Back on the Chain Gang: Ten Personnel Questions Regarding the Sixers This Off-Season

Back on the Chain Gang: Ten Personnel Questions Regarding the Sixers This Off-Season

With the new proposed CBA seemingly poised to pass with overwhelming numbers, it looks like this Friday will finally represent the beginning of what should be the most rapid-fire free agency period in NBA history. While the Sixers haven't been predicted to be one of the big movers and/or shakers in the off-season brouhaha, there are still plenty of questions facing the team that will need to be answered post haste, as they figure out what group of twelve players they're planning on trotting out when the season starts shortly after Christmas. Examples, you ask? Well, let's deal with ten of 'em.

1. Will the Sixers re-sign Thaddeus Young and/or Spencer Hawes?

All signs seem to point to them at least trying to retain both of their restricted free agents—Kate Fagan of Philly.com has all but promised that Thad will be back in a Sixers uni, and it seems highly unlikely that Hawes will find a team significantly more invested in his still largely unproven skills than the dismally size-depleted Liberty Ballers. The one wrinkle in this is the recently reported interest in Young from the Denver Nuggets, who have oodles of cap space (especially if big man Nene departs for lower altitude) and a run-and-gun offense in which Thad would certain thrive. If the Nugs can creep up into the double-digits in their yearly offer to Young, it might price the Sixers out of the discussion (for better or worse), but for now, you have to assume both players well end up back in the Red, White and Blue.

2. Will the Sixers amnesty any of the players on their roster?

One of the most intriguing wrinkles in the soon-to-pass CBA is the added Amnesty Clause, which allows teams the opportunity to waive a player in order to get their contract off their books, still paying the player the majority of their salary but having it not count against their cap space. Sixers fans understandably salivated at such news, thinking it might be an opportunity to get out from under the bloated contract of Elton Brand (2 years / $35 million), but think again: The team was reliant enough on Brand as a leader and consistent post threat last year that management (especially smitten coach Doug Collins) would never consent to his waiving, not to mention that the team is hardly flush enough in cash to afford paying a player tens of millions to play for another squad.

More likely an AC candidate is superfluous swingman Andres Nocioni, but even the nearly $7 million remaining on his contract isn't so toxic that the team can't swallow it for one year. More likely, the team will buy out Noc and allow him to maybe find a contender more in want of his services, while retaining the Amnesty Clause for more urgent use in a later season. (With this team's front office, you can never be too careful.)

3. Is Andre Iguodala still on the trading block?

Iguodala spent much of the pre-draft off-season representing one-half of many rumored trades—to the Clippers for Chris Kaman, to the Warriors for Monta Ellis, etc.—none of which, obviously, ended up coming to fruition. Now that the off-season is officially back on, it wouldn't be impossible to see 'Dre go back on the block, but so far, it's been quiet on the wires regarding the Sixers' most diverse and important player. With the shortened season and a lack of training camp, you have to think that the Sixers aren't going to make too many boat-rocking moves unless an opportunity they can't pass up presents itself, so in all likelihood, 'Dre will be starting the season as a Liberty Baller. Whether he ends it as one as well may end up being a question for a trade deadline column, however.

4. Who's the team looking at in terms of big men?

Well, nobody particularly sexy, so cross high-profile free agents Tyson Chandler, Marc Gasol and the previously-mentioned Nene (all of whom should demand contracts far beyond the team's capabilites) off your wishlists right now. The team is mostly looking at veteran big men who can ably back up the likely returning Hawes and push rookie Nikola Vucevic for rotation minutes without costing too much or demanding too many years in the process. So think Kwame Brown, Erick Dampier, maybe returning European baller Bostjan Nachbar if we're lucky. Of course, there's one name floating around out there familiar to Sixers fans, who might be available to fill that role as well...

5. Holy crap, might the team actually end up bringing back Samuel Dalembert?

Hopefully not—you have to think that one of these contending teams in need of size and defense will overextend for Dalembert, a free agent after spending last season with the Kings, and price the Sixers out of the discussion. Still, Philly's been mentioned as a possible landing spot for the polarizing big man, especially if they end up amnestying Nocioni. So, suffice to say, the sooner the Sixers fill this role with someone who isn't Slammin' Sammy—a guy so frustrating to watch that most Sixers fans will always believe we won the Hawes trade just by getting rid of him—the easier we'll all sleep at night.

6. What else might the team be looking for in free agency?

Well, assuming Young and Hawes are retained, probably not much. The team could maybe use more of a pure point guard to back up Jrue Holiday, but with Lou Williams and Evan Turner capable of splitting the role (and Andre Iguodala assuming some of the responsibilities to begin with), the guy probably wouldn't see much more playing time than Antonio Daniels did at the end of last year. Most of the roster spots are already spoken for anyway, and young'ns like Vucevic and Craig Brackins should hopefully be pushing for the few remaining. Don't expect too much beyond one or two further veteran guys at the minimum, Dairus Songaila-like filler.

7. Is there a chance of Lou Williams getting traded?

A chance, but not a good one. Rumors were floating a week or so back that the team might be shopping Sweet Lou—his contract is hefty for a career backup, and it's hard to see exactly where he fits into the Sixers' long-term plans—but almost as quickly as they appeared, those rumors were shot down, and now it seems probable that just like the rest of the gang, Lou will back in tow for '11-'12.

8. Are the Sixers going to be involved in the sweepstakes for either Chris Paul or Dwight Howard?

I'm not even gonna answer that.

9. Whither Jason Kapono?

J-Kaps is already in the talks with a couple teams closer to contention—the Lakers, the Heat, the Knicks, etc.—to hopefully get one of their remaining roster slots at a veteran's minimum. Hopefully for Kapono, he'll be able to fulfill his role of Guy Who Stands in the Corner and Hits Wide-Open Threes When Asked more ably than he was in Philly, but regardless, he's no longer our problem—JK's days in Philly are almost certainl
y over. Bad news for the Kings, good news for the rest of us.

10. Can the Sixers take advantage of Ed Stefanski now serving as Toronto's VP of Basketball Operations the same way the Phillies have abused Ed Wade in Houston?

Only one way to find out: Call up the Raptors and offer them Brackins, Marreese Speights and Nocioni's expiring for Andrea Bargnani. We don't even necessarily want Bargnani, but it's just dumb enough a deal for the Raptors to make that we'll know for sure if Stefanski will be a Wade-esque resource for us north of the border. And then, the pillaging can begin.

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Carson Wentz takes pride in not letting plays die easily. 

In Sunday’s 34-3 win over the Steelers, one play he didn’t let die ended up being the back-breaker in the blowout. 

We’re, of course, talking about the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles at the 13:08 mark in the third quarter. Coming into the second half, the Eagles had a 10-point lead, but this touchdown pushed it to a 20-3 advantage and the rout was on. This play was a tone-setter (see story)

“That’s something that we talk about a lot,” Wentz said after the game. “We always say that a play is never dead. I like to make plays when we need to and everyone just does a great job of getting open in those situations.”

This was the first big off-schedule play Wentz has hit during his three weeks as the team’s starter, but the signs were there. In the Chicago game, there were several times where he showed his ability to extend plays. We broke them down in a film review last week (see story).

Throughout the week, Wentz had been compared to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. One of the reasons was their shared ability to extend plays and make something happen. Big Ben showed his ability in the first quarter and almost connected on a huge touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton in the back of the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t pull it in. 

When Wentz got his shot later in the game, Sproles was able to pull it in, then make something happen with his feet. 

“I saw Carson scrambling this way,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Darren was literally right in front of me and when I saw him wheel, my first reaction was to find the sideline to see if he stepped out to be quite honest.  He hadn’t, and Carson just — it was like in slow motion — floated that ball up the sideline and Darren did the rest from there. It was a tremendous play from those two individuals. I guess the last thing I did is I always look back to make sure there are no flags on the ground on those long plays.”

There were no flags. Touchdown. Game. 

Let’s take a closer look at the play: 

Wentz is in shotgun with Sproles in the backfield with him. The Eagles come out with three-wide on the far side of the field and a lot of space on the near side. 

Stephon Tuitt, who actually had a pretty good game against the Eagles, takes this route to the quarterback. When he gets to left guard Allen Barbre, Barbre either didn’t see him or didn’t react quickly enough. 

While Sproles is still running his short out, Wentz feels the pressure and is able to step up through the hole created by Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks. As soon as he makes it through, Wentz still has his eyes downfield. 

Now Wentz is through the hole and sees Sproles finishing his out-route. This is when Wentz, on the run, motions to Sproles to take off. This is something we’ve seen Wentz do a few times during his three weeks as Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz was left with a tough decision here. He could have run for 10, maybe even 15 yards. It was wide open, but he decided to try to make a play with his arm instead. 

“I always want to be a thrower first,” he said. “Even when a play breaks down, I’m always looking [to throw] because that’s where the big plays are happening. If I scramble I might get 5, 10, 15, 20 yards, but I’m not that fast. I always want to get it to the guys that can make plays. We always want to make plays when they’re there, and that’s what happened.”

With the line of scrimmage at the 27, Wentz has enough awareness to run horizontally to make sure he didn’t cross. And as soon as Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell takes that first step toward him, Wentz sees how much room Sproles has to work with. 

Ryan Shazier, who was covering Sproles on the play, froze and then started to step toward Wentz too. He said he thought the quarterback crossed the line of scrimmage, but Wentz was aware enough to stay behind.  

Once Sproles catches the ball in open space, he begins to do Sproles things. Defensive back Sean Davis took a bad angle on him and once he gets close, the veteran turns it inside. Davis said he was trying to buy time for the rest of his defense to get there and stop Sproles. It didn’t work. 

“Man, it’s Sproles!” receiver Nelson Agholor said. “Did you think he was going to get tackled?”

While he’s blocking downfield, Dorial Green-Beckham actually trips himself up and does a somersault. But it didn’t matter — Sproles didn’t need a great block. He pretty much did it himself. 

“Anytime that you can put it in the hands of [Sproles] something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it,” Wentz said. 

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Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint during a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds in the second period.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 5-foot-10, 184-pounder deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front off a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a real problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more enjoyment is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.