Friday, January 15, 2016

Can You Doug It?

First things first, I would like to apologize for the title of this blog.  I wanted to avoid anything "teach me how to Dougie" related (RIP Cali Swag District) so I chose to paraphrase the early 1980s classic "The Warriors" instead.  Corny, but I can live with it.  Now let's get down to business.  The tumultuous offseason for the Eagles gained a bit of stability this week as Doug Pederson has been reported to have accepted the head coaching position for next season.  Plenty of Eagles fans are already up in arms about this decision, as well as the selection process itself.  While I can empathize with them about how the process went, I think the hiring of Pederson is as good as any other candidate available, with the possible exception of Tom Coughlin.

The biggest reason that Eagles fans are skeptical of this hiring in my opinion, is because of the absolute disarray that the Eagles front office is in.  In a traditional front office, the team Owner and the General Manager make most of the decisions regarding hirings.  Not so in the Eagles front office, because they don't have a GM.  They have Executive VP of Football Operations Howie Roseman, who was stifled during Chip Kelly's reign and is power hungry again, and Director of Player Personnel Tom Donahoe.  These two men worked with owner Jeffrey Lurie during the hiring process, which probably led several coaches to wonder who was really calling the shots for the team.  Howie Roseman's difficulty working with others has also been well documented over the years.  I guarantee you several coaches saw this corporate structure in their interviews and said no way (Adam Gase, Ben McAdoo, Tom Coughlin) or decided to ignore the Eagles requests altogether (Hue Jackson).  This is a major problem going forward for more than just coaching.  It will no doubt affect the NFL draft as well as free agency.  The organization is not reputable from a front office stand point, and this led to a mangled coaching search.  This is why the fans are really angry in my opinion.  If the front office was better organized, the team would have been able to pick exactly the coach they wanted.  It appears that Pederson might have been the only guy left by the time they made their decision.  Going forward Jeffrey Lurie will have to make some tough decisions regarding the front office, including making sure his ego isn't getting in the way.

With that complete indictment of the Eagles front office aside, I for one don't think we got ourselves too bad of a head coach.  Fans are upset that Doug Pederson wasn't a "hot" candidate, and that no other team was interested in him.  I can think of several coaches that were hired under the same circumstances that turned out to be great.  Andy Reid was one.  Two seasons ago, nobody was lining up to interview a coach by the name of Bruce Arians, and where is he now?  John Harbaugh had never coached above special teams before taking the Ravens job.  Meanwhile, what ever happened to the sexy coaching candidates like Mike McCoy, Charlie Weis (that is the only time in history that the words sexy and Charlie Weis will be used in the same sentence), Steve Spagnuolo etc.?  The point is that a lot of different things go into being a good coach at any level, with player personnel being a huge factor, and you never know who will be a good coach and who won't.  So give Doug a chance for crying out loud.

Three paragraphs in and I haven't given one reason why I dig Doug.  Well, here it is.  He is a former quarterback.  Like it or not, the NFL has become completely quarterback driven.  Look at the teams still alive in the playoffs and you will see the following players at quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Russ Wilson, Carson Palmer, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Alex Smith.  Alex Smith is probably the only one you could argue who is not an elite quarterback.  With this importance placed on quarterbacks, I think it will be great to have Doug Pederson in charge because he can groom young quarterbacks, like he did with Donovan McNabb when they were both on the Eagles, and knows what it takes for a quarterback to succeed in the NFL.  Any stability a coach has had in the NFL is most likely based not so much upon his coaching prowess as it is the talent of his quarterback.  Therefore, I think Doug Pederson will be invaluable in finding the correct quarterback for the Eagles and building from there.  It's a pretty sad state of affairs that quarterbacks are the only thing that matters in the NFL, but if you look at almost every Super Bowl team in the last 25 years you will find that they had a great quarterback.  Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson were probably the two exceptions, but both of those teams had once in a lifetime defenses.

The hiring of Doug Pederson might not have been the most popular move, but in my opinion it will turn out to be a good one.  The success of the Eagles will start at the quarterback position, and Doug Pederson should be able to help the organization figure that position out.  Let's give him some time before instead of burying him right out of the gate.  Eagles fans, I only have one question for you...

Friday, January 8, 2016

Processing the Process

"In Hinkie We Trust" is a phrase you hear a lot around Philly.  The Sixers half GM-half mad scientist has completely stripped a once competitive basketball team to the studs and is in the...process...of totally rebuilding the team.  Die-hard and mostly younger Sixers fans have embraced "the Process" while the old guard has rejected it and is embarrassed by their team.  Moreover, the Process is universally disgusted by fans of other teams and the NBA in general either because it violates the competitive nature of the game in their opinion, or because they are jealous that their team isn't embracing it.  I for one, am a fan of the Process, but I would like to take a deeper dive into the successes and failures of it.  After reviewing it, I think you might agree that it is definitely not a shortcut to being competitive.  It also is probably no more or less successful than any other strategy for rebuilding a team.

THE PRO(CES)S

  • Cap Flexibility: By not signing coveted free agents, trading away expensive contracts, and relying on young players only, the Sixers have gotten themselves out of salary cap jail and in fact are well below the cap floor every season.  Because of this, they are able to stockpile assets from other teams that are in cap jail.  These assets could prove very valuable to the future of the franchise. Examples below:
    • For taking Javale McGee's $13 million contract off the hands of the Denver Nuggets, the Sixers also received a future first round pick (Thunder) in the deal
    • In exchange for two second round picks from Lithuania and taking the bloated contracts of Carl Landry and Jason Thompson, the Sixers receive 2014 first round pick Nik Stauskas and the right to switch first round picks with the Kings should they receive a higher pick.
  • The Players are Not Tanking: The popular word around the league is that the Sixers are "tanking" and somehow purposely losing games.  In my head, tanking means the players are purposely trying less hard to win; and that is not true.  While the team may have less talent than the other teams from an organizational standpoint of embracing "the Process", the players are still giving it their all every night.  While that may seem like splitting hairs to some, to me it is a win; because playing on a 4-34 basketball team might drain the life out of a locker room.  This team is full of guys that haven't given up, fight for each other and are giving 100%.  Just last night, T.J. McConnell sacrificed his body diving for a ball out of bounds.  The Sixers were down at least 20 at the time.  These guys are playing for their livelihood and they are treating it as such.
  • Finding Value in Unheralded Players: With plenty of holes in their roster, the Sixers are able to find diamonds in the rough in the summer leagues, the NBDL and in undrafted free agents.  These guys have helped the team, have value, and probably would not have had a chance to make it in the NBA otherwise.  Examples below:
    • TJ McConnell - An undrafted rookie PG out of Arizona is currently second among rookies in assists per game, first in assist to turnover ratio, and ninth in field goal percentage.  Any team could have had this guy, but because the Sixers had room on their team and could offer him playing time, they were able to unearth a valuable player.
    • Robert Covington - Not the best timing for this since he is in a major slump right now, but Covington was an undrafted player in the NBDL that the Sixers signed in 2014.  Since then, he has been one of the Sixers best shooters.  Last season, he averaged 13.5 points per game and shot 37% from three.  He was also supposed to represent the Sixers in the Taco Bell Skills Competition at the All-Star Game but had to withdraw due to injury.
  • Drafting the Right Players: While the Sixers haven't had the top pick in any draft (we will get into this later), they have made solid selections with the picks they have.  In 2013, they left the draft with Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams, two of the best players in what turned out to be a weak draft class (only CJ McCollum, the Greek Freak and maybe Rudy Gobert could be argued as better picks).  With pick number 39 in 2014, the Sixers selected Jerami Grant from Syracuse.  He is quickly becoming a defensive star for the Sixers and is still getting better.  This year's first round pick Jahlil Okafor is averaging 17 points and 7 rebounds at the tender age of 19 and should be in the running for rookie of the year.  Based on these successes, I also have high hopes for both Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, but those picks obviously remain to be seen.  These picks, along with the diamonds in the rough that I just mentioned, are probably a credit to the front office and talent scouts more than anything.  I bring it up though, because it is important not to squander the draft picks you have when rebuilding a team.  Example: In 2009 the T'Wolves had the 5th and 6th overall picks in the first round and chose point guards Johnny Flynn and Ricky Rubio consecutively.  The 7th pick that year?  Some guy named Steph Curry.
THE CONS
  • No Number 1 Pick: While the Sixers have been lousy for three seasons in a row, not once have they actually gotten the first overall pick/their rumored to be desired pick.  Last season, it was D'Angelo Russell who they were supposedly high on but they had to "settle" for Jahlil Okafor at pick three.  Two years ago, Andrew Wiggins was the player that the Process was invented for.  At pick three the Sixers selected, and are still waiting for, Joel Embiid.  This year the Sixers have the worst overall record by a comfortable margin.  Will it finally equate to a number 1 pick?  
  • Pieces Not Fitting Together: As I just mentioned, the Sixers have drafted three centers over the past three seasons.  We have yet to see what Joel Embiid can do, but right now it looks like Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel are having some trouble playing cohesively on the court at the same time.  This could get better over time, but what happens when you add Embiid and Saric to the log jam?  If you get the first pick this year, do you pile Ben Simmons on as well?  I understand you want to draft the best player available, and if need be the Sixers could trade some of these players for pieces they need; but it is clear that the pieces don't always fit together.  Also, if you trade some of these high picks, are you going to get max value for them?  Even when executing on high draft picks, stockpiling good players is not a cure all.
  • Revolving Door: I would argue that the Sixers this year have much more talent than they had last year.  However, last year's team was "able" to go 18-64, while this year's team is cruising at a miserable 4-34 pace.  Along with the pieces not fitting together, this team has no unity.  When players are treated as assets first, nobody is safe.  Tony Wroten was anointed this team's starting point guard coming into this season and was released on Christmas Eve.  Kendall Marshall was told that starting point guard was "his job to lose" and now he barely sees any minutes.  Finally before Christmas the Sixers traded for Ish Smith, whom they had last season and let walk in free agency, to bring some stability to the point with TJ McConnell.  That instability is awful for team chemistry, and I'm sure any player believes they could be the next to go if Sam Hinkie thinks he can "get value" in the deal.  Could creating this instability be a part of the Process in order to secure a losing record?  Sure, but I highly doubt it.
  • Not A Free Agent Destination: The Sixers do not actively pursue many free agents, but even if they did it has become clear that free agents do not want to sign with them.  Moreover, there have been rumblings from the camps of some potential draft picks that they were prefer not to get drafted by Philadelphia.  Players hate to lose, and losing is most certainly on the menu in Philly.  I don't see this as a huge problem, but it certainly doesn't help.  Here is a quote from an article over the summer: "One agent said he doesn’t want his max-level players in Philadelphia. He’s open to his midlevel players signing with the Sixers only if they overpay. The agent also said the Sixers are viewed as a landing spot for clients without any other NBA options….“The only way an agent will deal with the Sixers is the Jimmy Butler situation,” said a league source, noting that the restricted free agent identified the Sixers as possible destination this summer before he re-signed with the Chicago Bulls.“They’ll use the Sixers and [general manager Sam] Hinkie to get leverage for other teams,” he added. “They said, ‘OK, the Sixers have max money,’ and they’ll use that and put it out there in the press or whatever just to get leverage.”
  •  Divides Fan Base: As I mentioned much earlier, Sixers fans are divided.  Some love the Process, some hate it.  Every fan base has disagreements, but the Sixers fan are particularly fractured.  This team has been through enough, and could use every fan they can get.  At worst, I would say this is a net neutral though.  Some fans have disassociated with the team altogether, but some have become much more in tune with the Sixers.  As they often say, "winning cures all" though.
  • Not Getting Better: Like I said earlier, the Sixers are more talented than they were in the past two years, yet their record is much worse.  What hope does that give us that the Process will work?  We also have no time frame on the Process.  How long do we need to be patient for?  Will this plan every come to fruition?  Will next year be the year, or will we have to wait until next year?  It is extremely frustrating to see no progress from a team that you think is getting better.  Doubt starts to creep in.

For a lot of the negative reasons I just mentioned, I believe the Sixers have brought in former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo to assist with the Sixers rebuild.  Some tend to think he might abort the Process altogether, but I think he might just give the organization the credibility they need with players, owners and agents, while still letting Sam Hinkie do his thing.  As you can see, the Process is at best a mixed blessing.  Next season will be absolutely crucial in determining its success or failure.  It is not for every team, that is for certain.  However, you have to remember where the Sixers were before the Process.  They had just traded away their best player (Andre Iguodala), mortgaged their future (trading their 2011, 2012 and 2013 first round picks) and maxed out their salary in order to acquire Andrew Bynum.  Bynum proceeded to play 0 games for the Sixers.  They had to blow it up after that colossal failure.  The Process was their best option in my opinion and they went for it.  Like I said before, I don't think it is any better or worse than any other rebuilding plan and success is not guaranteed.  It should also not be criticized as much as it is.  I think that is out of jealousy more than anything (looking at you Simmons).  If the NBA really thought it was a shortcut to being competitive, they would outlaw it.  It is just an outside the box way of thinking.  It is a different strategy, that like every other one has its pluses and minuses.  Very similar to Moneyball in Major League Baseball in my opinion.  I for one support it, and am excited to see how it plays out.  If we ever get there...


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Moose's Weekly Picks

6-10 week last week.  Ugggghhh.........whatever.  This blog will be abbreviated because I just don't care anymore.  This season has taken a lot out of me.

NYJ (-3) at BUFFALO: NYJ
TAMPA BAY (+10.5) at CAROLINA: TAMPA
NEP (-10) at MIAMI: NEP
Introducing the BB-8:

BALTIMORE (+10) at CINCINNATI: BALTIMORE
NEW ORLEANS (+5.5) at ATLANTA: ATLANTA
JACKSONVILLE (+5.5) at HOUSTON: HOUSTON
PITTSBURGH (-11.5) at CLEVELAND: PITTSBURGH
OAKLAND (+7) at KANSAS CITY: KANSAS
TENNESSEE (+3.5) at INDIANAPOLIS: INDY
WASHINGTON (+3.5) at DALLAS: WASHINGTON
DETROIT (-1.5) at CHICAGO: DETROIT
PHILADELPHIA (+4.5) at NYG: NYG
MINNESOTA (+3) at GREEN BAY: MINNESOTA
SAN DIEGO (+9) at DENVER: DENVER
ST. LOUIS (-3) at SAN FRANCISCO: ST. LOUIS (No Doubter)
SEATTLE (+6) at ARIZONA: ARIZONA

LAST WEEK: 6-10
OVERALL: 121-111-8
NO DOUBTER: 7-9