Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers' Off-Season: #2. Who's Coaching?

Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers' Off-Season: #2. Who's Coaching?

Eleven. That's how many NBA teams fired or let go of their coaches this off-season--a whopping six of whom even made the playoffs last year, if you can believe that. A handful of those teams have already filled their vacacines--Cleveland with Mike Brown, Sacramento with Mike Malone, Atlanta with Mike Budenholzer--but the majority still remain open, meaning that the 76ers have a whole lot of competition to land their ideal candidate to replace Doug Collins as the franchise's new head coach next year.

What's more, we don't really have any idea who that ideal candidate even is. Aside from a couple whispers from anonymous sources about who the team might be interested in, we haven't gotten much insight about who Sam Hinkie and company are actually pursuing as our new fearless leader--they haven't interviewed anyone yet, nor have they made obvious advances on anyone. So all we can really do is guess about who they're looking at, based on those telephone-line rumors and arguable common sense.

[10 Biggest Questions: 10. What are we now and where are we going? | 9. Is Thad Young untouchable? | 8. Is Spencer Hawes good enough for our starting Center? | 7. Are any of our mid-level FAs worth re-signing? | 6. What players are worth trading for? | 5. Free agent targets? | 4. What to do with Evan Turner? | 3. Who are we gonna draft?]

Here's some of those rumored and likely names, many of whom are certainly on more wishlists than just that of the Sixers:

George Karl. Probably the most recognizable (and unlikely) name to suddenly be on the market, it was announced yesterday that Karl would not be returning for his final year of coaching with the Denver Nuggets, due to dispute over a contract extension. Karl has a resume easily unparalleled on the open market--the seventh-most wins in NBA history, a 60% career winning percentage, a Finals appearance in 1996 with the Sonics, and even some Coach of the Year hardware won this last year with the Nuggets, when he lead them to a franchise-best 567wins. Grantland's Zach Lowe even tweeted that it "would not shock me at all if the Sixers' revamped front office called Karl ASAP."

Does he make sense for the Sixers, though? Well, it depends on how competitive the Sixers plan on being next year--if they're doing a modest re-stock and hope to push for the playoffs, Karl would make sense, since he's long excelled at squeezing regular-season wins out of teams of varying degrees of talent (though his relative lack of playoff success has left him under fire on occasion). I'm not sure if or why Karl would want to stick around for a long-term rebuild in Philly, however, if that's where we're headed, and I'm not sure that a young team like the Sixers will likely have will respond to an older coach (Karl turned 62 in May) more adept at handling veterans.

"George Karl doesn't seem to be the "right" coach for the Sixers," wrote Sean O'Connor of Liberty Ballers of the recently fired coach. "But we might not find that perfect fit in the end, and if we can't find one, I'm not sure there's a better placeholder out there." I tend to concur.

Lionel Hollins. Hollins is largely in the same boat as Karl--a well-respected coach coming off an excellent year, taking the Memphis Grizzlies to a franchise-best 56 wins and an unexpected Conference Finals appearance, who parted ways with his former employers over money considerations. Hollins' reputation as a tough, defensive-minded coach is one of the league's best, and his Grizzlies have improved in winning percentage every year since he took over in 2009, in addition to pulling off a couple playoff upsets where they were the lower-seeded team.

However, Hollins would likely make for an odd fit in Philadelphia, both for the Sixers' questionable defensive personnel (despite the occasionally similar box scores, no one will ever mistake Spencer Hawes for Marc Gasol), and their supposed new analytical bent under GM Sam Hinkie. More than any other head coach in the league (except maybe the one we just got rid of), Hollins has expressed a distaste for using advanced stats to dictate personnel moves--he was vocal against the team's trade of leading scorer Rudy Gay, despite the numbers showing that Gay's inefficiency was actually making him a detriment to his team's offense--and that will likely lead to clashes with Hinkie in the long run. Probably best to stay away here.

Brian Shaw. The Pacers' assistant coach has gotten a fair share of the credit for the team's growth from rebuilding outfit to championship contender over the last few years, recently culminating in Indiana's impressive seven-game staredown of the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Shaw has long been the bridesmaid as pertains to head coaching, spending seven years waiting to succeed Phil Jackson in Los Angeles but being passed over for Mike Brown, but this time, he seems a certain bet to land one of the many coaching vacancies around the league, having already been targeted by both the Nets and Clippers, arguably two of the sexiest remaining openings.

Shaw has proven his mettle with establishing defense and developing young players, two things the Sixers are obviously in need of. He's unproven as a head coach, and at 47 he's still relatively young for the position, but not nearly as young or unproven as Frank Vogel was when he was promoted to the Pacers' top dog in 2011, and he's quickly grown into one of the league's best coaches. The Sixers would be lucky to land Shaw, but it's hard to imagine him eschewing a big market and talent-stocked roster like those shared by the Nets and Clippers for the murky on-and-off-court situation in Philly. Here's hoping that Hinkie is good with a sales pitch.

Chris Finch. No, not David Brent's obnoxious bully friend from the UK Office--though he has coached the British national team, it'd be great to be able to use the puns and "Fiiinchyyyyyyy" shouts if he got the job--but rather, a Houston Rockets assistant coach and former head coach of the Rockets' D-League affiliate in Rio Grande. Zach Lowe (yes, him again) reports that Hinkie has a strong working relationship with the assistant from their days together in H-Town, and calls him a "name to watch" in the Sixers' coaching hunt.

Without any real NBA coaching experience to speak of, it's not easy to do much evaluating on Finch, but at 43 he's also fairly young, and he could be an interesting long-term play for Hinkie, who might not be trying to win all that many games in the next few regular seasons anyway. Plus, he can probably throw a shoe over the roof of a pub, no problem.

Michael Curry. During the Sixers' old administration, for whom not rocking the boat frequently seemed a top priority, assistant coach Michael Curry seemed a likely candidate to replace Doug Collins once it became obvious his time in Philly was coming to an end. A former player himself, Curry has a rep as something of a players' coach, and he's gotten the endorsement of both the departing Collins and even a couple of the Sixers' key young players to be the Sixers' new commander-in-chief. ("I've known him for the last three years," said Jrue Holiday. "He's somebody I trust, and somebody I'd love as a head coach.")

However, with Hinkie--who had nothing to do with the choosing of either Collins or Curry on the Sixers' coaching staff--now in charge, it seems unlikely to me that he'd just promote in-house for consistency's sake. Not to mention that Curry has advanced from assistant to head coach once before, and that didn't go so well--he was steering the ship the year the Pistons crash-landed from perennial playoff contender to quasi-rebuilding mess, though that probably had more to do with the Chauncey Billups / Allen Iverson trade they made with Denver than anything Curry did in charge.

Larry Brown. Only mentioned due to recent reports linking the Sixers to the coach that took them to the Finals back in 2001, though Brown himself has downplayed such reports. Such a backwards-looking move would be perplexing for the Sixers at this point--not to mention that if Doug Collins was starting to grate on younger players, Brown's isn't exactly the voice they're gonna want to hear next--so let's hope it's more rumor than anything else.

Nate McMillan. Only mentioned because my father is weirdly deadset on the Sixers targeting the former Blazers coach, and I don't have a particularly good reason why they shouldn't.

--

Personally, of the choices mentioned--and lord knows there are probably dozens of other names out there that are equally plausible--I'd probably be most pleased with the Sixers landing Shaw, though failing that, I'd prefer a roll of the dice on an unproven name like Finch's rather than an established name like Karl or (shudder) Brown. Always hard to predict with these things, though, so we'll just have to wait and see who's actually on the list of names on Hinkie's computer print-out when he finally emerges from the Sixers' war room to begin his search.

End to End: Analyzing Bradyen Schenn's contract

End to End: Analyzing Bradyen Schenn's contract

Each week, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone, all producers/reporters for CSNPhilly.com.

Is Brayden Schenn's contract a good deal for the Flyers?

Dougherty
It's understandable why some portion of Flyers fans have responded to Schenn's contract extension with caution; the $5.125 million is a bit high for what he's done consistently. But we live in a salary cap world in which the cap is not rising at the rate we would like.

We have to consider that when analyzing contracts. As Sportsnet's Colton Praill eloquently opined about bridge contracts back on July 13, we've seen teams get burnt by bad contracts. Look at the Chicago Blackhawks, who have had to move players to fit under the cap.

Part of surviving the cap world is making smart bets on players, and that requires breaking down what they have done already but more importantly, what you believe they'll do in the future. And Ron Hextall has done a decent job of that in his tenure as GM.

A perfect example of that is Sean Couturier's contract. It was a higher cap hit than his offensive production warranted at the time, but a deal we would look back on as a steal.

Now, Schenn's development is nearly complete. It's a different situation, but the same idea. If Schenn is a 26-goal, 59-point player, his $5.125 million AAV is fair.

If there's another level we haven't seen from the 24-year-old, then this is a totally different conversation in a few years.

In the end, the Flyers are betting on Schenn being the player he was from Jan. 1, 2016, through the end of the season, and living in the cap world, it's a smart play.

Hall
The Flyers were going to re-sign Brayden Schenn, through an arbitrator or not.

And when it was all said and done, no matter if the average annual value was slightly lower or higher than the $5.125 million of Schenn’s new four-year contract, the Flyers were still going to be handcuffed by the cap.

So the Flyers avoided what can be a messy arbitration process by finding a happy medium with a strategic deal that behooves the Flyers long term, as Ron Hextall explained.

Now they have longer team control over Schenn, who could have signed for fewer years, upped his game and ballooned his payday as an unrestricted free agent.

Like Hextall said, top-six forwards entering their prime "are hard to find."

Yeah, the Flyers probably overpaid just a bit, but that’s the NHL market — it’s far from perfect.

Paone
There’s a reason these kinds of things are categorized as negotiations. There’s give and take involved. In the case of Brayden Schenn’s contract, there was probably a little more give than Ron Hextall and the Flyers would have liked. The numbers reported over the weekend tell us the Flyers didn’t necessarily want to go over the $5 million per year threshold with Schenn, even though the 24-year-old forward is coming off a career year of 26 goals and 33 assists.

But just because the Flyers went over their projected budget by going a smidge over $5 million doesn’t mean this is a terrible deal for the team. Not by any means. By now, you’ve probably read or heard Hextall use the term “market deal” when describing this contract. And that’s accurate because that’s the way the NHL is going these days. Yes, Schenn has had inconsistency issues over his first five seasons in Philadelphia. But young scorers don’t grow on trees. You have to pay to keep the ones you have. New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri, the New York Rangers’ Chris Kreider and St. Louis’ Jaden Schwartz are just a few examples. Schenn is just the latest. There will be more young scorers out there, flaws be damned, who will get paid sooner rather than later.

Sure, Schenn picked a great time last year — a contract year — to have a career season. And that pushed the Flyers to reward him. Now, it’s up to him to reward the Flyers’ faith.

Phillies to host Grateful Dead Tribute Night in August with sweet tie-dye T-shirt giveaway

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Phillies to host Grateful Dead Tribute Night in August with sweet tie-dye T-shirt giveaway

The 2016 Philadelphia Phillies season has felt a bit like they're just going down the road feeling bad and when they're at home, Citizens Bank Park has felt a bit like a brokedown palace, so it's fitting they're hosting a Grateful Dead Tribute Night in August.

Not sure what kind of antics are planned for the night but I'm hopping it includes a skit where the Phanatic dances on top of the dugout with his new best friend Lucifer. 

Grateful Dead night at CBP will take place on Tuesday, August 2nd when the Phils host the San Francisco Giants.

"The first 1,500 fans who purchase tickets through this promotion will receive a coupon for an exclusive Phillies Grateful Dead T-shirt giveaway," says the Phillies website. "In addition, $4 from each ticket sold for this event will benefit the Rex Foundation."

The Phillies have struggled heading into the July trade deadline, but hopefully help is on the way in the form of young prospects like Jake Thompson and J.P. Crawford.

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Phils look to continue mastery of Giancarlo Stanton

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Phils look to continue mastery of Giancarlo Stanton

Phillies (46-55) at Marlins (53-46)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

Another impressive start by Jeremy Hellickson and some timely late offense led the Phillies to a series-opening win in Miami Monday. Now they go for the quick series win, which would be their first in four tries since the All-Star break.

Let's take a closer look at Tuesday's matchup:

1. One donut shy of a dozen
The Phillies' 4-0 win last night was their 11th shutout victory of the season, the most in baseball. The Mets and Dodgers are tied for second with nine.

The Phils' pitching staff was obviously at its best in April, when it set the MLB record for strikeouts per nine innings in the month at 10.4. The Phillies had five shutouts in April, two in May, two in June and now two in July. 

And it's not like the Phils have just taken advantage of bad teams here, shutting out the Braves or Padres repeatedly. They've shut out the Nationals twice, the Mets, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Pirates, Marlins and Diamondbacks. All of those teams except Arizona (which has a good offense) is above .500 and in the playoff hunt.

It's been written here many times that the most important short-term decision the Phillies made this past offseason was to raise the floor of the starting rotation. They've done it, and more importantly they've done it with youth. The Phillies' mediocre, veteran-laden 2015 staff had just seven shutouts all season.

2. Walk this way
Maikel Franco and Cameron Rupp both had productive nights Monday in their returns to the starting lineup. Franco went 1 for 2 with a double and three walks, scoring the Phillies' first and ultimately game-winning run in the eighth. Rupp went 0 for 2 but also walked three times and saw 26 pitches.

How rare is it for two Phillies to walk three times in the same game? It hadn't happened since Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz did it on April 5, 2010 at Nationals Park in Roy Halladay's Phillies debut.

Franco and Rupp may have been the two most unlikely Phillies to walk three times. Franco is an aggressive swinger, and Rupp walked just three times in the season's first two months. Rupp had just 11 in 248 plate appearances this season before Monday.

The Phillies averted disaster with two of their productive, young hitters after Franco was hit by a pitch on the wrist (again) in Pittsburgh and Rupp was hit on the helmet. 

3. Eickhoff's turn
Two of Jerad Eickhoff's last three starts have seen him start strong and fall apart in the middle innings. He allowed six runs (five earned) on nine hits over five innings against the Marlins last week after beginning the game with three scoreless innings.

Right before the All-Star break, Eickhoff was cruising at Coors Field with four shutout innings before the umpire's strike zone shrunk and Eickhoff's control disappeared. He allowed two runs in the fifth and six in the sixth.

In between those two outings was a well-pitched game in which Eickhoff allowed two runs in six innings to the Mets for yet another quality start.

So even though the results lately have been ugly for Eickhoff, even though his ERA has risen from 3.30 to 3.98 in the span of three weeks, he hasn't been all that bad. He just needs to avoid that one big inning.

Eickhoff, who is 6-11 with a 3.98 ERA in 20 starts this season, is 0-2 with a 6.55 ERA against the Marlins this season. He pitched six shutout innings against them in their lone meeting last year.

Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich have caused the most problems for him, going a combined 6 for 15 with three doubles and two homers.

4. Time to hit Koehler
The Phillies have had three looks at mediocre Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler (7-8, 4.42) this season and failed to hit him all three times. 

On May 7, Koehler allowed one run on two hits over seven innings with eight strikeouts in a game the Phillies eventually won. 

On May 18, he allowed two runs to them in seven innings and induced 16 groundballs.

And then last week, matched up against Eickhoff, Koehler again gave up just two hits, this time over eight innings. He allowed two homers but only one of the Phils' three runs was earned.

It's hard to explain why, all the sudden, the Phils have stopped hitting the 6-foot-3 righty. Last season, a worse Phillies team scored 15 runs against him in 21 innings. 

The Phillies are familiar with Koehler's repertoire, which includes a fastball in the 93 to 95 mph range, a curveball, slider and changeup. In the first two meetings this season he threw them a ton of fastballs, 115 in all. But last week he threw just 38 fastballs among 110 pitches. He threw 34 curveballs in that game, by far the most he's thrown this season. Don't be surprised to see a similar game plan tonight given how well it worked last week.

Current Phillies have hit just .201 against Koehler with three homers (Ryan Howard, Cody Asche, Freddy Galvis) in 144 at-bats.

5. Marlins notes
• Ichiro has gone 0 for 4 as a pinch-hitter in the Marlins' last four games. He's sitting on 2,996 career hits, meaning he could get his historic 3,000th against the Phillies this week with a big game or two. It would require the Marlins to sit one of Ozuna, Yelich or Giancarlo Stanton, though.

• Stanton this season against the Phillies: 3 for 33 (.091), one extra-base hit (a homer), two RBIs, 14 strikeouts. 

Against everyone else, Stanton has hit .257/.350/.524 with 20 home runs and 53 RBIs. If you remove the Phillies from the equation, Stanton's OPS this season would be 52 points higher, .874 instead of .822.