How'd We Do? Analyzing the Totality of the Sixers' Off-Season Moves

How'd We Do? Analyzing the Totality of the Sixers' Off-Season Moves

Halfway into July, if I had to take an educated guess, I'd say the
Philadelphia 76ers are basically done with their off-season maneuvering.
There's always the chance of the Andre Iguodala trade that we've been
predicting for about two-and-a-half years now, but talks have slowed on
that front, and most of the teams being talked of as possible landing
spots for 'Dre—whether a contending team like the Lakers or a rebuilding
one like the Warriors or Timberwolves—have either locked into their
current roster, and/or already looked elsewhere to fill their small
forward void elsewhere. With the free agent pool drying up and the
Sixers running up on the salary cap, it seems fairly likely that this is
the team the Sixers will take into next year.

So how did the Sixers do in what we here at the Level have been
calling the most pivotal off-season in the franchise's post-AI history?
Well, let's break it down into a series of questions.

Did We Get What We Wanted?

Superficially, the answer here would appear to be yes. If you'd
asked me before the off-season what the three things we needed the most
going into next year, I would have said a perimeter scorer who can
create his own shot, a knockdown three-point shooter, and a proven
interior presence who can anchor a defense. We basically got one of each
of those, in shooting guard Nick Young (17.4 ppg for Washington two
seasons ago), small forward Dorrell Wright (194 threes for the Warriors
two seasons ago) and big man Kwame Brown (starting center for the
Bobcats with decent results
two seasons ago), respectively. Technically speaking, the Sixers
managed to add the two pieces they most needed without needing to give
up anything on the two rosters.


What makes these moves so unsatisfying is that the Sixers basically
nabbed the lowest-cost, lowest-upside versions of the three players they
needed in Young, Wright and Brown. Young can score, but he can't do
anything else, Wright has little value when he's not parked behind the
three-point line, and while Brown has turned into a decent interior
defender and rebounder, he's certainly no Tyson Chandler, and his
offensive game can be charitably described as that of a "Rich Man's Ben
Wallace." Both still add something the team was sorely lacking, but
neither represents any sort of long-term solution for their respective
role. 

What's more, Young and Brown are notoriously low-IQ players with
long, long track records of losing and losing big, with Wright having
little post-season success of his own to speak of. Nick Young's
first-round victory with the Clippers this season was the first time in
any of the 24 combined seasons for the three players that one of them
won a playoff series in which they actually played. If creating a
"winning atmosphere" was one of the primary goals of the team this
off-season, this was an odd way to do it.

So I guess the answer here is yes, we got we wanted. But it turned out we didn't really want it that badly.

Did We Lose Much in the Interim?

No,
not really. Well, that's not totally true—we lost two of the guys that
came to define the team over the last half-decade of Sixers basketball
in overpaid free agent power forward Elton Brand and bench scorer turned
swaggy rapper Lou Williams. But the latter is basically replaced in
role by Nick Young, and while advanced stats still say that Lou was a
far better player than Nick the past few seasons...I'll believe that
when I start yelling at Young on one out of every three possessions as I
eventually was with Sour Patch Lou. And Elton was on his way out soon
anyway—either through a trade deadline deal or walking as a free agent
next summer—so though he was still an effective post defender and
occasional scoring option, you can't bemoan his loss too much.

If anything, you could argue that we should have lost more,
as the decision to retain Spencer Hawes at two years, 13 million was
probably the Sixers' most roundly mocked of the off-season, and
deservedly so—Spencer has still yet to prove that he can be a starter in
this league, and 6.5 a year is an awful lot for a backup. But
ultimately, the Sixers lost little that can't be fairly readily
replaced.

Did We Screw Ourselves For the Future?

Surprisingly,
no. If the Sixers want to claim one victory for the off-season, it's
this: They made absolutely zero moves that we'll be regretting four
years down the line. That, of course, is because the Sixers made no
moves that will imapct the team four years from now—every single thing
they did was for a maximum of two years. No contract signed by a Sixer,
old or new, this off-season, will still be going past the 2014
off-season.

This may not sound like that big of a deal, but it actually is—the
contracts that really end up hamstringing a team are the five-year,
$35-million type you give out to role players who either underperform or
turn out to be not $7-million-a-year important in their role, clogging
up a team's cap space for a half-decade and preventing any kind of big
moves from being made. The fact that Lou Williams and Spencer Hawes were
not given such deals has to be seen as some kind of progress. (Though,
puzzlingly, it seems like Lou was offered one and turned it down.)

Did the Sixers Show Evidence of Having a Long-Term Plan?

Sort
of, although how sound or noble the plan is is certainly up for debate.
It appears that the front office is basically planning on putting the
team on hold for two years, at which point Iguodala comes off the books
and the team has to have officially decided how much to invest in Jrue
Holiday and Evan Turner. In the meantime, they have the short-term
contracts and financial flexibility to either pursue free agents next
off-season or make a blockbuster trade for a big-name guy should the
opportunity for either arise. And they can use these seasons as sort of a
trial period to see who, along with Holiday and Turner, should be
considered a crucial part of the team's future.

It's a plan, anyway—certainly one better than pretending the team
was actually close to contending last post-season, and keeping the
team's core in place while adding pieces to put them "over the top."
(Team CEO Adam Aron basically admitted the team had maxed out as
currently constituted, which is a healthy realization for him to come
to.) It's not all that sexy of a plan, however, and it's not even one
the team followed through with all the way, as they failed to find a
trade for Andre Iguodala and their draft strategy of Young and Athletic
failed to mesh with their free agent strategy of Middle-Aged and Not
Totally Stiff. An inconsistent, unglamorous plan is probably still
better than no plan at all, but how much better is certainly subject for
debate.

Does Our Roster Make More Sense Than it Did At the End of Last Year?

And
this is where the Sixers really failed this off-season. None of their
signings or draft choices were explicitly terrible, none of the players
they cut bait with were particularly tragic losses, but the combination
thereof has left the Sixers with a roster totally lacking in balance. If
you count Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young (and in my opinion, you
should), the Sixers will be entering next season with a grand total of
five small forwards, all of whom will command some sort of consistent
minutes. Meanwhile, the team totally lacks a backup point guard (unless
you count Xavier Silas or Nick Young, which, no) and appears to be
giving serious consideration towards tipping off 2012-13 with a starting
front line of Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown—which, really, shouldn't
happen under any circumstances ever.

Can Coach Doug Collins make sense out of the mess? Probably, but not
without some issues of poor roster equilibrium eventually being
exposed, and not without somebody bitching about role and/or
minutes. You'd like to think that a trade or two is still on the way to
help clear up the mess, but such a trade doesn't seem a particular
priority with the Sixers currently—rather, when they trade, it's for a
guy like Wright that has one very valuable skill, but also already has
four other dudes at the same position in front of him.

Ultimately, you might not be able to call this Sixers off-season a
total failure—the fact that Lou Williams was actually allowed to walk to
Atlanta basically disqualifies it from being labeled as such—but you
certainly wouldn't call it a resounding success, either. It was about
100x more active than the last four off-seasons, but ultimately we're
left in the same place—watching a mediocre team that keeps putting off
the decision of whether to rebuild or try to contend. The Sixers could
still be a fun team next year, but it's gonna be hard to be real excited
about the group Rod Thorn and company—whoever's making decisions for
the team these days—have put together.

Stephen Tulloch gets feet wet, thinks Eagles could have top-ranked D

Stephen Tulloch gets feet wet, thinks Eagles could have top-ranked D

INDIANAPOLIS – Veteran Stephen Tulloch made his Eagles debut Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium … late in the second half.

Tulloch, 31, was just signed earlier in the week. And after years of being a starter in the NFL, Tulloch comes to Philadelphia as role player. 

When was the last time he played in the fourth quarter of a preseason game?

“Wow. Two thouuusaaandd,” he said, trying to think. “Six, maybe … seven. But I didn’t have any training camp here, so it’s good to be out here and just run around.”

On one of Tulloch’s first plays of the night he was called for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness, and didn’t appear on the stat sheet otherwise after playing 19 snaps. Still, he was happy just to be back on the field. 

After spending all of training camp on the street and missing the first two preseason games, this was his first real football action in a long time. And he didn’t feel much rust. 

“Not really, man,” he said. “Just get my feet back under me again. It’s just different. I haven’t played since Jan. 3, but to get out there and see the calls and get familiarized with everything.”

There isn’t too much with which to get familiarized since Tulloch is not just a veteran of the NFL but also Jim Schwartz’s defense. He played in it in Tennessee and then Detroit. In fact, it’s what made it possible for him to even see the field during Saturday’s 33-23 win. 

How did the defense look to him? 

“The same way it always looks when my man Schwartz puts it together,” he said. “It’s very simple. He’s going to work to the guys’ strengths and it’s always been a productive defense as long as I’ve been a part of it. He has the talent here, the talent on this team, to be able to execute the defense.”

Aside from the defense on the field, there was something else familiar about Saturday night. As a MIKE linebacker, he had the earpiece in his helmet, which means direct communication with Schwartz. 

“You know how Jim is, he’s going to make sure you know everything,” Tulloch said. “Not just give you the call, but tell you what to look out for. He’s a madman when it comes to that. He’s studying film, he knows to look for certain down and distances. It’s good to have him back in my ear again.”

In his six seasons under Schwartz, Tulloch was a piece in two top-10 defenses, so he’s seen this scheme work at a high level. 

Now that he’s been with the Eagles for a few days and has seen what they have to offer, he thinks this defense should be a very good one. 

“A lot of talent,” Tulloch said. “Like I said, that D-line is special. [Malcolm Jenkins] on the back end, [Rodney McLeod]. There’s a lot of good young talent here and this is perfect for this defense. Guys will fit very well here and this defense should be a top-ranked defense.”

Source: Jeremy Hellickson ineligible for late trade, here for remainder of ‘16

Source: Jeremy Hellickson ineligible for late trade, here for remainder of ‘16

NEW YORK – Jeremy Hellickson will be with the Phillies for the remainder of the season.
 
According to sources, the veteran right-hander was recently claimed on waivers. The Phillies were unable to work out a deal with the claiming team and Hellickson was pulled back, making him ineligible to be traded the remainder of the season.
 
Hellickson drew interest before the Aug. 1 trade deadline, but the Phillies did not receive an offer that they liked so they hung on to the pitcher. A player traded after Aug. 1 must first go through waivers.
 
Players traded in August must be on their new team’s roster by Sept. 1 — Thursday — to gain playoff eligibility. Players can still be traded in waiver deals after Sept. 1, but they would be ineligible for the playoffs.
 
Even though Hellickson, 29, can be a free agent at season’s end, Phillies officials did not view trading him as an imperative. The Phillies believe they can get good value for Hellickson with a compensatory pick in next June’s draft. But first the Phils must extend Hellickson a qualifying salary offer for 2017. That could be close to $17 million. Hellickson would have to turn the offer down and opt for the free-agent market for the Phils to get that pick.
 
Hellickson is 10-8 with a 3.80 ERA in 26 starts for the Phillies this season. He struggled against the Mets on Saturday night, but had a 2.60 ERA in his previous 11 starts. Chances seem good that he will find a multi-year deal on the free-agent market and reject the Phillies’ one-year qualifying offer, thus giving the team a draft pick between the first and second rounds.

Defensive line proving to be Eagles' biggest strength

Defensive line proving to be Eagles' biggest strength

INDIANAPOLIS – If this was a realistic glimpse at what the Eagles’ defensive line is going to be, watch out.
 
This D-line has a chance to be something special.
 
All the usual preseason disclaimers apply. We don’t know how much the Colts game planned. We don’t know if they can all stay healthy. It’s always dangerous to project too much from a preseason game into the regular season.
 
Still.
 
This was dominating stuff Saturday night from a defensive line that is clearly the strength of this football team.
 
If they can keep it up … watch out.
 
“You don’t want to get carried away and go out there after a preseason game and say how great we are, but it’s still exciting,” defensive tackle Beau Allen said.
 
“I think we an be a really good crew. I think it’s a mature group, and we’ve all played in a lot of football games and we get out there we just feel comfortable with each other."

In the final tuneup for the starters, the Eagles beat the Colts, 33-23, at Lucas Oil Stadium (see story).
 
With the starting defense on the field, the Colts scored only on a field goal following a turnover and on a blocked punt. The Colts, with all-pro Andrew Luck playing into the third quarter, managed just 206 yards and those three points on six drives.
 
The Eagles sacked Luck three times, held Colts ball carriers to 24 yards on 13 carries and didn’t give Luck any time to get the ball down the field.
 
“They didn’t run the ball on us, which is always important early in the game,” Barwin said. “And then we were consistently getting Andrew off his spot, making him move around a little bit, making him uncomfortable.”
 
Yes, it’s preseason. But as Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins points out, an effective pass rush is an effective pass rush. No matter when you see it.
 
“One thing I think you can really evaluate in the preseason is a pass rush,” Jenkins said. “Especially if it’s a four-man rush. Because there’s not much of scheme to it. You cut ‘em loose and you either can beat him 1-on-1 or you can’t, and the consistent pressure we got from a four-man rush was definitely encouraging.
 
“We got more guys in coverage, the quarterback has to hold the ball a little bit longer, and every time we made him double clutch, he got put on the ground. 
 
“It goes hand and hand, coverage and pressure, so that’s obviously something we want to continue to excel at. … This was our last real opportuity to get out there together and play in some signifiant time and we wanted to make sure we had a clean run, had the small mistakes that we might have made earlier in camp, make sure those things are eradicated. Make sure we communicated well and played fast.”
 
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz used seven defensive linemen with the first group — starters Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin, plus Vinny Curry, Taylor Hart and Allen.
 
It’s a talented group and it’s a deep group, and it's a group that's been together a long time.
 
"There’s a comfort level that comes with playing a lot of snaps with your guys and I think it shows out there on the field," Allen said. "It was a fun game and it seemed like we were flying around.”
 
Graham is in his seventh year with the Eagles, Cox and Curry in their fifth, Barwin and Logan in their fourth and Hart and Allen in their third.
 
Of the 16 players who’ve been here at least four years, five are defensive linemen. Of the eight Andy Reid holdovers, three are defensive linemen.
 
“I think we have great communication, great rapport,” Allen said. “It’s things like that you don’t really think about but it really goes a long way. We’ve all been here a while and it’s great when you get that.”
 
Every defensive coordinator talks about playing all his guys, about depth. From what we saw Saturday night, Schwartz truly believes in it.

He worked just about everybody in with the first group.
 
“We’re going to continue to move guys around, rotate guys in, keep guys fresh and play with that kind of speed all game long,” Barwin said.
 
“I know we’re pretty deep at defensive line. Everybody can play. Everybody’s capable of making plays. When you are playing at that speed every single snap and you know your’e only going to play three, four, five plays in a row? And you can go as hard as you can possibly go? That allows you to make plays.”
 
Logan, Barwin and Allen sacked Luck Saturday night, and Logan, Allen, Barwin, Graham, Hart and Cox were all credited with quarterback hits.
 
It was dominating stuff. It didn’t count but it sure was promising.
 
“It was just fun, man, when you’re out there flying around,” Graham said. “We know we still have to keep getting better. It’s preseason and a lot of guys don’t really game plan us and stuff like that, but it’s definitely good that the effort part is there. You don’t have to coach that.
 
“We’re all out there going hard and playing fast and for us we just want to keep getting better and it’s going to be nice when we actually game plan a team and really start getting after it, man.
 
“I’m excited. I’m just excited about where this defense is going to go if we continue to stay together.”