Five Practical Goals For the Second Half of the Sixers Season

Five Practical Goals For the Second Half of the Sixers Season

The Philadelphia 76ers are not going to win a championship this season.
They are pretty far away from winning a playoff series, and in all
likelihood—at four games back of the eighth seed and having already lost
the tiebreaker with the last-one-in Bucks—are not even going to make
the post-season. With all the expectation that this season began with,
we're probably headed for the lottery for just the second time in the
last six seasons.


All that depressing stuff said, we still do have 31 games to play
this year. There's still an ostensible playoff race to be run—even as
far back as the Sixers are, they're still the ninth seed, and within
striking distance of the top eight if things break right—but personally,
I don't think it's one worth making much of a push for, especially if
it comes at any potential cost to the team's long-term future, whether
that means returning players quickly from injury or making short-sighted
deals for veteran talent to help steal a couple wins between now and
May.


Rather, here's five things I'd like to see the team try to do
between now and then. Some may happen, some not, but all are at least
reasonably attainable goals, which could help the Sixers in either the
short or long-term.


1. Try to trade an expendable role player for a young prospect or future draft pick. This
might be tough to do, as the Sixers are a little short-handed on
movable assets at the moment, especially with shooting guard Jason
Richardson—an overpaid commodity, but a reliable one that a contending
team could make use for—out for the year. Still, the Sixers have two
decent role players on short contracts in Spencer Hawes (two years, $13
million) and Nick Young (expiring, $6 million), who are hardly bargains
but could be good low-leverage pickups for a team in need of size or
shooting off the bench, respectively.



The Sixers have been notoriously inactive at the trade deadline in
recent years—I think dealing a second-rounder for Jodie Meeks a couple
off-seasons ago was the only real in-season trade of consequence made by
Philly since the Iverson deal—and most reports concerning the team have
them standing pat between now and the deadline on Thursday. Still, if
DiLeo and company can do their due diligence and at least see if there's
a late first-rounder to be had, or a project big or wing we can snag
for Hawes or Young (neither of whom are really in the team's long-term
plans), it'd be a nice chip to have while rebuilding over the next
couple years.



2. Continue to develop Arnett Moultrie. The project big man
already on the Sixers' roster has shown some flashes over the last few
weeks, moving well without the ball and fighting for rebounds down low.
But he's badly in need of more reps to find himself in the flow of the
offense (or occasional lack thereof), and that means more minutes,
especially as Thaddeus Young continues to rehab from injury. I'd like to
see him get more PT with Jrue and some of the first-unit guys, though
with Thad returning at the starting four before too long, perhaps it
makes sense to get him acclimated to playing with Evan Turner, Jeremy
Pargo and the rest of the bench unit. At the very least, let's get him
entrenched in the rotation, comfortable and confident and not worried
about Doug yanking his minutes in favor of Damien Wilkins or the ghost
of Tony Battie or whoever.



3. Stick with Evan. Yes, he's struggled lately. Yes, he very
well might continue struggle for the rest of the season. But they're
probably not going to trade him before the deadline, and he has more of a
chance of being a key, long-term part of the team than any other wing
player (not counting Jrue) on their roster. If Coach Collins starts
futzing with his PT now, trying to teach him "lessons" and further
undermining his occasionally fragile confidence, he might alienate or
ruin him entirely. If Turner proves that he just just can't be relied
upon long-term, then we'll figure out what to do about him in the
off-season, but in the meantime, there's no real upside to doing
anything but giving him as much of a chance as possible to prove that he
can be.


4. Keep on driving. Even if Evan's final stat line from his
pre-All-Star Break performance against the Bucks ended a mediocre one—20
points on 8-19 shooting, though that was still his best scoring night
in two weeks—the way he was consistently taking the ball to the basket
was heartening, looking for foul calls that weren't quite materializing.
He did still get four shots at the line, above his season average, and
the team shot 24 times at the charity stripe for the game, the most the
team had in nearly two months. 


If Evan and company keep it up, you have to think eventually he'll
get those calls, and maybe so will Jrue and the rest of the Sixers, who
have been pathetic (though not surprisingly so, given that the team has
been bottom-five in FTAs the last few seasons) in getting to the line
this season. It's the first step in the long process of getting this
offense back to efficiency, but it's a necessary one, and it'd be a nice
precedent to start over the last few months of the year.


5. Try to get at least...what, ten games in with Andrew Bynum and a full roster?
Hoping for just about any amount of time spent on the court for Andrew
Bynum this season seems arrogant and naive at this point. Is ten games
too much to ask for? Very possibly, but boy would even that be huge for
this team—to get some sense of playing with one another, to hopefully
pitch Bynum on his future with the Sixers (and the organization on the
idea that he has a future with the Sixers), to give the team something
to build on when hopefully the whole roster is returned for the
following year. If we can't get even that, it's going to be a long and
emotionally trying off-season, for sure.

Marlins reinstate 2B Dee Gordon after 80-game drug ban

Marlins reinstate 2B Dee Gordon after 80-game drug ban

MIAMI — Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon issued an apology on Twitter addressed primarily to his young fans as he returned from an 80-game suspension for a positive drug test.

"I know I let you down, and I'm sorry," Gordon said in a video. "Complacency led me to this, and I'm hurt. I urge you guys to be more responsible than I am about what goes into your body. I wouldn't wish this on anyone."

Gordon, who won the NL batting and stolen base titles last year, was reinstated before Thursday's game against St. Louis.

Gordon tested positive for two performance-enhancing substances and was suspended in late April. Gordon acknowledged in April that he unknowingly took the banned substances.

Marlins president David Samson said then that the second baseman had betrayed the team and its fans. On Wednesday, Samson said the Marlins are glad to have Gordon back.

"I believe that America and our fans and our players and us, we're a pretty forgiving society," Samson said. "It's important Dee ask for that forgiveness, and he has, and he'll receive that. He's got to continue to work to get himself back in with his teammates and the fans and my son."

In his video, the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Gordon said he learned from his mistake.

"I thought being the smallest guy I would never fail a drug test," he said. "I didn't pay attention at all and I didn't meet the standards. That's my fault and no one else's. But don't give up on me."

To make room on the roster for Gordon, the Marlins designated for assignment infielder Don Kelly, who had two triples in Sunday's victory. Even without Gordon, the Marlins have remained in contention for their first playoff berth since 2003.

Last year Gordon batted .333, stole 58 bases, became an All-Star for the second time and won his first Gold Glove. The season earned him a $50 million, five-year contract in January.

Eagles Training Camp Preview: We’re So Screwed  

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Eagles Training Camp Preview: We’re So Screwed  

The Eagles’ full training camp got underway Thursday and I’m already worried. In fact, I have seen nothing from this team thus far in training camp that gives me any confidence that they can compete this season. 

The Sam Bradford/Carson Wentz thing hasn’t been resolved at all. We already had no running backs to speak of, and now Ryan Mathews is hurt. And then Nigel Badham got arrested for assaulting a hotel employee in Miami -- I know I’ve been saying for awhile that the Eagles need guys on defense who “punch people in the mouth,” but that’s not what I meant. 

There’s another thing that makes me question what the hell the Eagles are doing: I don’t care if he’s the long snapper -- letting a player report late to training camp because he’s doing magic tricks on a talent show? A morning show caller the other day suggested the Eagles try some trick plays involving Dorenbos making the ball disappear -- but if there’s any hope for that, Jon needs to be at practice, instead of gallivanting in Hollywood with Simon Cowell. What would Buddy say? 

The last straw may have been Tuesday, when veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin signed with the Detroit Lions, even though the Eagles had pursued him. I for one have been calling for the Eagles to acquire Boldin since 2005, but this time hurts the most. What is Howie doing? 

Should Doug Pederson be on the hot seat in Philadelphia? Should Howie Roseman? After two days of training camp, my answer is, “yes” and “absolutely yes.” If the Eagles lose the first week to Cleveland, the clock will be ticking, if it isn’t already. 

__

The streets of Philadelphia this week were chockfull of angry people, agitating loudly on behalf of the guy who had already been defeated, wearing T-shirts with his likeness and refusing to give up on him even though he already issued a lengthy statement giving up himself. Please, people: Let Sam Hinkie go. 

Still, though: When it comes to Sam Hinkie and Bernie Sanders, things just keep getting more curious: 

Exhibit A: Chuck Todd said on NBC News Friday that, "Bernie Sanders is here to land the plane."

Exhibit B: 

Exhibit C:

Exhibit D: 

And Exhibit E taken, at a post-DNC Party: 

I’m not exactly sure what this all means, but between the national media once again making a big deal about people booing at a Philadelphia sports arena -- and the President of the United States actually said “don’t boo” --  it can’t be good news. First Dario Saric came to Philly because of his foreknowledge of the coup attempt in Turkey, and now this. 

Other Philly sports takes: 

- As @petesbigtwit pointed out on Twitter, the first female major party presidential nominee accepted the nomination on the very spot where Wing Bowl is held each year. It’s the greatest moment for women in that stage in at least five months, since Molly Schuyler ate 429 wings in 26 minutes at Wing Bowl XXIV. 

- Why shouldn’t the Eagles sign Ray Rice? I see no downside -- and he’s only been on the shelf a couple of months longer than Joel Embiid. 

- I wish the Phillies had someone passionate enough to carve up all the team’s throwback uniforms with a knife. 

- Can you believe Joel Embiid was caught using his phone on the sidelines during summer league? This would be like if Andrew Bynum had actually gone bowling next to the court during a game. 

- Who cares if the Pikachu guy flipped the bird at Citizen’s Bank Park? The Phanatic averages three obscene gestures per game. 

Follow @FakeWIPCaller on Twitter. And don’t vote- boo! 

Union's homegrown program produces latest signing Derrick Jones

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Philadelphia Union

Union's homegrown program produces latest signing Derrick Jones

CHESTER, Pa. — Long after most of the Union players retreated from the heat Wednesday, Derrick Jones remained on the practice field. Not even his new rookie responsibility of carrying the bag of balls could dampen the 19-year-old’s enthusiasm of participating in his first official training as a member of the Union.

“I was just excited,” said Jones, who signed a homegrown contract with the Union a day earlier. “I was just happy. I didn’t know where I was going to be four years ago.”

Jones' path to the pros was certainly an interesting one as he came from Ghana to South Philly in 2012, and at the time, “didn’t know anything about the Union.” But he soon found his way to YSC Academy, the Union-run high school in Wayne, and after graduating from there, was the first player ever signed by the Bethlehem Steel, the team’s expansion minor-league affiliate.

He then played well enough for Bethlehem this season to ink a deal with the Union on Tuesday as their first Homegrown signing since 2012 and just the fourth in franchise history.

“It's a proud moment for me as a coach, a former academy coach,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “I’d like to thank (YSC Academy head and Union part owner) Richie Graham and (academy director) Tommy Wilson for the job they did developing Derrick, and also (Bethlehem Steel head coach) Brendan Burke sprinkling in that extra polish for the half a season that Derrick put in. I'd also like to thank the players because the one thing people don't always get to see is how valuable it is with our first-team players being around Derrick in the preseason and putting him under their wing and all of those little things. 

“As a club, it's a proud moment because everybody has played a role, from our medical staff to our trainers to our equipment guys, all the way through our academy to Bethlehem to now our first team.”

Ever since the franchise’s inception, Union coaches and executives have always said how they wanted to build a team from their youth ranks with several players hailing from the Philadelphia area. But, as it turned out, it was easier said than done.

Zach Pfeffer was the first player to sign a homegrown contract (an MLS mechanism that allows teams to directly sign youth players from their own development academies) as a 15-year-old Upper Dublin High School sophomore in December of 2010. And although he showed some promise, the teenager was never able to become a regular and was traded to the Colorado Rapids this past offseason. Former manager Peter Nowak signed two other homegrown players — Jimmy McLaughlin and Cristhian Hernandez — during his tenure but neither played much and they're no longer with the club.

You can certainly argue that Pfeffer, McLaughlin and Hernandez were all victims of an old system that didn’t allow them to properly develop at such a young age. In many ways, that’s why the Union launched YSC Academy and the Bethlehem Steel: to create a more surefire pathway from high school to the pros without throwing teenagers directly into the fire.

And Jones, the only current homegrown player on the roster, is the first to truly benefit from that improved structure — and will very likely usher in a new, better era of youth development for the Union.

“Everyone likes to compare who's doing it the best, and there's a lot of really good things being done right now in the U.S. Developmental Academy and specific MLS academies, but I can say with confidence, having coached in it and lived through it and having seen it up close, our academy is the one that prepares these kids for life more so than any,” Curtin said. “So everyone wants to talk about the successful homegrowns and how many each team has, but no one writes the article about a lot of the homegrowns that are out of this league in a year and no one cares about them anymore.

“It does need to be said that our structure, in the way Richie Graham has set it up, is holistic in every way. The school and the things that they do there, it is amazing. It’s a special environment, and it’s one that is based on each individual kid and their needs, because every kid has different spurts in their development, highs and lows. And the support system that they provide at our academy is second to none in this country.”

Curtin’s glowing praise of YSC Academy is not hyperbole. The school is the first in the country to fully integrate a college-preparatory education with an MLS-affiliated youth soccer development program with practice time embedded into the school day. And although Jones is the first from the school to sign with the Union, many others in the first two graduating classes have moved on to play high-level Division I soccer (and can still sign with the Union, or the Steel, as a homegrown player if they shine at the collegiate level). 

“They helped me a lot,” Jones said of YSC Academy. “It was good. I got to train twice a day. I spent my whole day over there. In terms of working on my fitness, it really helped me.”

The school also helped Jones adapt to the United States away from the field, and even though he’s a quiet kid, his new teammates made sure to greet him with a lot of smiles this week. MLS veteran Chris Pontius said he expects Jones’ personality to come out in a few months and praised his soccer skills, calling him “a good two-way player” in the midfield.

It might be unfair to expect Jones to play right away for the Union, but the 19-year-old will certainly be ready if called upon, as early as Sunday’s home game vs. Real Salt Lake (7 p.m., CSN).

“I don’t know what that’s going to be like,” Jones said. “Maybe I’ll get nervous since it’s my first game. But I’m looking forward to it.”