June 19, 2017

After bold, brilliant trade, the Sixers can no longer preach patience

The Fudgy Wudgy man approached me Saturday afternoon on the beach in Sea Isle and asked with great exuberance, whether the Sixers were going to trade up in the first round Thursday night for Washington point guard Markelle Fultz.

I said it was looking good, though at that point I really didn’t know. Hey, I wasn’t about to ruin the young man’s day.

A few hours later, the Sixers reached agreement on a move that everyone can embrace – everyone from an aging talk-show host to a college kid pushing an ice-cream cart. Does anybody think it’s a bad idea finally to cash in some of ex-GM Sam Hinkie’s precious assets for yet another prospect considered the best player in the draft?

You may recall that the Sixers used the third pick in the 2014 draft to claim center Joel Embiid, the No. 1 talent that year who was still available only because of a broken foot. Last year, the Sixers had the top pick, and used it on swingman Ben Simmons. Fultz was the consensus best player this year.

The whole idea of The Process was to be bad enough for long enough to stockpile elite young talent. Well, you can’t do much better than the best player in three of the last four drafts, can you?

Of course, the addition of Fultz comes with high expectations that the Sixers can no longer discourage. Adding a deadly shooter and deft ball-handler like Fultz to the undeniable physical gifts of Embiid and the enticing potential of Simmons makes it impossible for the Sixers to preach patience any longer.

If the Sixers fail to win half their games next season, they will have only themselves to blame. If they continue to treat their fragile young stars with minutes restrictions, they will be preordaining their own failure. If they keep talking about the future, it’s only because they are afraid of the present.

It is no secret that I have never been an advocate of the Hinkie process, and I remain locked in the dissenter column. Four years of putrid basketball – minus one good month in January this year – is still too high a price to pay for merely a chance at excellence.

And remember, nothing short of a championship is the goal here. Throughout his three-year tenure, Hinkie made a point of saying playoff basketball was not nearly enough; the team ultimately has to be the best.

Can Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, Dario Saric, and all of the other promising young players become a transcendent team like the current champs, the Golden State Warriors? Probably not. But the Sixers now have age on their side. None of their core players is over 23, and none of the Warrior superstars are under 27.

Bravo to Bryan Colangelo and the Sixers front office for a bold trade that has given the franchise something it has needed for a very long time – hope for a good team now, and for a great team soon.

When you can please both the Fudgy Wudgy man and me, you’ve really accomplished something.

***

Now that the Phillies are clearly the worst team in baseball, the only interest that remains for fans this season is seeing how the top prospects will do when they get their chance in the big leagues.

If they get their chance in the big leagues.

You see, GM Matt Klentak has a morbid fear of promoting a promising young player because, well, what would happen if the kid weren’t quite ready and had to do back down to the minors? I’ve been saying for months that the young GM lacks the fortitude – the cojones, if you will – to rebuild the team. Now we all know it’s true.

Near the end of the recent eight-game losing streak last week, Klentak explained why Scott Kingery, Nick Williams or any of the other stud prospects have not yet been promoted. These are his words:

“I think the human emotion of it — once anybody reaches a certain level, they don't want to be sent back. Nobody wants to be demoted in our jobs. No player wants to come to the major leagues and then be sent back. Obviously we've sent players back before and you can hear the emotion in their voices and how disappointed they are. If you can avoid that, we'd love to avoid that."

In other words, Klentak fears failure more than he embraces success. For the next five weeks while Cesar Hernandez is out, there is no better second baseman for the Phillies than Kingery, but the kid – despite 18 homers and a .304 batting average – remains stuck in Double A Reading. That stand against promoting a 23-year old is not just bad for player development, it’s also bad for business.

And make no mistake about who is behind this timid philosophy for promoting young talent. The invisible Phils team president, Andy MacPhail, won a championship with Minnesota in 1991 after promoting a 21-year-old second baseman, Chuck Knoblauch, from Double A all the way to the big leagues.

The credo for everything associated with the Phillies these days has been patience. Fans need to be patient while the kids mature, even though the young players up here already – except for Aaron Altherr – have dazzled no one. Last week, the man most responsible for this mess, ex-GM Ruben Amaro Jr., used that word himself.

Well, count me among the fans who have lost their patience – if indeed I ever had any. I am tired of seeing bad baseball, tired of manager Pete Mackanin’s lame explanations for this nauseating product, and especially tired of waiting for an inexperienced, unproven GM to learn how to do his job.

***

Jason Peters, who led the NFL last season with 10 false starts, got the Eagles to jump early last week and add a year on his contract.

The news received little more than a passing mention during the final minicamp before training camp opens next month, but the decision revealed a great deal about how the Eagles are run.

Basically, Peters used his unique relationship with owner Jeffrey Lurie to shame the team into the extra $8-million signing bonus on a contract with two years left that was already fair, given the player’s age (35) and declining play. Peters even had the gall to sit out a week of OTAs recently to send a message to the Eagles’ front office.

Why did Peters get more money at a time when the Eagles are looking for ways to manage their salary cap? Because, as Peters put it, Lurie is “my best friend.”

Huh? A down-and-dirty offensive lineman from Texas is pals with an impeccably manicured billionaire from Boston? Details are still sketchy on how this relationship bloomed, but it is totally understandable from Peters’ perspective, since he has made $80 million of Lurie’s money over his eight-year tenure with the Eagles.

The sad truth is, Peters getting an extra year he didn’t deserve because Lurie likes him is precisely the reason the Eagles have won zero championships in the owner’s 23-year tenure. With the exception of one year, Lurie has always chosen friends over the best people to run his team.

He started with Joe Banner, a financial whiz with the personality of a crocodile. When Lurie finally cut ties with his top assistant after 18 years, the owner rolled in his new best friend, Howie Roseman. Only when Chip Kelly wrested control away two years ago – with disastrous results – has a non-buddy had final say over personnel.

Even now, Doug Pederson is the head coach because he is part of the Andy Reid family tree, though he remains a totally unproven commodity on the sidelines. Pederson’s most important attribute for the job was, and will always be, his friendship with Lurie.

Is this a smart way to run a sports franchise? No. But it will always be that way now, especially after the Kelly fiasco. That’s why the Eagles keep falling short in their goal of winning a Super Bowl – and why Jason Peters is a richer man today.

And finally …

     • Please allow me to retract my comment here recently that Andy Reid is a fraud. After word leaked out last week that ex-KC wide receiver Jeremy Maclin learned he had been cut via voicemail by GM John Dorsey, I realize I didn’t go far enough in my censure of the former Eagles coach. The same man who wooed Maclin away two years ago with promises of loyalty and love, didn’t even have the decency to relay the news himself. No, Reid is not a fraud. Fraud is too nice a word.

     • Marcus Smith indeed did show up for Eagles minicamp last week, and his first comment on why he blew off the OTAs was typical of the first-round bust: “No reason,” he said. Later, he pointed out the workouts were voluntary, and that he missed nothing because he had his IPad. Great. Then doesn’t it make sense for Smith to attend games from home next season, too?

     • The only person not admitting that the Flyers’ pick in the first round is either going to be Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier is the man making the pick, GM Ron Hextall. The ex-goaltender said he’s exploring all options because the best NHL players are rarely the consensus picks. Blah, blah, blah. New Jersey will take Patrick, and the Flyers will pick Hischier. Or vice versa. Any questions?

     • After breaking the Phillies’ eight-game losing streak last week with a key hit, utility player Ty Kelly said he gave Nick Pivetta some advice before the game. The rookie pitcher agreed that Kelly’s demand to focus on throwing strikes early in the count was a factor in his success. OK, I give up. Why is Bob McClure still the pitching coach?

     • In his 12th season in the big leagues, former Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz pitched an inning last week for Seattle, and he was surprisingly effective, giving up only one run. I knew the Phillies gave up on him too soon.

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