Exit Interviews: Evaluating the 2012-13 Philadelphia 76ers

Exit Interviews: Evaluating the 2012-13 Philadelphia 76ers

Unlike last year's Sixers squad, who I wrote at the and of last year "simultaneously far exceeded and fell well short of expectations,"
there was nothing particularly contradictory or poetic about this
year's 76ers -- they were built on a promise that was never delivered on,
and fell apart from there. The team's fate was sealed before the season
even began, we just didn't know it until 2/3 of the way through. This
eulogy has been a long time coming, and will bring me neither closure
nor satisfaction. This season was, with only a few minor exceptions, a
complete waste of time.


Still, there were 17 players who took the court for the Liberty
Ballers this season, and their efforts, whether acceptable or not,
should be recognized. Here's how this year's Philadelphia 76ers grade
out, in alphabetical order with some non-players at the bottom.



Lavoy Allen:

The Temple product disappointed
some in the first of a two-year, six-mil contract that he never should
have been put in the position to sign if the Sixers had done their
proper paperwork after his drafting in the second-round two years ago,
averaging just six points and five rebounds in 21 minutes a game on
subpar 45% shooting, often disappearing offensively for weeks at a time.
He was still probably the Sixers' most viable defensive option at
center, which says more about the Sixers than it does Lavoy, but he
proved too ineffectual on offense to be playable in big minutes, and
probably would've been buried in the team's rotation this year had You
Know Who been healthy. 


Grade: C

For Next Year: A non-jump-shooting big
man stuck in a jump-shot-happy offense,
Lavoy may benefit from the removal of Doug Collins from office as much
as anyone. Lavoy has showed a surprisingly deft passing touch on the
interior, and hopefully in a more creative offense could have more of a
chance to play two-man games in the post with the likes of Thaddeus
Young and Spencer Hawes. However, if the team grabs a big man in the
draft or in free agency, Lavoy may see himself the odd man out in the
Sixers' rotation, especially if Arnett Moultrie continues to develop,
and his expiring deal may be used as trade filler either in the
off-season or by the March deadline.



Kwame Brown:

In what would be a recurring theme
with this team, the Sixers gave Kwame Brown two years and six million
to be their starting center, and then were shocked, shocked when
he turned out to be Kwame Brown. OK, so Kwame was terrible on offense
even by his standards, shooting a near-career-low 46% from the field and
a definitely-career-low 37% from the free-throw line. But you don't get
Kwame for his offense, and on defense, he was by far the Sixers' best
pivot defender, often the only player Collins could call on to give them
any kind of anchor in the paint. Still, his black-holiness on the other
end so torpedo'd the team's big-man-shooter-based offense that he was
deemed unplayable, and only appeared in 22 games all season. Money well
spent.


Grade: C-

For Next Year: At 31 years old, you
can't expect Kwame will somehow play his way back into the Sixers'
rotation, so he'll probably just used as an emergency center, or an
apocryphal threat used by the Sixers' new coach to strike fear into the
hearts of his young bigs. Unless, of course, he does the Sixers a real
solid and declines his three-mil player option for no obvious reason,
but nobody loves Tony DiLeo that much.



Spencer Hawes:

Completing the holy trinity of
Sixers centers that got paid too much last off-season, Spencer Hawes
played this season as the reverse of last year, being virtually
unplayable for the first four months of the season--clanking his jumper,
passing over-ambitiously, and of course, being a total non-factor on
defense--before inexplicably catching fire in the season's final
stretch, averaging 14 points, nine rebounds, over three assists and a
block-and-a-half a game for the season's final 25 games (not counting
his four-minute outing last night), while shooting 51% (and 46% from
deep). He's come down a bit in the last few from the Marc Gasol-like
numbers he was putting up for a while there, but that's still a pretty
good end to the season, meaning that short of a big free-agent pickup in
the off-season, Spence will likely again be jumping center for Philly
on opening night next year.


In the end, Spence was basically who we always thought him to be--an
above-average shooting, above-average passing, and
below-average-just-about-everything-else big man, one who would
make an extremely capable backing center, but one who always gives back
as much as he gives you as a starter, especially if you're paying him
six-and-a-half million for the privilege. He did give us 82 games this
year, though, so he deserves a plus for that.


Grade: C+

For Next Year: Despite showing some
improved post moves at season's end, our seven-foot center shot an
unthinkably low 36% for the season on shots from 3-10 feet--nearly the
percentage he shot from the three-point line. Trying to get Spence to
improve his defense is probably a lost cause at this point, but his
aresnal of hooks and flips should be able to convert at a much higher
rate than that if he wants his offensive efficiency to one day outweigh
his defensive deficiency.



Jrue Holiday:

Ah yes, the one sweet melody amidst the sludge, the "About a Girl" to the Bleach
of the Sixers' season. Finally given the reins to the team in his third
season with the Sixers, with primary ball-handling competition Andre
Iguodala and Lou Williams finally dispensed with, Jrue showed that he
was worth the investment of faith, and then some, becoming the youngest
All-Star in Sixers history, and cementing himself as one of the league's
best young point guards, capable of taking over games with both his
scoring and passing, and in rare occasions, even his on-ball defense.
His numbers came down in a big way in the season's final month, likely
due to exhaustion after carrying nearly the entire load for this team
offensively all year (something he wasn't and shouldn't have been
expected to do pre-season), but he still ended around 18 points and
eight assists a game, with acceptable shooting numbers and a career high
in PER.


With everything that went wrong this year, the Sixers at least did
one thing unquestionably right--locking The Damaja up for four years,
$44 mil, much less than he'd get if he hit the open market today, and
likely much less than he'll be worth to the Liberty Ballers for the next
four years.


Grade: A-

For Next Year: The onus isn't so much
on Jrue Holiday to improve his game as it is on the Sixers to improve
the players around him--Jrue was his best early in the season with Jason
Richardson regularly knocking down catch-and-shoot threes, a weapon
that helped him pad his assist numbers and gave him the floor-spacing
necessary to drive and create for himself and others, neither of which
he ever had in quite the same way after J-Rich went down with injury.
Getting Jrue that knockdown shooter (and/or a true pick-and-roll big) to
work with next season will be imperative to maximizing his talents and
not watching him slowly run out of gas over the course of next season as
he did this year.


Justin Holiday:

Nice of the Sixers to sign
Jrue's older brother for a couple weeks, though like the rest of the
team's 10-day-contract-type signings, it ultimately didn't amount to
much. Justin only made 16 of the 48 shots he took for the Sixers this
season, and didn't help out in any other area of note--even Little Bro's
production went in the tank seemingly immediately after his arrival.
Hope you enjoyed your taste of The Show, Justin, it might be a minute
before you get another.


For Next Year: Hard to imagine he plays for the Sixers again,
but he'll always be an invaluable presence as Jrue continues to rack up
"Most ____ for two brothers in Sixers history" type awards on both of
their behalves.


Royal Ivey:

Shuttled in and out of the Sixers'
rotation with abandon by Doug Collis, Royal Ivey played decent
perimeter defense and made open threes when given the opportunity
(shooting a career-high 42% from deep for the season)--which was all he
was asked to do, pretty much. Hard to have any complaints with Royal's
play this season, aside from wishing he had called a time-out off the jump ball in that silly loss in Milwaukee.


Grade: B

For Next Year: Only signed to the
Sixers on a one-year deal, hopefully the Sixers will find a more
well-rounded backup for Jrue at the point this off-season, and Royal
will represent the perimeter security blanket for some other team next
season. We wish him nothing but the best.


Charles Jenkins:

Like Sam Young a season
before, the Sixers' exceedingly low-leverage pickup at the trade
deadline cost the team nothing, and returned them nothing--billed as an
excellent mid-range shooter, the Hofstra product ended the season just
14-38 from the floor for the Sixers, a subpar 36.8% for a player with
few other discernible skills. He did end up with 16 assists and just two
turnovers, an impressive 8:1 ratio, however, so there's that. Possibly
just a sample-size thing, though.


Grade: D+

For Next Year: Run free, young Charles Jenkins. Sure we'll see you in Summer League again soon enough.

Shelvin Mack:

One
of the Sixers' many failed experiments at backup point guard, Mack
played a combined seven minutes over four games, went 1-2 from the field
with an assist and two turnovers, and was sent on his merry way. Can't
say he really showed us much, but can't say he was really given a chance
to, either.


Grade: C-

For Next Year: NBA obsessives who
have watched any Hawks games down the stretch of this season may have
noticed, somewhat to their surprise, that Shelvin Mack is currently
serving as their backup point guard, averaging about five points and two
assists in 12 minutes a game. The Hawks will either be the #5 or #6
seed in the East this year, but either way, Mack will play infinity
percent more playoff minutes than anyone currently on the Sixers.


Arnett Moultrie:

After spending most of the
season on the bench, and possibly still recovering from an ankle injury,
the Sixers' sole remaining first-round acquisition from last year's
draft was finally unleashed in earnest in February, at one point going
four straight games without missing a field goal (only 12 shots total,
but still). In all honesty, we can't really be sure yet what we have
with Moultrie--he's been incredibly efficient for us, shooting 58% from
the field mostly on dunks and putbacks, but his usage rate has been so
low that it's hard to see if he can actually produce enough for the
Ballers to justify big minutes, and he ends the season averaging just
3.7 points and 3.1 rebounds a game. It won't be until next season,
playing under a coach that hopefully has a little more faith in him than
Collins did, that we'll be able to tell.


Grade: B-

For Next Year: At the very least,
Arnett has shown good instincts on the court--reflexively running to the
rim in transition, gravitating towards offensive rebounds, even making
some eye-catchingly nice passes to cutters from the post. If he can
improve his defensive rebounding (his 14.8% of dREBs grabbed ranks him
below wings like Dorell Wright and Evan Turner), and knock down open
jumpers with consistency (he shot a very impressive 14-25 from over 16
feet this year), he can be a real part of the Sixers rotation next year.
I'm rooting for him, certainly.


Jeremy Pargo:

Another mid-season backup point
guard experiment, though this one Collins apparently liked well enough
to sign for the remainder of the year. Pargo was fine, if unexceptional,
in limited duty, shooting a lousy percentage (38.1%) from the field but
helping to make up for it with a decent three-point stroke (7-17 from
deep), a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio, and a tendency to actually get to
the line once or twice a game, always a plus for these 76ers. Still, it
wasn't enough for even a double-digit PER, and the team soon decided
they weren't feeling it anymore, cutting him in April. We'll always have
that first game, where Pargo scored 12 and handed out six dimes,
looking like a possible waiver-wire gem for the Sixers. Nope. Moving on.


Grade: C-

For Next Year: Jeremy Pargo will turn
up somewhere, guaranteed. Barely competent point guards that won't
totally kill your team like him will always earn 10 days' worth of
late-season pay from some depth-desperate team.


Jason Richardson:

J-Rich started this season
as the shooting guard the team had been so badly missing for as long as
we could remember, averaging 13 points a game and shooting an awesome
45% from deep over the first month of the season. Then injuries started
to prod at him and sap him of his effectiveness, and he shot 24% from
three over his last ten games of the season, before being shut down
entirely in mid-January, eventually having successful knee surgery in
February. The team's miserable play in the first few months of his
injury probably is the greatest testament to what a subtly important
part he was to the Sixers' early-season success, and they were never
really able to fully replace him after his departure.


Grade: B-

For Next Year: Get well soon, J-Rich.
He'll probably be back around the time of next season's start, and
should hopefully remain as a useful rotation piece upon his return, but
his declining
health and advancing age shows why he should probably not be looked at
as a key part of the Sixers' future plans.


Evan Turner:

As
usual, Evan turned in a season tantalizing, frustrating, and ultimately
perplexing. After seeming like he had finally turned a corner as a
player in late November and early December, averaging about an 18/7/5 on
47% shooting (both from the floor and from three) for about a
month-long period, Turner went in the tank for the month to follow, and
never consistently produced for the team for more than a week or so at a
time afterwards. His final stat line for the year--13 points, six
rebounds, four assists, on 42% shooting and just 2.5 FTAs a game--is
pretty goddamn mediocre, and according to the Offensive Win Shares
advanced stat, he's actually cost the team almost a whole win on
offense.


There are some positives to be taken from Evan's year--his 36.5%
rate from three is easily a career high, and his per-minute assist
numbers are also his best yet--but it's hard to look at this season as
anything but a disappointment from the extraterrestrial, especially
given the hot start that fooled us yet again into thinking he'd finally
realized his potential as an NBA pro.


Grade: C

For Next Year: It's hard to even know
what to recommend with Evan anymore--he needs to improve his shooting
stroke, clearly, but given how uniform it's appeared for him from Year
One to Year Three, that might be an exercise in futility. (Even his
three-point stroke was improved by accident, by ET's own admission.)
I might like to see him go to the post-up game more, since he's had
some success backing down smaller defenders on mismatches and draining
turnaround jumpers on them, but that might be a sample-size mirage
anyway. Really, what Evan might need more than anything is just a new
voice in his ear, and if he doesn't respond to that with the Sixers' new
coach, it might (very sadly, to me anyway) be time to part ways with
our one-time #2 overall pick.


Maalik Wayns:

After ripping up the Summer
League, it looked like the Sixers might've found a gem of a young backup
point guard in their own backyard with the undrafted Villanova product
Wayns, who seemed like a more physical, more aggressive Lou Williams.
But what came off as energetic and athletic in the summer quickly turned
frenetic and out-of-control when the season proper started, and Maalik
just couldn't seem to put the ball in the basket, shooting just 19-72
for the Sixers all season, and failed to make enough plays for the
Sixers with his speed and ball-handling to come close to making up for
it.


Grade: D

For Next Year: After being waived by
the Sixers in January, Maalik has since been picked up by the
post-season-bound Los Angeles Clippers, where he plays behind both Chris
Paul and Eric Bledsoe, and will be unlikely to see much action in the
playoffs. Perhaps the Clips or some other team has the patience to try
to reign in his raw skills next year, perhaps not.


Damien Wilkins:

Wilkins seemed like a sure
bench-filler signing for the Sixers at season's beginning, and if he
ended up getting big minutes for the team, it appeared like that would
be a sure sign that things had gone totally to shit for the Liberty
Ballers. Well, check and check, though I gotta admit that I never
expected Wilkins' approaching the productivity of even his modest
returns this season, posting six points a game on 46% shooting (33% from
three) with a couple rebounds, assists and free throws a game, easily
Wilkins' best season since he was with the Sonics for their final season
in Seattle half a decade ago. His energy and professionalism gave this
team a real spark at its lowest ebb, and probably helped the Sixers win
about two games that they otherwise would have lost. That might not have
been a good thing, as we needed losses more than wins at that point in
the season, but respect to Damien for not giving up, certainly.


Grade: B-

For Next Year: What the Sixers do
with Wilkins from here will be critical to their long-term plans. He's
earned a contract from somebody--something like two years, six million,
maybe even a little more--but the Sixers would be pretty foolish to
offer it themselves, since Wilkins is a luxury on a contending team and
has absolutely no place on a rebuilding one, which in all likelihood is
what Philly will be next year, at least in part. Nothing but the best
for Damien from here, but if he ends up back in a Sixers uni next year,
then someone screwed up in a big way.


Dorell Wright:

Dorell redeemed what was ending
up a pretty disappointing season with a blistering month of March,
where he made 39 out of 95 threes and scored in double digits all but
three games. His final numbers for the season, averaging nine a game on
39% shooting and 37% from deep, are about what we'd expect from Dorell
Wright pre-season, especially one forced to play too many minutes in the
Sixers' thin and inconsistent wing rotation. For what it's worth, the
advanced stats say that Dorell had a much better season than would seem
from his superficial stats (or just from watching him), as his 16.0 PER
was tied for the third-highest among team regulars, and his 4.9 Win
Shares ranks him an incredible second on the team, higher even than Jrue
Holiday.


Grade: B-

For Next Year: If we could get Dorell
on a one-year deal for the $4 mil we spent on him this year, he could
continue to be a bargain for us on a deeper, hopefully more consistent
team. But that's a couple ifs too many for Dorell, who could probably
get a multi-year deal (one which we can't really afford to spend on him)
elsewhere for a team closer to contention, so this is probably it for
us and DWRIGHTWAY1. Hope to see him on the Spurs or Lakers or somewhere
next year.



Nick Young:

Similarly to Kwame Brown, Nick
Young was quintessentially Nick Young this season, and found himself on
the outs of the Sixers rotation because of it. (Tom Sunnergen's "How the Swaggy Have Fallen"
column illustrates this point in excellent detail.) Predictably streaky
with his shot all season, Swaggy ended up with averages and percentages
all pretty close to his career norms, and in fact averaging by Win
Shares per 48 minutes, this was the most productive season of his career
(especially factoring in his surprisingly solid defense), but it was
still small potatoes for an inefficient bench scorer more fun than he is
legitimately helpful. He had good moments, he had bad moments, he was
one of the more entertaining distractions on a miserable team, and in
the end, he neither cost this team nor stole them many wins.


Grade: C+

For Next Year: The Sixers were wise
to give Swaggy only one season under contract, and now that the trial
period has passed, it's pretty clear that Nick Young, while useful in
small doses, is generally not what this team needs. Some other team will
see his potential for putting up numbers and give him a contract that
pays him too much for too many years, and we can only hope that it's not
ours.


Thaddeus Young:

The arguable MVP of the Sixers
season, Thad didn't really do anything this season we didn't already
know he could--he's had higher scoring averages, PERs and even WS/48s
before--but we didn't know for sure that he could do it for this many
minutes over this many games, at least not as the team's starting power
forward, where he had his only real statistical breakout by averaging
7.5 boards a game (a team high) after barely cracking five a game prior
in his career. Thad was unquestionably the team's most consistent
two-way player this year, serving the same kind of stabilizing role that
Elton Brand played for them two years earlier, and ended up leading the
team in nearly every advanced stat, proving his worthiness as a part of
the team's core moving forward. We can only dream about how he would've
blossomed in a frontcourt alongside the Funny-Looking Kid With the Big
Hair.


Grade: A-

For Next Year: Thad's greatly
improved handle with the ball--you used to cringe every time he started
dribbling, but he's become much more sure-handed with it--could prove a
real asset for the team if he keeps working on it, as he might be able
to produce the coast-to-coast, one-man fast-break type points that Andre
Iguodala could easily score a couple of a game. Otherwise, keep working
on that jumper and doing what you're doing, Thad.



Andrew Bynum:

Of course, the guy who had the
greatest impact on the Sixers season was the guy who didn't play a
single minute, and who's one contract with a different team away from
being one of the most hated athletes in 21st century Philly sports. But
as tempting as it is to place the blame on Bynum personally for his
sitting out the season with injury--and it's really, really tempting--I
still don't feel totally comfortable doing it. As much as his behavior
seemed to suggest general irresponsibility, we don't really have any
evidence that he did anything (besides going bowling, which I always
thought was far more of a fluke than people were trying to make it seem)
that actually set back his health, nor do we have any evidence that he
slacked off on his rehab efforts.


The fact that he was injured all year sucks in a really, really big
way, but injuries happen to players, and they've happened to Bynum for
most of his career, so we can't exactly act like this was a huge shock
or anything unprecedented. As Tom Ziller has pointed out,
Derrick Rose sat out the entire year too, having been medically cleared
to play, but because of his general reputation of acting like a
credible professional and adult, he's not held to nearly the scrutiny
that Bynum is. Despite having all the circumstantial evidence we could
ask for to assume that Bynum was dogging it this year, they'd still only
be assumptions, not based in any kind of fact.


I'm as angry and frustrated with how this year went as anyone. But
I'm not going to rail Bynum out for looking out for his long-term career
prospects, rather than killing himself to make it back for this crappy
Sixers team, after it was probably already too late to do anything with
them anyway. He was right--it's his life, and in the end, he really
doesn't owe the Sixers anything.


Grade: Incomplete

For Next Year: Well, that's the question, isn't it? Plenty more to come on this, obviously.

Doug Collins:

You
gotta feel a little bit bad for Doug Collins, since the Bynum injury
submarined just about any chance he had at a successful season, and
who's to say if he wouldn't have escaped his reputation of being a
three-year coach if Bynum been that franchise guy for the Sixers that
they had hoped for when acquiring him? But without Bynum, and without
status-quo-maintaining vets like Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala, the
flaws that had always been there with Collins' style became magnified in
an arguably unfair (but still telling) way--suddenly, his conservative
offensive style became woefully inefficient, his tendency to shut
players out of his rotation for no clearly given reason became
unjustifiable, and his distrust of younger players in favor of reliable
veterans became obviously detrimental to the team's future.


In the end, Collins probably couldn't have gotten much more than 33
wins out of this squad, no matter what. But that doesn't mean that he's
the right coach for this team moving forward, with or without Andrew
Bynum.


Grade: C

For Next Year: Collins will supposedly
be transitioning into an advisory role with the team's front office,
but given Collins' history of input with personnel--lusting after Kwame
Brown, discarding Nikola Vucevic--let's hope it's more of an honorary
position than anything else.


Tony DiLeo, Rod Thron, Et Al:

I don't know, nor
am I sure if anyone knows, who's actually running the Sixers' front
office these days. But they clearly went into the previous awesome
working off two governing strategies:


1. Sign short-term contracts to keep the team flexible
2. Roll the dice on a blockbuster deal for a superstar if the opportunity arises

And
really, they followed through on both. None of the low-leverage deals
they made in the off-season--signing Nick Young and Kwame Brown,
extending Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen, trading for Dorell
Wright--really worked out all that well (with the possible exception of
the Wright deal), but you can't say any of them were true disasters
either, since none of them were for more than 6.5 million a year, and
none of them saddled the Sixers with contracts that last past the end of
next season. They wanted to stay flexible, and they did.


The second part was the real variable, and obviously it didn't work
out too well--not only did Bynum not play a game for Philly, not only is
Andre Iguodala post-season-bound in Denver, but the Sixers lost out on
two young players in Nik Vucevic and Moe Harkless (not to mention a
future first-rounder) that really would have helped the team's
rebuilding efforts if they'd committed fully to going in that direction.


However, I can't really fault DiLeo and Thorn and company for taking
a swing and missing, because they did the only thing I and most other
Sixers fans had been asking them to do for years now--they tried
something different. The team wasn't going anywhere as is, and a healthy
Andrew Bynum could've taken this team to a level they simply never
would have reached without him. The fact that Bynum never played a game
can't really be put at the front office's feet, since Bynum was healthy
for all of last season--if you're going to blame anyone, blame the
doctors who gave Bynum a physical and OK'd his health, though even with
them, I don't want to presume that there was any evidence in his
physical to show that he would be unfit to play this season. This was
the right deal to make, even if it produced the wrong results.


Losing Vucevic and Harkless hurts, but otherwise, we didn't lose
much with this deal (and the personnel decisions that directly preceded
and followed it) that we weren't going to get rid of soon anyway, and
even if the team has to rebuild from scratch now, at least we have the
wiggle room to do so. In the end, I still say it was worth the risk.


Grade: B-

For Next Year: There's a lot of work to be done--a lot of work. But again, we'll get to that later.


Adam Aron:

More
than anyone else involved with this team, my heart goes out to CEO Adam
Aron. The guy was so pumped for this team to be relevant again, so
ready to turn the Sixers back into a crucial part of the Philly sports
discussion, and if anything, now the Sixers are even less exciting and
relevant than they've been at any point since the mid-'90s. Unlike then,
it might not take drafting Allen Iverson to turn it all around, but
clearly the team has a lot longer of a way to go back to relevance than
they previously believed. In the meantime, Aron did his best with this
crappy team to try to keep fans engaged and excited over social media
and at the WFC, and though he failed, like the Sixers themselves, he
never had much of a chance to begin with.


Grade: B-

For Next Year: Not sure just yet, but I sincerely hope he has a smoother go of it next time.

10 observations from Tuesday's Eagles OTAs

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10 observations from Tuesday's Eagles OTAs

The Eagles wrapped up their Tuesday practice just before 12:30 p.m. under a hot summer-like sun.

Tuesday was the first day of four in the team’s final week of OTAs, which are voluntary. The mandatory minicamp starts next Tuesday and runs through next Thursday.

That’s when we might see Fletcher Cox and Darren Sproles, both of whom have been staying away from the team during the voluntary period. And that’s where we’ll start with today’s 10 observations:

1. With Cox still out, Mike Martin was again working with the first team at defensive tackle next to Bennie Logan, as he was last week. Two weeks ago, Taylor Hart was next to Logan at tackle. Martin was a depth piece in Tennessee and that’s how he’ll fit with the Eagles once Cox comes back.

Martin was also involved in the first little scuffle we’ve seen during these spring practices. Nothing too exciting … just a little shoving with left guard Allen Barbre.

2. Sproles is still out, but Ryan Mathews returned. Mathews missed the last practice opened to the media with an illness but participated Tuesday. The interesting thing was that Mathews didn’t get all the first-team reps. In fact, Kenjon Barner actually opened the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 portions of practice with the first team.

It’s early, but Barner has looked pretty good this spring. It’ll be interesting to see if he fits with the team. He’s ahead of rookie Wendell Smallwood now, but would the team really elect to keep him over a fifth-round pick? Or will the team be OK keeping four running backs again?

Another note: Rueben Randle (gallbladder surgery) is still out.

3. We saw a little trickery from Doug Pederson’s offense on Tuesday against no defense. First, Chase Daniel threw a lateral screen to Josh Huff, who threw down the right to Smallwood. Then, Carson Wentz threw a lateral pass to Nelson Agholor and then Wentz ran a route down the left sideline, but Agholor overthrew him.

Maybe the trick plays are just way to keep practice lighter, but it might also mean the offense is moving along nicely and installing more and more of the playbook. It’s a good sign.

4. Wentz was up and down on Tuesday, but his best completion came on a deep pass down the right sideline to wideout Xavier Rush (who is a candidate for best name on the team). Rush wrestled the ball away from corner C.J. Smith, who should know Wentz pretty well. The two played together at North Dakota State.

Meanwhile, Sam Bradford had a shaky day, throwing several balls that could have been picked off.

5. Again, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks — the two Jim Schwartz guys in the secondary — were working with the first team. On Tuesday, Eric Rowe was the extra corner on the field in the nickel. When Rowe came in, Brooks shifted into the slot. It still looks like Nolan Carroll isn’t yet allowed to practice during team portions.

On the first play of 11 on 11s, Brooks broke up a pass from Bradford that was then picked off by Rodney McLeod and taken the other way. Not a good throw from Bradford, but Brooks was aggressive and jumped it.

6. Down by the goal line during the team period, Malcolm Jenkins made a nice play to get in front of a pass, but couldn’t pick it off. He’s in midseason form. Jenkins had a great year in 2015, but really struggled to intercept balls that he had in his hands.

7. Jordan Hicks didn’t participate in 7 on 7s or 11 on 11s Tuesday. Two weeks ago, he sat out with tightness in his legs, but returned last week. On Tuesday, with Hicks watching, Najee Goode filled in at first-team MIKE, flanked by Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks.

8. Chase Daniel overthrew two balls badly within a few plays during the 11-on-11 drills, but then capped off a drive by dropping a ball into the hands of wideout Paul Turner in the back of the end zone. Decent day for Daniel.

9. The Eagles ran some scout team looks for the first time (that we’ve seen) on Tuesday. Daniel ran the scout team, which makes sense. Normally, it would be the third-string quarterback, but Wentz probably has plenty on his plate. Not sure whom the offense was mimicking, but the two pinnies were Nos. 88 and 82. Perhaps the Cowboys?

10. At one point on Tuesday, the offense started to use a tempo offense, giving everyone in attendance flashbacks to Chip. Well, not exactly. The up-tempo didn’t last long and it did produce the ugliest Wentz pass since he’s been with the team.

We are seeing plenty of interesting looks from the Eagles. At times they’ve been using formations with three tight ends. And they even showed some designed quarterback runs on Tuesday. The progression and complexity of this offense is starting to be revealed by these practices, and it’s something to keep an eye on.

Stupid Observation of the Day: Punter Donnie Jones has begun to wear a pretty sweet white and blue bucket hat at practice when he’s not wearing his helmet. Only a punter could get away with this. Here, you can see him in the background from last week.

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Calling on Aaron Nola to stop 4-game skid

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Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Calling on Aaron Nola to stop 4-game skid

Phillies (26-25) vs. Nationals (31-21)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies are in a rut, an expected rut given their recent schedule.

On Tuesday, they'll try to get back on track behind the young right-hander who's emerging as their stopper.

Let's take a look at the second of their 10-game homestand:

1. Not measuring up
The Phillies have lost six of their last seven games and are riding their first four-game losing streak since they started the year 0-4. Prior to last week, they'd done a decent job this season of avoiding lengthy skids, but this is definitely the toughest stretch they've faced in 2016.

Over these seven games, the Phils have been outscored 34-21 by the Tigers, Cubs and Nationals, three veteran teams filled with power. Two of the games have been decided by one run and the Phillies lost both after holding late leads. 

At 14-5, the Phils still have far and away the majors' best record in one-run games, but this is what regression looks like. Hector Neris wasn't going to go through a full season without a hiccup. And the best example of how unsustainably productive he's been was that even after allowing three runs in just two-thirds of an inning, Neris' ERA is still 2.20. It's difficult for a reliever to get hit around and still have that low an ERA, especially this early in the season.

If the Phillies lose again tonight, they'll be right at .500 for the first time since they were 10-10. They've spent the last 33 days of the season with a winning record.

2. Nola gets the nod
Jeremy Hellickson turned in his second straight excellent outing against the Nationals on Memorial Day and Aaron Nola looks to do the same.

Nola, like Hellickson, struggled the first time he faced Washington this season, allowing seven earned runs in five innings.

Nola, like Hellickson, rebounded the next time he faced the Nats — both allowed two hits over seven shutout innings in their second start against Washington.

Now Nola looks to build upon that success the way Hellickson did Monday night, when he lowered his own ERA to 3.68 by allowing a run on three hits over seven innings.

Nola is 4-3 with a 2.86 ERA in 10 starts this season. He's struck out 70, walked 12 and allowed five home runs in 66 innings. His opponents have hit .200.

Nola has missed more bats and struck out more batters at the major-league level than anyone expected. His control has been as advertised — he's walked just 31 batters in 143⅔ career innings. This season, he's cut his home run rate in half. He allowed 11 in 77⅔ innings as a rookie.

Nola continues to lead the National League with 242 called strikes, 17 more than Tanner Roark, who is second. That number speaks to the effectiveness of Nola's knee-buckling curveball, which has generated 65 swings-and-misses, second-most in the majors to Jose Fernandez's 77. (Jerad Eickhoff is third in the NL with 33.)

Current Nationals are 19 for 65 (.292) against Nola with two doubles, a triple, two homers and 18 strikeouts. Bryce Harper, who left Monday's game in the seventh inning after being hit by a pitch on the knee, is 6 for 10 with two of those home runs. Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon have also taken Nola deep.

3. Harper out?
Harper left the game in the seventh with what was diagnosed a right knee contusion. It would obviously be a huge relief for the Phillies if he's out of the lineup Tuesday, especially considering how he's hit lately at Citizens Bank Park.

Harper brought into Monday's game a streak of six straight games with a home run at Citizens Bank Park, tying the longest home run streak in MLB history for any player at a visiting stadium. 

Harper, who hit .330 last season, won an MVP and led the NL in practically every meaningful offensive category, has been in a lengthy slump. Over his last 32 games, he's hit .183 with just five extra-base hits in 133 plate appearances. Teams have stopped pitching to him. Harper has 35 walks over that span, nine intentional.

But Harper is obviously a threat any time he comes to the plate, and he's hit pretty much any pitcher the Phillies have thrown at him the last two years. In 104 plate appearances against them since the start of 2015, Harper has hit .346 with three doubles, 11 homers, 23 RBIs, 21 walks and 23 strikeouts.

4. Another crack at Ross
Nationals right-hander Joe Ross (4-4, 2.52) makes his 10th start of the season tonight against the Phils. He shut them down on April 15 in his second start, pitching 7⅔ shutout innings in his best outing of the year.

Ross has allowed one run or fewer in five of nine starts and two earned runs or fewer in seven of nine. He's given up more than three earned runs just once all season, on May 10 against the Tigers.

The younger brother of Padres opening-day starter Tyson Ross, Joe is mostly a three-pitch pitcher who throws a lot of sinkers and sliders. When he faced the Phillies earlier this season he threw 55 sinkers, 38 sliders and 14 changeups. 

Like his brother, Joe Ross loves the slider with two strikes, throwing it 73 percent of the time this season with two strikes on a right-handed hitter. His opponents this year are 16 for 92 (.174) against the slider with four home runs and 37 strikeouts.

Lefties (.295 BA, .757 OPS) have hit him much better than righties (.209, .598). Might that mean another start for Ryan Howard?

5. This and that
• Carlos Ruiz is 0 for 21 over his last six starts and is down to .222 on the season.

• Daniel Murphy had three more hits and drove in three runs against the Phillies last night. He's a .313/.363/.487 career hitter against them in 457 plate appearances. Playing in the NL East the last eight seasons, Murphy has hit lower than .293 just once vs. the Phils.

• Freddy Galvis, who homered off Roark on Monday, has hit well at home this season with a .284 batting average and .779 OPS in 85 plate appearances. Galvis is 12 for 33 (.364) over his last eight games overall with four doubles, a triple and a homer.

• Jonathan Papelbon has faced the Phillies six times since they traded him to the Nationals last summer. In those six games, he's allowed nine runs (six earned) and put 13 men on base. The Phils have seven hits (five doubles) against him in 2⅔ innings this season.

Source: Former Eagles safety Walter Thurmond retires at 28

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Source: Former Eagles safety Walter Thurmond retires at 28

Defensive back Walter Thurmond, who had a productive year with the Eagles in 2015 in his first season as a safety, is retiring at 28, a league source confirmed to CSNPhilly.com's Dave Zangaro.

The news of Thurmond's retirement was initially reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Thurmond was finally able to stay healthy in 2015. He played 16 games for the first time in his career, finishing with 71 tackles, three interceptions, two sacks and two forced fumbles. Thurmond and Malcolm Jenkins formed one of the NFL's better safety duos, but the Eagles upgraded the position even more by signing Rodney McLeod to a five-year deal.

Thurmond battled injuries throughout his six-year NFL career, missing 44 of 80 games over his first five seasons. A broken fibula cost him most of the 2011 season, he missed significant time in 2012 with a hamstring injury, and a torn pectoral limited him to two games in 2014.