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.

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

The Eagles released Rueben Randle and Chris Givens on Sunday, ending the brief and disappointing Eagles careers of both veteran wide receivers.

The two receivers were among eight players released by the team on Sunday evening.

Randle caught five passes for 26 yards in the preseason and Givens caught one for 19 yards.

The Eagles tried to bolster their receiver corps by adding the two receivers this offseason, signing Randle to a one-year, $1,025,000 contract and Givens to a one-year $760,000 deal.

Randle got $500,000 guaranteed and Givens $180,000 guaranteed, so the two moves will count $680,000 against the Eagles’ 2016 adjusted salary cap of $161,570,362.

The moves leave the Eagles with eight wide receivers: Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Josh Huff, Paul Turner, Marcus Johnson, Cayleb Jones and David Watford.

Barring any other personnel moves, Matthews, Agholor, Green-Beckham, Huff and Turner appear headed for the final 53-man roster.

Randle’s decline is fairly astonishing.

Two years ago with the Giants, he caught 71 passes for 938 yards, and last year he caught 57 passes for 797 yards and eight touchdowns. He had four catches of 40 yards or more in 2015, fourth-most in the NFL. In four seasons in New York, he caught 188 passes for 2,644 yards and 20 TDs.

Yet the Giants had no interest in re-signing him. Now the former second-round pick’s career is in jeopardy at the age of 25.

Givens, a fourth-round pick of the Rams in 2012, was with his third team in two years this summer. His once-promising career could be over at the age of 26.

Most notable among the six other players released was offensive tackle Andrew Gardner, who started 11 games in an Eagles uniform.

Gardner, who had also spent time with the Dolphins and Texans, started eight games at right guard and right tackle for the Eagles in 2014 and was the Eagles’ opening-day starter last year at right guard. He suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot during a Week 3 game against the Jets at the Meadowlands and missed the rest of the season.

Also released was a member of last year’s draft class, sixth-round pick Randall Evans out of Kansas State. Evans spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad but was activated for the Pat Shurmur season finale against the Giants at the Meadowlands and got into the game on special teams.

The Eagles also released veteran defensive tackle Mike Martin, who played in 46 games for the Titans the last four years, including five starts. Also released were long snapper John DePalma and cornerback Denzel Rice, the latter of who played in five games last year and got 20 defensive snaps in the season finale against the Giants last year.

The Eagles also placed linebacker Joe Walker (knee) and defensive end Alex McCalister (calf), two rookie seventh-round picks, on season-ending Injured Reserve.

Teams have until Tuesday to reduce rosters to 75. The Eagles’ roster is currently at 73, and they have to reduce it to 53 by 4 p.m. next Sunday.

The Eagles finish the preseason on Thursday night at the Linc against the Jets.

Best of MLB: Josh Donaldson mashes 3 home runs to lead Blue Jays past Twins

Best of MLB: Josh Donaldson mashes 3 home runs to lead Blue Jays past Twins

TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson had his first career three-homer game, Troy Tulowitzki also went deep and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Minnesota Twins 9-6 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Donaldson hit a solo homer off Kyle Gibson in the second, then delivered a go-ahead, two-run blast off Pat Light (0-1) in the seventh.

Dozens of fans tossed hats onto the field to celebrate the home run hat trick after Donaldson, the AL MVP in 2015, hit a solo shot off Alex Wimmers in the eighth. Groundskeepers and even the Blue Jays mascot helped clear the hats away.

Donaldson's fourth multi-homer game this season and the 10th of his career also marked the 17th three-homer game in the majors this season.

Jose Bautista had his first three-hit game of the season for the AL East-leading Blue Jays.

Minnesota lost its season-worst 10th straight. The Twins have lost seven straight in Toronto.

Scott Feldman (7-4) earned the win by getting two outs in the seventh. Jason Grilli worked the eighth and Roberto Osuna finished (see full recap). 

Pirates win 8th straight on road, sweep Brewers 3-1
MILWAUKEE -- Ivan Nova threw six sharp innings before leaving early because of a hurting left hamstring and the Pittsburgh Pirates hit three solo homers to rally past the Milwaukee Brewers 3-1 on Sunday for their eighth straight road victory.

John Jaso and Gregory Polanco each homered in the sixth off Brewers starter Chase Anderson (7-11) to complete Pittsburgh's first sweep at Miller Park since 2004. Starling Marte added a solo shot in the eighth.

Nova (4-0) retired 10 of his final 11 batters after allowing Jonathan Villar's solo homer in the third. He scattered three hits and struck out four before being pinch hit for in the seventh.

Tony Watson pitched a clean ninth for his 10th save in 13 opportunities (see full recap).

Archer strikes out 10, Rays hit 3 HRs in 10-4 win vs Astros
HOUSTON -- Chris Archer struck out 10 in seven innings, Corey Dickerson hit a three-run homer and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Houston Astros 10-4 on Sunday.

Matt Duffy and Nick Franklin also went deep for the last-place Rays, who have homered in 21 of their last 24 games.

Houston, in the hunt for an AL wild card, had won three straight.

Archer (8-17) gave up three runs and four hits with two walks. With his strikeout of A.J. Reed in the sixth, the right-hander joined David Price and James Shields as the only Tampa Bay pitchers with multiple 200-strikeout seasons.

The Rays jumped out early against Doug Fister.

Fister (12-9) allowed four runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings, the fourth time in his past seven starts he has permitted four or more runs (see full recap). 

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- A.J. Ellis’ first game as a Phillie certainly went a lot better than Carlos Ruiz’s first game as a Dodger.

Ellis’ first hit with his new club helped the Phils salvage one game of a weekend series with the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon. The Phillies won it, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), behind a solid start from Vince Velasquez, excellent bullpen work and Ellis’ big hit, a tie-breaking, two-run double in the top of the seventh.

The Phillies had lost the first two games of the series by a combined score of 21-5. Their pitchers gave up eight homers in the first two games.

On Sunday, Velasquez and a quartet of relievers held the Mets to seven hits, all singles.

Ellis joined the Phillies just 24 hours earlier after being traded from the Dodgers on Thursday. He had been with that club his whole career.

Ruiz, of course, had been with the Phillies his whole career.

Ruiz’s first game with the Dodgers did not go nearly as smooth. The veteran catcher had trouble handling the pitches of closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning Friday night and that contributed to the Dodgers blowing a one-run lead and losing to the Chicago Cubs in 10 innings.

Leaving the Dodgers was difficult and emotional for Ellis. He was able to bury himself in the game Sunday and came away feeling pretty good.

“It’s just great to be playing baseball again,” he said, standing in front of his locker, a blue Dodgers equipment bag (that will soon be swapped out for a Phillies bag) at his feet. “You kind of lose yourself in the competition and then just play again.

“Regardless of what’s happened in the last four days, it feels good to drive in runs, feels good to help put your team ahead and help contribute to a team win.”

During his 24 or so hours with the Phillies, Ellis has immersed himself in learning a new staff of pitchers. He caught starters Jerad Eickhoff and Jake Thompson in the bullpen before Saturday’s game and warmed up several relievers during that game.

On Sunday morning, he arrived at Citi Field, saw his name in the lineup and immediately began prepping to catch Velasquez, the hardest-thrower on the Phillies’ starting staff.

Velasquez bounced back from three poor outings in which he gave up 19 runs in 17 1/3 innings and held a hot Mets lineup to a run over five innings. The only negative was that Velasquez could not pitch deeper into the game because his command was poor and needed 103 pitches to complete the five innings.

Nonetheless, Ellis, who was the personal catcher for Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles, liked what he saw of Velasquez.

“His pitch count got elevated the first two innings and he was able to grind through the last three,” Ellis said. “The stuff is electric. He has so many weapons, so many options. When he keeps growing and keeps polishing that gift up, it’s going to be really, really special.

“So I’m excited to be able to continue to work with him, excited to work with him and (pitching coach) Bob McClure and (No. 1 catcher) Cameron Rupp, kind of talk to them about things, things he sees, things we see, and together we can build a plan for him going forward in his career.”

Two things are going to help the 24-year-old Velasquez reach his potential.

First is good health. He’s had arm problems in the past and there remain concerns about his long-term durability. That’s why the Phillies are closely monitoring his workload as this season winds down.

Second is command, control, economy of pitches – whatever you want to call it. Velasquez needs to be more efficient. Too many times he’s left games in the middle innings because of a high pitch count.

“Definitely,” he responded when asked if lowering his pitch counts and working deeper into games was the key to his improvement. “It’s going to help the longevity, it saves the bullpen, it helps out everybody. Not just on my end, but the whole team in general.

“And,” he joked, “then I can also work on my swing by getting some more at-bats.”

Despite the high pitch count, Velasquez walked just one. He struck out seven. He is up to 129 innings for the season. That includes five innings in a rehab game at Double A Reading. The Phillies will look to keep him at about 150 innings for the season. That could be three, four or five more starts, depending on how long the right-hander lasts. He’s averaged just over five innings in his starts this season.

“I think that would be the right move,” Velasquez said of the 150-inning target.