April 17, 2017

Despite all the losing, Flyers, Sixers & Phillies are in great shape – just ask them

Enough!

Isn’t it time for fans of the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies to scream that word in unison as the losses pile up and the rhetoric gets louder around these three failing franchises?

Last week, the Wells Fargo Center went dark to major sports events for the next five months when the Sixers and Flyers headed home before the playoffs, and Phillies fans were outnumbered by Mets bozos across the street as the locals got swept in a three-game series.

The reality of a grim situation was right there, for all to see, as these three chronic losers flopped spectacularly once again. Let the record show that in the last five years, the three franchises combined have had one winning season – the Flyers in 2013-14, when they went 42-40 (including overtime losses.)

Those are hard, cold numbers, something the franchises cannot twist into moral victories or totally subjective declarations of hope. That’s what made last week so interesting, and so maddening. To hear the men in charge talk about their respective teams, you would think they’re being fitted for championship rings.

Ron Hextall, who is proving to be a lot less honest as a GM than he ever was as a player, actually said that his team is in “a good place.” Maybe so, if a golf course in April instead of the NHL playoffs is considered a good place. Hextall also said captain Claude Giroux is not in decline, and coach Dave Hakstol is smart.

The truth is, the Flyers were awful this season, starting with Giroux. His minus-15 tells the whole story; at 29, he is indeed in decline. And Hakstol, whose main job is to develop young talent, had one kid excel – Ivan Provorov. The rest were mediocre at best (Travis Konecny) or suffered serious regression (Shayne Gostisbehere.)

Meanwhile, the Sixers are entering the fifth year of a rebuilding program riddled with putrid play and medical mysteries. They ended the season with an eight-game losing streak, a finish that was especially nauseating to the fans who paid full price to see it.


Most of them bought those late-season tickets in anticipation of watching the two top draft picks, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, provide a glimpse into the future. Instead, Embiid has managed to play 31 of 246 games in his three NBA seasons, and Simmons got in zero games as a rookie.

Of course, that didn’t stop GM Bryan Colangelo from boldly comparing Simmons to Magic Johnson last week. How insulting is that? Arguably the best point guard in NBA history, Johnson has played exactly 905 more NBA games than Simmons.

Colangelo also called his medical staff “world-class” because he checked with the players and they all said the doctors were fine. Yup. If you’re going to evaluate physicians, it’s always best to ignore actual results and go with the opinions of people who throw a ball through a hoop for a living.

And then there are the Phillies, whom GM Matt Klentak insists are locked into a terrific rebuilding plan, even while his best prospect (shortstop J.P. Crawford) is batting a lusty .086 at Lehigh so far.

Klentak’s favorite theme is “uniformity of purpose.” Everyone in the organization is pulling together, he loves to say. But the everyday face of the franchise, manager Pete Mackanin, is in the final year of a contract that pays him less than $1 million a year. When will they be unified enough to reward the man doing all the heavy lifting?

The sad truth is, the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies are pretenders. They want the fans to believe they are in a good place, with players who someday will rival Magic Johnson, unified in their goal of holding a championship parade in Philadelphia.

The Flyers and Sixers didn’t make the playoffs. The Phillies just got swept by the Mets. All of the words dismissing those events, all of the promises of a better future, are just noise until the teams actually start producing some positive results.

And that’s why the fans should band together and tell their teams to stop talking, dammit, and start winning.

That’s why, in unison, the fans should scream “Enough!”

***

The NFL Draft is still 10 days away, but an undercurrent of dissent in Philadelphia is starting to derail the excitement, for good reason. The iconic Art Museum steps are obscured by construction, lanes along the Ben Franklin Parkway are already closed and parking in the busy area is severely restricted.

Should Center City brace for another logistical nightmare like the Pope’s visit, or are these just the normal inconveniences associated with taking over the national spotlight for three financially fruitful days?

Before you decide, here’s some information no one has reported. During an appearance on my WIP radio show last Friday, mayor Jim Kenney admitted he had no choice on where the draft would be held. The NFL used all of its considerable power to insist that it be right smack in the middle of the city.

Apparently, commissioner Roger Goodell wants the most powerful sport in America to take over Philadelphia. Even though the event would have created far less chaos at FDR Park or the sports complex, the mayor never even got to present his case. It was the Art Museum or no draft in Philadelphia.

As my colleague at WIP, Al Morganti, pointed out in his column on this website last week, it makes no sense to make inaccessible a part of the city that has become as popular as the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall. Like it or not, running those steps and touching the Rocky statue are part of the cultural fabric of our city now.

The draft is bound to be a huge success despite the current grumbling, especially if the Eagles end up with a great young player. Bars should be overflowing, restaurants should be cashing in big-time and the city will look great. It can’t fail, because the city is great.

But, given the fact that the NFL bullied Philadelphia into disrupting its loyal sports fans, the complaining you will hear over the next 10 days will be understandable.

***

In the future, the Sixers of this era will be studied by public-relations analysts as the most glaring example of how not to build a brand. At every turn, they find a new way to embarrass themselves.

Last week, they held three separate news conferences involving GM Bryan Colangelo, coach Brett Brown and injured No. 1 draft pick Ben Simmons. Brown did fine, as usual. It’s so much easier when you just tell the truth, isn’t it? Colangelo and Simmons were as inept before the mics as their team was on the court this season.

At one point, Colangelo actually acknowledged that “we’ve got some work to do” in relating to the fans. The issue came up because reports on Joel Embiid’s torn meniscus have conflicted for the past two months. First, the GM said the tear was almost too small to mention. Last week, there was a fear that it was completely torn.

Actually, Colangelo doesn’t have a lot of work to do. He just needs to be honest – something he has struggled with mightily since he took over the team last year. Instead of trying to hide the truth in an avalanche of meaningless words, he needs to say exactly what is going on. It’s that simple. His coach does it every day. Why can’t he?

As for Simmons, he came across last week as the spoiled brat he had been before joining the Sixers 10 months ago. His boorish attitude at the news conference – highlighted by one and two-word answers and a snippy tone – was reminiscent of his final year at LSU.

When he arrived here, Simmons proved he was capable of making an instant bond with fans, speaking with enthusiasm about the city and his prospects for a brilliant career. Then the broken foot happened, followed by a far-too-long rehab. Along the way, apparently, his personality reverted to its sour college style.

Simmons deserves a mulligan for his news conference last week, but he needs to know now that an attitude like that will win him no games on the court and no friends off it.

And finally ...

     • The goat of the early season so far for the Phillies is reliever Edubray Ramos, who decided last week that his grudge against Asdrubal Cabrera was more important than his team. After Ramos threw a ball over the head of the New York batter – who had flipped his bat after a homer off Ramos last season – the Phils lost the next four games, including all three to the Mets. Ramos’ pitch was not just selfish; it was stupid.

     • The most underrated Phillie, by far, is Cesar Hernandez. Over the past three years, the scrappy second baseman has posted batting averages of .272, .294 and now .313. He’s also showed some power early this season, with three homers, including the game-winner against Washington on Saturday. Everybody is excited about Scott Kingery in Lehigh, but his minor-league numbers are no better than Hernandez’ are in the big leagues. This is would be a good time to find a new position for the kid. That’s all I’m saying.

     • Dean Blandino will be analyzing referee decisions in a TV booth rather than in the NFL offices, and that’s great news for anyone who cares about football. A buffoon who thought it was OK to party with the Dallas Cowboys a couple of years ago, the ex-director of officiating took the TV money and ran last Friday, just a week after the league had given him the power to rule on all challenges. There’s no word yet on who will get that job, but at least it won’t be Blandino.

     • There was a serious allegation last week that Giants QB Eli Manning fudged his “game-used” merchandise in a scam against customers. As one of the first journalists to investigate the sports memorabilia market 30 years ago, I am not surprised. Nor will I be when fans find out Manning is hardly the only ingrate selling fake stuff. Here’s some advice to all sports consumers: Caveat emptor. (I knew someday I’d get to use those four years of Latin I took in high school.)

• The real story behind that fiasco in Dallas last week, with the Mavericks rolling out Cowboys ex-QB Tony Romo for an underserved honor, surfaced a couple of days later, when it was revealed that all of the Romo Mavs’ jerseys sold out before the end of the first quarter, lining the overflowing pockets of owner Marc Cuban. Proving once again that there’s no fan dumber than a Cowboys fan.