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June 11, 2018

Angelo Cataldi: The Eagles totally botched the White House visit

But first, Bryan Colangelo's family giveth, and taketh away

Opinion NBA
0531_Malcolm_Jenkins_USAT Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports

Malcolm Jenkins is still processing, and determining what to do next after the NFL's recent National Anthem Policy was announced.

Bryan Colangelo got fleeced by Boston in last year’s draft, was atrocious at the simple skill of communicating with fans and did nothing to fix the worst medical staff in American sports. None of those problems led to his dismissal.

No, the Sixers GM was forced out last week because his wife sent out some mean-spirited tweets.

Go figure.

In the end, the Colangelo saga was, more than anything else, all about family. Bryan got the job because of his father, and he lost it because of his wife.

Did he know his wife, Barbara Bottini, oversaw four Twitter accounts in which she divulged some team secrets and offered up some derogatory comments about Bryan’s colleagues? Or was his paranoia over how people saw him so deep that he was behind the accounts himself?

The truth is, it really doesn’t matter how he lost his job. Despite the team’s 52-win season, he deserved a pink slip on merit. Four years of the intentional losing and the intolerable eccentricities of his predecessor, Sam Hinkie, handed Colangelo an ideal situation, and still he managed to screw it up.

Anyone watching the second round of the playoffs – with No. 3 pick Jayson Tatum leading the Celtics while No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz was bolted to his seat on the bench – knew Colangelo was clueless in judging talent. Anyone who listened to the GM stumble and bumble his way through news conferences knew he also struggled with communication – a flaw he actually admitted.

And anyone who watched how the medical staff mishandled Fultz and Joel Embiid realized that Colangelo had no idea what he was doing. He actually called the doctors “world-class” after they allowed Embiid to play with a serious knee injury in 2017, a blunder that cost the franchise center the last three months of the season.

The turbulent nine days that preceded Colangelo’s inevitable departure provided a long-overdue look into the dysfunction of the Sixers that most fans have chosen to ignore. Bryan Colangelo was merely a living symbol of the ineptitude of the billionaire owner of the team, Joshua Harris. So far, Harris has tried the quick-fix approach with Andrew Bynum, then the long game with Hinkie and then the whatever-that-was era with Colangelo.

Harris is so disconnected from the fans, he thought nothing of arriving and departing his news conference last week in his trusty helicopter – probably the same one that landed on a field a few years ago and ruined a kids’ soccer game. Harris answers to only one superior, the almighty dollar. He has never given a damn about the fans of any of his franchises, and he never will.

So unmoored to Philadelphia is Harris that he hired a New York law firm to investigate Colangelo, held owners’ meetings to decide his GM’s fate in New York and couldn’t leave fast enough after the announcement at the Camden, N.J., team headquarters for his beloved digs in the Big Apple. He should name his next company Carpetbagger International.

No slave to the truth, Harris showered Colangelo with praise at the GM’s going-away party and vowed, once again, to take the slow and smart approach to hiring a replacement. Did he forget that Colangelo was hired not through a prudent search but because Bryan’s dad, Jerry, forced his son into the job after the NBA shoved Hinkie out? Did he think we forgot?

Meanwhile, Bryan Colangelo will become a punch line to every GM joke for at least the next few years, the sports executive foiled by the flying Twitter fingers of his blindly supportive wife. It’s safe to say he will never run a sports franchise again.

Which, based on the lousy job he did here, is a very good thing.

***

The Eagles have won universal praise over the past week for the way they handled the aborted White-House visit. Actually, they botched the situation every step of the way.

First, the Super-Bowl champs turned the tradition into a political issue by harping on President Donald Trump’s loud stand against anthem protesters. Accepting the congratulations of the leader of our country – like him or not – had nothing to do with anything he previously said or did. It was an illogical position from the start.

Next, the Birds tried a lame attempt to change the date of the visit to a time when they knew the president would be out of the country. How did the same team that used the brilliant Philly Special come up with a blatantly stupid strategy like that?

Then the Eagles notified the White House that only a handful of players, along with owner Jeffrey Lurie and mascot Swoop, would actually attend the event, forcing President Trump to cancel the ceremony. Of course, the president was wrong to suggest the Eagles “abandoned” their fans, but he was right to avoid a celebration with one-tenth (or less) of the team there.

And finally, coach Doug Pederson fumbled the ball later in the week when he not only fended off all questions about the situation but also copped an attitude about it. His notion that the team was “moving forward” would be fine once he offered some insight into what was going on behind the scenes. He offered closure to no one with his snippy approach.

If any of this comes across as a defense of the president, perish the thought. His obnoxious handling of the anthem issue – calling the protesters “sons of bitches,” for example – was doomed to fail from his very first tweet, but it doesn’t excuse the Eagles’ mishandling of the mess.

The Super-Bowl winners should have gone to the White House because the fans wanted one more reason to cheer, then the players should have smiled for the cameras the way so many winners have done before, and after that they should have come home and talked about the experience.

Instead, Malcolm Jenkins resorted to hand-held placards for a day instead of offering anything substantive, and Doug Pederson acted as if it was an imposition to deal with a major national story.

There were no winners at the White House last week – and that includes the current NFL champions.

***

With the Bryan Colangelo controversy and the White House fiasco holding Philadelphia’s attention, something important happened with the Phillies that almost everyone missed. They were accused of being dumb – by one of their own players, no less.

Jake Arrieta, the first athlete in our city’s history to receive $30 million for one season, blistered the organization for being “the worst in the league at shifts” after a loss in San Francisco on June 3. The implication was that the team’s all-in approach toward analytics was an abysmal failure so far, at least on defense.

Remember, the Phillies have taken a whole new direction in the organization over the past three years by hiring a baseball savant (Andy MacPhail) as president, a Dartmouth grad and numbers wizard (Matt Klentak) as GM and an analytics devotee (Gabe Kapler) as manager. The one thing they would never be again – or so they thought – was dumber than their opponents.

Based on Arrieta’s comments, they are really, really bad at one of the fundamental elements of statistical analysis, the placement of fielders. In other words, either the spray charts created and refined by the 18-member analytics department or the deployment of that information by Kapler and his assistants have been failing spectacularly.

When I asked Kapler about Arrieta’s rant last week on my WIP radio show, he all but acknowledged the validity of the ace pitcher’s complaints. Of course, the manager couched his response with profuse praise for all parties involved, but then he admitted the shifting was still very much a work in progress. Huh? Why is knowing the best place to play your fielders a process that requires months to master?

It’s safe to say the Phillies profited from a soft schedule and a weak division in starting fast this season. It’s also safe to say they are still very young and inexperienced, with holes everywhere on the roster. They are not a playoff team yet. The fans can accept that reality.

What they shouldn’t shrug at is an indictment of the one area where they should be better than anyone else, and that’s the statistical edge a team gets when it understands analytics and uses the numbers properly.

Jake Arrieta said last week that the Phillies are not doing that. In his own way, he called an organization that has been extolling its own intelligence actually not very smart at all.

OK, now you’re caught up on what’s been happening with the Phillies.

And finally . . . .

• Was I the only one who watched the Washington Capitals celebrating their first Stanley Cup last Thursday night and re-lived the glory of last February with the Eagles? The joy on Alex Ovechkin’s face was reminiscent of Nick Foles’ jubilation. The euphoria of the fans in the streets of D.C was a sweet reminder of our own sense of fulfillment four months ago. Winning a championship is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? That warm feeling never really goes away.

• Gabe Kapler is obviously still learning on the job, but the Phillies manager really blew it last week when he removed from a game the best arm in his bullpen, Seranthony Dominguez, and put in his worst, Adam Morgan. Dominguez had walked a batter and given up – ready for this? – the third hit in his 16 innings in the big leagues. When I pressed him on a decision that cost the Phillies a big win in Chicago, the manager said he would do it again. Hey, maybe the rookie manager is not learning on the job after all.

• After campaigning for the last several years to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Terrell Owens announced last week that he will be the first player ever not to attend his induction ceremony this summer in Canton. The former Eagle gave no logical explanation for the decision, saying only that he plans to celebrate in his own way. If this wasn’t T.O., his behavior would be alarming. Because he’s T.O., it isn’t.

• With each passing week, the reports on Carson Wentz and his surgically-repaired left knee have been glowing. More and more, it appears that he will defy the odds and be ready for the season opener on Sept. 6. So, let me repeat what I wrote here two weeks ago: Based on interviews with half a dozen orthopedic specialists, I can say with absolute certainty that the Eagles quarterback will not be fully healed on that date. It is not medically possible. If the doctors clear him to play nine months after surgery, it will be a mistake.

• Speaking of Wentz, his own digital TV show, Wentz Bros Outdoors, is now streaming on the Outdoor Channel website. In it, he and his lookalike brother Zach head out into the wilderness hunting whitetail deer, shooting clay pigeons and braving the elements in their frozen North Dakota homeland. I love the kid, but I’m going to pass on this one. I’m pretty sure I would end up rooting for the deer.

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