altogether, making things inconvenient for Americans who cross the border on the regular.

I’m reminded throughout this mess that we are a nation of immigrants, and that my family has immigrant roots too. My great-grandfather Joseph, from my father’s paternal side of the family, came to the United States with his brother from Poland, immigrants who would not become citizens for years after their arrival. My great-grandmother Julia and her husband, from my father’s maternal side of the family, came to Ellis Island from Czechoslovakia, and also took years of working here and raising a family before getting citizenship. None of these relatives were high-skilled “desirable” workers, in fact some of the family members who came here had been gassed in World War I and were what I would call insane. They were all welcomed here to work though, and they built a life a world away from places in Europe where they no longer felt okay with staying. It’s the best side of America that they were allowed in.

In 1892, Ellis Island began processing immigrants as a port of entry. In 1924, just months after my Great-Grandmother Julia Kravchak arrived from her village of Udol, in present day Slovakia, the Immigration Act of 1924 shut down Ellis Island as an immigration entry processing center, and turned it into a detention center for undocumented immigrants in our country. That law created quotas for immigration, largely racist quotas that favored immigrants from white nations over people from non-white nations (at that time, largely aimed at Asian nations). While the law has been amended since then, these same quota systems have largely survived in American law. They have caused much of the backlog of those waiting for entry from Mexico, Central America, and South America, while making it easier to come from “more desirable” places. Our asylum system, our system of refugees, and our educational visa system have all worked fairly decently though, and have been good for our society and economy. Or, at least they were. Now Donald Trump’s border policy has become to fire tear gas and rubber bullets at families trying to flee violence and oppression. There is nothing to be proud of here. This is our Immigration Act of 1924, except that this time we’re actually being violent.

I’m not arguing that we should have an open border, because I don’t think we should. I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t deport criminals, because I think we usually should. I’m arguing we should be a humane people, because I think we always should.

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The Eagles Still Suck

Yes, they won a football game yesterday. Yes, they’re 5-6, and one game out of first place. Yes, three of their final five games are against the two teams in front of them, so they just need to win games to win the division. Yes, someone has to win the division, host a playoff game, and then has the same shot as everyone else in the NFC. With all of that said, the Eagles stink. They have guys literally coming in off the street playing in the defensive secondary. They have no deep threat, aren’t committed to the run, and have a quarterback who still seems just a little bit off this year. Oh, and they’re not as good in the trenches on either side of the ball. And the coaching is worse. 

Who are they really going to beat though? New Orleans? The Rams? Kansas City? The Patriots? The Chargers? Please let me know, because I don’t see a contender they can beat, right now. As a result, my enthusiasm is low.

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Climate Change, Climate Change, Climate Change, and yes, more Climate Change!

I don’t think we can scream loud enough about the U.S. Government’s report on Black Friday the climate change is an imminent problem that will hurt our society across all demographics and income levels. The report, mandated by law across many agencies not only said climate change is real, or that it is man-made, but also that it is dangerous. Of course the Trump Administration tried to release it on Friday of a holiday weekend.

Democrats, but also really any people who care about Earth’s future, need to scream bloody murder about this. I may think less of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her Pelosi protest stunt than an outdated can of spam, but she is absolutely right to be calling for a “Green New Deal” right now- Democrats need to latch onto this, party wide. First off, in nakedly politically potent terms, jobs. Second off, we have to move towards a more green economy, now, to avoid disaster. The fact is, there’s no sane argument *not* to move towards a green economy.

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So You Think You’re Smarter Than Your Dog?

This really isn’t a long post here, but let’s dive in here- are you smarter than your dog? Sure, dogs can’t build the intricate society we have, with houses, currency, relationships, and entertainment. On the other hand, who cares? Dogs don’t care about all of that. They like to eat, play a bit, go outside a few times a day, and sleep. In many ways, I envy them.

Today though, I was talking to my dogs and it hit me- when I talk at them, they seem to grasp my language and know what I mean. When they bark at me? I have no idea. So their brains managed to evolve enough to understand another species, but mine didn’t.

Who saved who again?

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Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid are the Best Sports Entertainment in Philly

No, for real, fight me on this. Jimmy Buckets has been here for like two weeks and has two walk-off baskets. Joel Embiid is throwing himself alley-oops off the glass. Embiid is playing like an MVP, leading the league in 30 pt., 10 reb. games so far this year. I realize maybe Ben Simmons isn’t quite leaping forward as hoped, but he’s your third scoring option now- does he need to? Not in November.

And since I know you’ll bring up Markelle Fultz- relax. He’s 20. He should be in college yet. Yes, it’s possible he has a debilitating nerve injury and is shot. Maybe he’s a head case. Or maybe he’s just young, and has been snake-bit by injuries and an impatient fan base. Why trade him now, at pennies on the dollar? Put him on the bench, get him safe minutes, and hope he turns into 70% of what you hoped in a few years.

But for now, just watch The Process and Jimmy Buckets amaze you.

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Run DMC’s “Christmas Time in Hollis, Queens” is a Better Christmas Anthem than Mariah’s Song

Hear me out- I don’t hate Mariah Carey. I don’t even hate her over-played “All I Want For Christmas.”

But the reason for the season is “Christmas Time in Hollis, Queens.” It’s getting overplayed, in NBA and car commercials. But it’s just better, more authentic, and didn’t play to the fantasy land Christmas love story narrative of millions of teens in my generation. They just wanted you to know they loved their mom’s cooking.

And I do too.

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Keep Trusting the Process

LeBron to Philly didn’t happen. The truth is, he wanted to live in LA. It doesn’t matter that the Sixers have a better team, and one of the most passionate fan bases in the league, and a great history. It doesn’t matter that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are the most exciting duo in the East. None of that mattered. LeBron wanted to go Hollywood. I guess his wife and kids wanted to be at the beach. That’s really all that mattered here.

All of that is fine. LeBron would have short-term made the Sixers the favorites in the East. The long-term outlook still rides on the development of their young core. If you don’t think Joel Embiid will improve as a presence on the glass, forget it. If you don’t think Ben Simmons will learn to shoot, forget it. If you think Markelle Fultz is a bust, the first two better happen. The Sixers are very young, and should improve. If not? Then signing LeBron wouldn’t have mattered.

The Sixers enter next season really only behind Boston in the Eastern Conference’s elite. They won 52 games and a playoff series in what amounted to the first full season for Joel Embiid, and the actual rookie season for Ben Simmons. They should only get better. You could put the team on auto-pilot right now and predict them to lose the Conference Finals to Boston- which really isn’t that bad this early in their championship window. I obviously don’t believe that’s what will happen, I expect moves to come. They’re in contention to win the conference and they’re going to try to do that.

I’ve pretty much soured on trading for Kawhi Leonard though at this point, and not because I don’t think he’s great (he’s top five in the game for sure). Getting Kawhi on a one year rental, when he seems intent on getting to LA, when the team would only be a coin flip to win the East then, and a huge underdog against Golden State still, seems like it might not be enough of a reason to trade the likes of Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Markelle Fultz, and multiple picks. Yes, if he left the Sixers would have close to $50 million in cap space to use, and could recover, but it would still be quite a hit, for the potential of marginally better results. The Sixers may do just as well with what they have.

LeBron will languish in the West with the headache of Lonzo Ball, the expectations of an impatient fan base, and the inability to beat Golden State. At this point, we probably won’t ever see him in an NBA Final again, so it’s time we just forget about him. The path forward for the Sixers to become a championship contender is right in front of them. Look for opportunities to bring in a star to grow with the young core, and develop the young core. Add pieces that make sense.

Basically, Trust The Process.

The Process Hits It’s Latest Wall

Back before the season, I predicted the Sixers would go 47-35, finish as the six seed in the Eastern Conference, and maybe win a playoff series. After a 52-30 season, the Sixers were third in the conference. They took down Miami in the first round. They’ve exceeded all of my expectations.

Back before game one of the Eastern Conference semi-final series in Boston, I said the Sixers would win the series convincingly in six games. I said Boston lacked a star on par with Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons. I thought Boston was simply too banged up by the injury bug to compete with a far more athletic club. I looked at Rozier and Smart as the worst back court of the eight teams left and expected to exploit them. Clearly this series has met none of the expectations.

Depending on how you want to view those two paragraphs, that pretty much dictates your view of this team now.

You have to give Boston a lot of credit, they have exceeded expectations. Al Horford is showing himself as possibly the most valuable player on that roster, healthy or hurt. While I still see Jayson Tatum as the 2017-2018 answer to the NFL’s 2016 Dak Prescott, it’s very clear that he is an excellent player, and arguably the most matured player to come out of last year’s draft. Smart and Rozier are proving they are more than rotational players. Jaylen Brown is playing effectively through injury. Brad Stephens game plan to effectively deal with Ben Simmons has worked perfectly. It’s not just Philly playing badly, Boston plays great team basketball, and it’s shown up in getting them through the last two games. Up 3-0 now, they’re probably going to be hosting LeBron for game one next week.

This series has been really disappointing though for a Philadelphia fan. The team’s ability to light up the scoreboard against Miami is gone. Simmons lack of a jumper is finally hurting. Joel Embiid has actually been really good, but he can’t seem to buy a foul call (God, the NBA loves Boston.). Markelle Fultz is back in the abyss, not even appearing in these games. Dario Saric finally looks tired. Belinelli, Ilyasova, and the rest of the bench cast that was so good for the last two months just hasn’t decimated Boston as hoped. Brett Brown seems overwhelmed finally. He’s been questionable in using his bench. He’s been questionable in not using his bench, like the gritty Justin Anderson, at times. He’s let the team jack up threes even when ice cold (looking at you, Robert Covington), despite the fact that they aren’t built to live that way. And of course, he’s refused to use his timeouts to stop Boston runs, even with a very young team. Things have gone bad.

Despite all that, I will tend to judge the 2017-2018 Philadelphia 76’ers by the first paragraph I wrote here. This team exceeded every reasonable expectation I had for them. They won 52 games and a playoff series. Two years ago they won 10 games, last year it was 28. Ben Simmons played a full season and would get my Rookie-of-the-Year vote. Joel Embiid went from playing about one college season’s worth of games in his first three years to having an All-Star season that he got through with only modest injury issues. Dario Saric showed you his rookie year was real. Brett Brown showed you he can manage and motivate his young squad. In short, they accomplished most of the missions.

Unfortunately, or fortunately if you want, the Sixers future faces a far higher bar now, due to their success. The Sixers were third in their division, and must drastically improve to pass Boston or Toronto. They face major issues ahead. Ben Simmons has to learn how to shoot. Can they re-sign J.J. Redick, and to a contract that doesn’t restrict their ability to spend. After a very troubling rookie season, what is Markelle Fultz? As great as Joel Embiid is, can he take the next step, and dominate the paint like a Hakeem Olajuwon for years to come? Can Robert Covington gain consistency? What are the future roles of bench pieces like T.J. McConnell, Justin Anderson, and Richaun Holmes? Can Brett Brown get the team to cut the turnovers and take better shots? Can Brown manage his timeouts better?

The Sixers need to be honest about where they are now. The fans will expect this team to quickly become real contenders. They probably need to obtain a real star piece this Summer- whether it’s LeBron or someone else. They need to answer the questions about the team they have. They have to realize that while this season was a lot of fun, the Sixers aren’t really all that close to where they need to be yet, and Boston isn’t going away. We traded them another high pick in swapping the Fultz and Tatum picks, they get their best two players back next year, they have a solid roster now, and they have a great coach. The Boston mountain in front of the Sixers is quite tall, and not going away soon. It’d be nice if they started scaling it a little by winning a game or two now to extend this series, if only to show everyone they aren’t so far away now.

A Stall in the Process? Or Growing Pains?

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When the Sixers finally sealed up their win on Christmas Day over the Knicks, I was relieved. Kristaps is nice, but the Knicks are hot garbage that is going nowhere near a title any time soon, and yet they sat ahead of the Sixers in the standings going into this game. Sure, the standings mean nothing at this point in the season, and won’t for another month or so, but the Knicks stink. Their fans never just lay down and accept the futility that is their franchise, so if the Sixers had lost, it would have been bad. Fortunately, they didn’t though, and it wasn’t all that close. A less than 100% Joel Embiid proved to anyone wondering that he’s the dominant big man in the division moving forward.

So here’s the thing though- the Sixers have been really, really rotten in December. They’re 10th in the conference right now, which is frankly terrible- it’s neither in the playoffs or high in the lottery. They’re 15-18, which is not good. Markelle Fultz has missed significant time hurt this season, which is something I thought we were done with in Philadelphia this season. Their sitting of Joel Embiid is at best frustrating, and at worst overly careful. There’s issues here. Many of them sit at the feet of Brett Brown. My chief three beefs with the team right now:

  1. The offense doesn’t utilize this team’s best strengths. Look, I get it, the three pointer is fun, and it works well in Golden State, but it is not this team’s best offense. Joel Embiid can get to the rim at will, even if he does have the ability to shoot from outside. Almost no one can stop Ben Simmons from getting to the rim, and he should always attack it, even if he’s kicking the ball out. Dario Saric has good shooting nights sometimes, but he is at his best around the basket. These guys are all big, they can all score at the rim, and they all should score at the rim. It’s not Brown’s fault that Redick and RoCo have been streaky, but it is his fault that he’s not using his talent their best way.
  2. I don’t like the rotations right now. I’d really like to see less of Amir Johnson, and more of Richaun Holmes. I think I’d like to see Bayless and McConnell fall further back in the rotation, though I think it’s a reality of life that they will play a lot until Fultz is back. As long as Fultz is getting his minutes after he returns, I’ll live with that one. I’m getting tired of both Johnson getting the bulk of the bench minutes as a big, and the fact that we’re not seeing more Richaun Holmes. Holmes is a legitimately nice talent, and I want to see him on the court more. In fact, I want to see any young guy with talent getting the bulk of the opportunities this season, because I had no expectation of the Sixers winning an NBA Championship in 2018. This team can play with anyone, but that doesn’t mean I expect them to win anything yet.
  3. I did expect this group to be better defensively than they are.

So yeah, I’m a bit peeved at Brown’s handling of this team in the earlier going, and want to see some changes, but I’m not really all that bent out of shape about it. Sure, I’m not all that psyched with this team losing games to Sacramento, Chicago, Phoenix, or the Lakers, all teams I expect them to beat, or getting blown off the court by Toronto, a team I expect them to compete with, but it’s December. Basketball season starts at Christmas, in reality. At the end of the day, I pegged them for a sixth or seventh seed type team in this conference, and they should still be able to get there. The season is young.

This team is really young too, and it’s worth noting that this season is largely a learning season. Their struggles closing out games may be ugly to watch, but they are a part of becoming a professional team. Many of these players are now reaching career highs in games played in a basketball season (yes, after 33 games). If Brown is playing his veterans more early in the season to pace out the young guys for the long haul, I’ll live with some losses. If Joel Embiid is sitting a bunch of December games because the goal is to get 60-65 games out of his this season, I don’t like it, but I’ll live with it. I want to see this team finishing the season with Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, and Saric all on the court playing starter minutes, taking the team to the playoffs. That’s what this season is really about, not how I feel in December. We should remember that this group’s core is all around 21 years of age, and in their first or second real NBA season. They’re not supposed to be a finished product, yet.

I’d like to see this trip out West get them back on track. They have some momentum out of the win over the Knicks, and now they get to play Portland, Denver, and Phoenix on the trip, three teams that are maybe not rotten, but all are beatable. A 2-1 trip would be quite nice heading into a much harder home-stand against the Spurs, Pistons, Celtics, and Raptors. This would be a very good time for this team to right the ship and bit and get on a little run.