Some Friday Thoughts

A bunch of random stuff.

  1. #LABron? LOL. LeBron James will be a free agent in under 48 hours. Many people seem to think he’s going to the Lakers. He may want to live there more, in which case he’s probably going. If it’s a basketball decision though, he’d be foolish to go there. Right now, they have very little of value. If they trade for Kawhi Leonard, they’ll trade it all. Even if Kawhi and LeBron both get there, Golden State will beat them. I know the media wants the Lakers to matter again, but LeBron should let that mess of a team just die.
  2. Putin is going to play Donald Trump. If you’re not terrified of their impending summit, you should be. Trump is almost certainly going to end up giving the far more cerebral Putin something of value. Like Crimea.
  3. Anthony Kennedy was a rotten SCOTUS Justice. I know it’s sad he retired, and his replacement will probably be worse, but Kennedy was an awful judge. He just upheld the Trump travel ban, gutted union rights, and hurt women’s health care in the span of a week by voting just like Gorsuch and Thomas. He voted for Citizens United. He voted to make George W. Bush the President. Cry me a river, I have little good to say. Besides, he’s retiring to let Trump pick his replacement- because that’s what he wanted.
  4. Wtf World Cup?!? Germany, out. Italy, not there. USA, not there. Why would I care? Worse yet, Senegal got eliminated because of yellow cards. Go Mexico, I guess, but I’m struggling.
  5. The Phillies and Rangers should work out a blockbuster trade. As I stated before, the Rangers have some players who make sense in Philadelphia. Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, and Adrian Beltre would make the Phillies serious contenders- together. Matt Klentak can make it happen- and he should.
  6. The Democrats are probably going to lose Senate seats in 2018. The U.S. Senate race in Florida is polling all over the place, with both Senator Nelson and Governor Scott leading different polls. Democrats are in very difficult defense races in West Virginia, Indiana, North Dakota, and Missouri. There are several other races, namely Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and New Jersey, that could go south on them. Meanwhile, they have a shot to pick up Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee, and Texas. The odds aren’t great of Democrats picking up two Senate seats, and the majority. They may be as unlikely to hold all 49 they have now, too.
  7. Roe v. Wade is probably dead, but that’s not all. So the bad news is that Roe v. Wade will probably die at the hands of Donald Trump’s next SCOTUS pick over the coming few years. The awful news is that this will probably motivate Republicans to come out and vote this year to support their President. The worst news? Roe v. Wade may look like the top of the iceberg as issues of executive power, LGBT rights, election law, and issues Kennedy gave us the fifth vote over reach the court.
  8. Rising interest rates and cost-of-living issues are the top political issues no one is talking about right now. The cost of living has been rising faster than wages for decades, but that’s not news. The news is we’re in one of those periods right now. The cost of borrowing money is starting to rise. The cost of essential goods like gas is rising. The trade wars we are launching against Europe, China, Canada, Mexico, and others will raise prices. Their retaliatory tariffs will spike the cost of some of our key products, causing layoffs and outsourcing of jobs. Prices are going up, and that’s bad for middle America.
  9. Steven Tyler was in Bethlehem and I’m mad I missed it. I’ve been on an Aerosmith kick lately, particularly their 90’s era records “Get A Grip” and “Nine Lives.” The bluesy feel they took on during that period fits life right now. So naturally I missed Steven Tyler coming through Bethlehem for a solo show. Oh, and I missed Joe Perry and his band coming through, a month or two back. Bad timing never fails!
  10. I’m really angry at Joe Crowley. The reports are that he didn’t run much of a race to keep himself in. Now we’re being forced to listen on how “the future” is Dem Socialist. He probably would have lost on demographics, but at least he’d have tried. I will not support a Democratic Socialist party. We really didn’t need to give them there one good primary night of this season, just so they could sing the virtues of embracing a 28 year old, ex-Sanders organizer as our future.

Bridges, Smith, the Sixers, and the Sports Business

I decided to wait until after all the hot takes were done to write about the Sixers draft night- why compete with emotions and half baked responses? Here’s the honest truth- I really like Mikal Bridges and wanted him to be on the Sixers, but I love the trade for Zhaire Smith. I’m both disappointed and really happy my team did that. And I’m comfortable with both.

Let’s start from the beginning- it’s clear that Bridges and Smith were two of the top players on the Sixers board. The Sixers ended up with one of them, an unprotected first round pick, and a cheaper player against the cap. If you believe both Bridges and Smith are both going to be decent to good players, as I do, you can’t be mad with that haul out of number ten. If you believe neither will win an MVP, as I do, you can’t be too mad about either player being here or not. If you believe either may have been trade bait for a major star player, as I do, which one you keep is irrelevant.

I loved watching Bridges play at Villanova and appreciate his contributions to bringing two titles to the Philly area. I think he’s a little better than Zhaire Smith right now. He’s also older. I have no idea who ends up having a better career in the long run. Both are basically back-end lottery picks on paper, and could end up being All-Stars or busts. Smith has great length, and could be a plus defender and starter in the league. I’m absolutely fine with the Sixers keeping him. Frankly, both are fine by me.

The Sixers are not in the development stage anymore. They won a playoff series this season, and need to be looking for stars that can help them win a title. This trade helped them do that. They have plenty of cap space, and probably save a bit here. They drafted a player they can develop or use in a major trade. They acquired an asset in the deal too, which they will almost certainly trade for a star later. If they had turned down a trade that gave them this opportunity, all because they felt sentimental about Bridges’ local ties, I’d tell you to turn the television off. Basketball is an incredibly player friendly sport (compared to day football), and has a very progressive culture and CBA, but it is still a business. The Sixers job is to put the best product on the court that they can, and to try to win a championship. If sending Mikal Bridges to Phoenix achieves that, you have to do that. All signs say that will help them here. Don’t cry for Bridges- he’s still a Villanova legend, Phoenix is a cool city with a good young nucleus, and he’s getting paid as a number ten pick.

Sports are a business. You don’t want to end like the Phillies of five years ago- with a bunch of sentimental heroes from the 2008 championship run, who can’t play now. When you have a chance to improve your team, you do it. Winning teams sell tickets, sold tickets make money, and money helps players and owners in the NBA. It might have been cold, but the Sixers handled the Mikal Bridges pick perfectly- even if I hated watching it.

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.

The Future of the NBA?

Wednesday night could be a preview of things to come. No, it’s very unlikely that the Sixers and Bucks will play in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, since one of them has to lose the game. Still, this is the first time the two teams will play a meaningful, truly big game. I doubt it will be the last.

Without question in my mind, Giannis Antetokounmpo is the most interesting young player in the NBA not on the Sixers. The guy literally jumped over a guy to dunk. His “60 Minutes” segment this season was fascinating. He seems to like it in Milwaukee, and why not? This is their second straight playoff appearance with this young team. His teammate Malcolm Brogdon famously won last year’s Rookie-of-the-Year over the Sixers Dario Saric and Joel Embiid, which most Sixers fans did not approve of.

Sixers fans seem to have noticed. After winning their 50th game on Sunday, some fans were re-tweeting the above tweet. Wes Edens, the Bucks owner, took quite a shot at the Sixers after last season- which probably felt safe at the time. Just two years ago, the Sixers won ten games. Add up their last two seasons worth of wins and you couldn’t get to 40. Suddenly though, the Sixers are good. Embiid and Saric both have had more productive seasons than Brogdon. The Sixers will get a home court first round series, Milwaukee will not. Things have moved quite fast.

This is awesome for the NBA. The Sixers and Bucks are two of the most interesting teams in the league. A little heat between them is good. This is good TV. This is where the league is going after a few too many Warriors-Cavs finals.

Trust the Process

I distinctly remember a day, two seasons ago, where my cousin and I had driven to Philadelphia for unrelated reasons, but decided 30 minutes before the Sixers tipped off to buy two tickets- for $12 a piece (including tax). Our seats were good, the game was bad, but the time was fun. If you actually discussed “Philadelphia basketball” at that time, you were either referring to Villanova, or the entirely theoretical hope that someday, somehow, all the Sixers high level picks would turn into a good basketball team.

The 2015-16 Philadelphia 76ers won ten games. Out of 82. They went 10-72, which amounts to the second worst 82 game season ever. At that time, Sam Hinkie was being blasted by the local media, opposing owners, and even a lot of Sixers fans for how bad the team was. Joel Embiid hadn’t played a game yet, nor had Dario Saric, and Ben Simmons wasn’t a thought yet. J.J. Redick wouldn’t have signed with that bucket of slop team. Things were bad.

The 42-30 Sixers clinched a playoff spot Sunday when Indiana beat Miami. They’re fourth in the East right now. Joel Embiid is a legitimate cornerstone, All-Star big man. Ben Simmons is clearly the highest impact rookie in the league, a threat for a triple-double every night. Dario Saric should have won last year’s Rookie of the Year award, and is one of the most solid guys on the team. Redick and Robert Covington provide solid, all-around veteran play. Richaun Holmes, T.J. McConnell, and a supporting cast of high energy bench pieces make it fun to watch. The Sixers arrived in a hurry, and are one of the hottest teams in the league of late.

It didn’t happen easy though. “The Process” took two GMs, over a half dozen lottery picks, a few “tank” jobs, lots of patience from the fans, and plenty of questionable, tough calls for the front office. If we get down to it, at least half the lottery picks either never materialized in Philadelphia, or haven’t yet. The team sometimes seemed to self-sabotage the on-court product on the way, in favor of getting higher picks. Only once along the five miserable seasons did the Sixers actually draw the top pick. There was reason to have doubts.

The end result? None of us know when or if there will be a Sixers parade down Broad Street. There will be playoff games though, in a couple of weeks. There’s no way to know if LeBron James or any other star free agent will come to Philadelphia this Summer, or soon after, but the team is both good and can afford them. The good news though is that this team should be good for a sustained run of good basketball. The Process appears to have worked.

Always Trust The Process.

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.

From 8 AM Mass to MNF: Christmas Takes Years Off My Life

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Six AM on Christmas Morning. I’m 34, so I’m not jumping out of bed for gifts. I don’t have kids, so they aren’t jumping out of bed for gifts. I’m waking up though. I have to be over at the church at 8 am for mass, or I’ll “really disappoint” my 89 year old grandmother. So there I go, getting ready to face the day.

Christmas was really a frustrating affair yesterday. Up at the crack of dawn, to bed after the Philadelphia Eagles finished off an incredibly frustrating win over the Raiders. In between I listened to the insane rantings of 80 and 90 somethings, drank just enough beer to numb that noise, and didn’t get to watch my Sixers win on TV (So I streamed it on my phone as best I could, which wasn’t good enough, but what else could I do when grandma didn’t have ESPN?). I figured out my new phone well enough to work it, even if I still have a lot to learn. By the time the dust settled on the latest round of insanity with the elders, it was back to home, and as I said, the Eagles didn’t provide the kind of low-stress entertainment I had expected. They instead let the Raiders hang around all the way until the end of the 19-10 win. To say the day was long, and probably took about three years off of my life, is an understatement.

Even so, I’m grateful for the day. These elder relatives won’t be around forever, but they’ve already been around with me for over three decades. I’ve seen too many other friends lose people this holiday season to be ungrateful for what I have, even if it did drive me within an inch of death yesterday. While I might prefer Thanksgiving and New Year’s to Christmas, I still can’t say I’d trade this for anything else in the world.