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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The State of Philadelphia Sports: Sixers, Phillies, Flyers

Philadelphians know that the Eagles dominate the sports discussion in our city, especially on sports talk radio. The success of the NFL and the relative futility of the other major sports franchises in town made the Birds the one thing worth talking about for quite a while. I do think it’s a bit forced sometimes, as sports talk hosts know they can “light up the phone lines” any time of the year by bringing up the Birds. It’s a bit ironic as the Eagles are the only team in town not to have won their modern day championship. When the Phillies and Sixers were making championship runs in the 2000s, fans proved that they wanted to talk about those teams. I’ve always believed that given the chance, fans would talk more about the other teams. I think hosts drive the conversation to the Eagles because it works better for them.

Here’s my take on the other three major sports franchises in Philadelphia in Part II of my State of Philadelphia Sports post in a rapid fire Rob’s Rants format:

  • The Sixers actually are being discussed on local sports radio lately, and I’m excited at the thought of finally watching this team again. The few people who actually follow me on social media know I was never onboard with what Sam Hinkie was doing—it was a complete disgrace. Those praising him now as if we’re finally reaping the rewards of his plan are dead wrong. He never had a plan. He just kept kicking the future down the road, somehow getting people excited about “optionality” and prospects. Never mind that he would never commit to a date of fruition for his genius to become clear. Essentially shutting down a franchise to stockpile high draft picks should have been—and apparently was—unacceptable. Fans of Hinkie still don’t get that wasting three years didn’t guarantee future championships. With him gone, I’m hoping the franchise will finally be attempting to win. Games. Not assets. Now, as I’ve been saying all along, we still have to see if all of these wonderful assets fit together. I don’t think they will, but, unfortunately, trading away Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor doesn’t make sense until we know whether or not Joel Embiid can actually get on the court. Obviously, it’s exciting that Dario Saric is finally in town, and I liked the Ben Simmons pick, though honestly I haven’t seen either of them play. Simmons dazzled in summer league, but I’m still waiting to see him with real competition before buying that he can play point-forward. “Experts” say he can’t shoot, which means the Sixers just created more of a potential logjam down low. We still have to “wait and see” with the 76ers, but at least we’ll start seeing something in November, not some unspecified date in Hinkie’s head.

  • Believe it or not, I think the Phillies are the best positioned team to be the next Philadelphia team to win it all. Granted, most of that is based on the ineptitude of the other franchises in town. And, there is something to be said for the fact that the they’re the only franchise to have done it this century, not to mention the last 34 years. Yes, they were terrible for a while after a decent start, but they seemed to have picked it up before the All-Star Game. I’m thrilled they finally “turned the page,” moving on from Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley (the one guy in this group I think they should have kept as a veteran presence), with Ryan Howard (what happened, big guy?) and Carlos Ruiz soon to follow. Obviously, I would have liked them to keep Cole Hamels, who I think could have still been productive when the Phillies are good enough to compete again. But, if he wanted out, I guess he needed to be moved. It’s impossible to make the argument right now, but they at least have a potential supporting cast—Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrara, and Camron Rupp. The problem is they don’t have the core players to be supported. If Tommy Joseph can live up to the potential he showed when he was first brought up from the minors, he’s a big piece to the puzzle . . . no pun intended as he replaces Howard, sometimes called “Big Piece.” The pitching rotation did lose Chad Morton for the season, and briefly Vince Velasquez, who has shown some signs of being very good. And Jeanmar Gomez had an impressive amount of saves early on. Obviously, they need Aaron Nola to return to form after his recent slump and improve into the ace people hope he can be. I’m not saying plan the parade route. But everybody clamored for this team to get young, and they did. They deserve patience more than any other franchise.

  • What I know about the Flyers could fill a thimble. Maybe. Ironically, hockey is the only sport I’ve played (for fun) in any sort of organized fashion. It’s not that I don’t respect the sport. It just always came in second during the winter behind hoops, and even with the Sixers being unwatchable lately, the Flyers haven’t grabbed my attention. All I really know about hockey is that you need a very good to great goaltender to win a Cup, and according to ESPN the Flyers ranked 12th in goals against last season. That doesn’t seem like stellar goaltending, and their main goaltender, Steve Mason, is an 8-year veteran. Presumably, he doesn’t have an untapped upside. Ultimately, all I can say is that I like the fact that Ron Hextall is firmly in charge of running the team, and he finally broke the trend of the Flyers making a flurry of trades at the deadline to try to make a run at the Cup. I don’t want to speak ill of the recently departed Ed Snider, but even I knew the old way of doing things wasn’t going to work.

Read Part I on the Eagles here.

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