The Unstoppable Force Meets, Like, the Most Movable Object Ever: A state of the union before Sixers-Spurs

The Unstoppable Force Meets, Like, the Most Movable Object Ever: A state of the union before Sixers-Spurs

37 games. That's the disparity in win streaks between the Philadelphia 76ers, who have dropped 24 straight, and the San Antonio Spurs, who have rolled through their last 13 games, at the moment. It's a difference in current franchise realities that should be rather prominently on display when the two teams face off tonight in San Antonio in coach Brett Brown's return to the franchise he spent over a decade with. The Spurs are a nightmare matchup for the Sixers: Offensively fluid, with shooters and passers everywhere, capable of playing both at the breakneck open-court pace Philly favors and at the grinding half-court pace in which the Sixers quickly wither, and also defensively opportunistic, able to force teams into playing to their weaknesses and quickly turning mistakes into points at the other end. The results will not be pretty.

However, it might be worth watching anyway. If you've had the stomach to tune in to the last handful of Sixers games, you'll notice that the team has been playing better recently. Not well enough to win, exactly, but well enough to remain competitive, and well enough to see the subtle ways the team is improving, or at least adapting to their new surroundings. They've been defending better, they're finding ways to generate offense, and they might have even found a long-term keeper or two in their endless scrap heap and D-League shuffle.

Michael Carter-Williams is shooting and operating with more confidence, much more liable than at season's beginning to pop off a long two or a runner down the lane if given the space to do either. He's still got to work on the shots to be able to hit either with consistency, but just to see him taking them (and occasionally making) them at all is encouraging. He's also turned into the team's best rebounder, using his length and considerable ups to snare a staggering 8.3 rebounds a game since Evan and Spencer were traded, boarding in the double digits four times in the last eight games after doing so only three times before that this season. He's such a weapon in so many different facets of the game that even when he's shooting below 40% (as he now is for the season), he still manages to keep the team in a lot of these games without, obviously, a ton of help.

Meanwhile, Thaddeus Young has been given the mother of all green lights, and has turned into the league's most unlikely volume scorer, murking his field goal percentage in the process but turning him into an impressively dangerous playmaker on both sides of the ball. Since the trades, Thad is averaging an eye-popping 21.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.8 APG and 2.7 SPG--probably saving more than a handful of fantasy teams in the process--though he's only shooting 41% from the field and 30% from three, despite jacking 21 shots and a half-dozen triples a game. He's not only unrecognizable as the Thaddeus we knew and loved, but is putting up numbers unlike anyone in the league right now. We'll probably be a better team once Thad can get back to his high-efficiency, complementary self, but watching him put up numbers like this on such a depleted team is pretty spellbinding.

Thad and MCW are the only obviously above-average players on the roster right now, but we might have picked up a couple other keepers in big men Henry Sims and Varnado. Sims, a throw-in in the Hawes deal, has been an absolute monster--by Sixers big-man standards, anyway--at center for them, averaging ten points, seven boards and even nearly two assists a game for the size-deprived Ballers. He's a very good interior passer, a solid help defender, and a virtually unmovable presence in the middle of the paint. He's posted impressive double-doubles--16/13 and 18/15--in consecutive games against the Knicks and Bulls, two teams with no shortage of big dudes on the interior, just by being solid down low, outbattling for boards and putbacks with his size and strength.

Sims doesn't exactly have what you'd call a soft touch--he has a 1-12-foot jumper he's willing to unleash and an impressive array of offensive post moves, but not a ton of them seem to end with the ball going in the basket, as he's shooting just 43% from the field. And for a center, he's not tremendous as a shot-blocker--he's got just ten swats total since coming the Sixers, without the elevation to really get to a lot of shots at the basket. But he still manages to score at a decent-enough clip--14 points per 36 minutes--and he's a better shot-affecter than shot-blocker, pushing big guys out of position and at least giving opposing guards something to think about when attacking the basket. His PER of 16.0 is second-best among current Sixers--not saying a ton, but still. He's probably not a starter in this league, but we could do a lot worse for a backup once Nerlens Noel is ready to play.

Sims will have competition, however, from his current backup, the young journeyman Jarvis Varnado. The Mississippi State prouct has about the exact opposite skill set of Sims--he has a much more limited offensive skill set and a very odd-looking jump shot, but looks for his own shot so sparingly that he's still averaging 60% from the field, and is much less solid a post defender, but an absolutely dynamic shot-blocker, racking up over two blocks per 36 minutes. Neither exactly profiles as a likely core part of the Sixers' long-term plans, but it's easy to see either player getting minutes for this team next year. At the very least, it's fun to watch these players come along and give the team really good minutes, to make us feel like there's something being gained in all of these games of losing.

But yeah, about that losing. We're at 24 in a row currently, and that'll almost certainly become 25 tonight, and then 26 on Wednesday when we face the Rockets. The next four games will be a lot more winnable, against four sub-.500 East opponents (Pistons, Hawks, Bobcats, Celtics), but it's the first of those games, against Detroit, that the Sixers should really be focused on, since if they win that one, they'll have only tied the record for consecutive losses in a season (26, with the post-LeBron '11 Cavaliers) instead of owning it outright. Hard to be optimistic, considering how the Pistons have thumped them all season and considering some of the terrible teams they've lost to on this streak, but hopefully the Ballers' improved play of late portends a stronger showing this time out.

At the very least, I feel really good about the direction this team is heading in. The Sixers' pick in next year's draft will be a guaranteed top-fiver, and with the Pelicans going on a mini-tear of late, they've fallen to 11th in the tanking rankings--lower than some Sixer fans were hoping to be drafting with that pick perhaps, but mostly safe from somehow ending up winning the lottery and costing us the pick altogether, of late. Meanwhile, it's clear that none of Thad, MCW or Brown have given up on the season, still playing and coaching their hearts out, desperate for just one win to build off of.

I still think they'll get it before season's end, and even if they don't, I don't think they'll let it get them down enough to have any kind of long-term effect on their or the team's psyches. When I watch the Sixers play now, I don't see a team that's tanking, I see a team that just doesn't have enough good players to win games, but is trying like hell to prove otherwise. And I look forward to watching them again in tonight's likely 25th straight L.

5 potential candidates for Temple's head coach job

5 potential candidates for Temple's head coach job

The reality is still setting in for Temple fans as Matt Rhule, the beloved leader of the school’s football team who helped bring the program out of the doldrums and give it a sense of legitimacy, is no longer an Owl.

He’s now a Bear. A Baylor Bear, to be exact. 

Rhule on Tuesday morning accepted the head coaching position at Baylor University, a cold reminder in so many ways that college sports is a business (see story).

He reportedly received at seven-year deal after accumulating a 28-23 record in four seasons at the helm of Temple’s program and leading the Owls to this season’s AAC championship, the first conference title for the program since 1967 and just its second ever.

But Temple athletic director Pat Kraft and his administration have no time to let reality sink in. Their reality is that the search for a new coach has already begun.

So that begs this multi-million dollar question: Who are the candidates to take over for Rhule?

Kraft didn’t get into specifics when he met with the media Tuesday at the Liacouras Center, but he did share some of the criteria he’s looking for in a new head coach.

"It has to be a good man," Kraft said Tuesday. "You've got to be able to recruit this area. You've got to be really strong there.

"This is not just and X's and O's job. This is bigger. It's a vocation almost. It's about working with some really, really good young men and continuing to bring in really, really good young men.

"To find someone that dynamic is important. But at the end of the day, we just have to find the right fit for us. I think that comes with the evolution of our program and where we are and where we are on the national stage. That's important to the program. You need someone who's engaged in the community in the Philadelphia market. It's a competitive market."

So with that in mind, who are some candidates who could fit what Kraft is looking for? Let’s take a deeper look.

(Author’s note: I’d like to stress none of the following is sourced information from anyone within or close to the program. The following are people who I believe could be a fit based on what Kraft said on Tuesday.)

Joe Moorhead – Offensive coordinator, Penn State
After the incredible season the Big Ten champ Nittany Lions have put together, Moorhead was going to be a hot name in coaching circles no matter what. And now his popularity gets kicked up to another level with a local opening.

In his only year with the reins of PSU’s offense, Moorhead has masterminded a prolific attack that averages 36.7 points per game (third in the Big Ten, 25th in the nation) and he has worked wonders with sophomore QB Trace McSorely, who averages 258.8 yards per game through the air and has thrown 25 TDs compared to just five interceptions.

Moorhead does have head coaching experience, as he led FCS Fordham’s program from 2012 to 2015 (and beat the Owls in 2013 at the Linc.). After inheriting a 1-10 team, Moorhead compiled a 38-13 record at Fordham and turned the Rams into a FCS playoff regular.

So he has the local ties with PSU and has undoubtedly recruited this area during his time at Fordham and has familiarity with it. And he has a very good reputation.

But he has a really good thing going at Penn State right now. Is it something he wants to leave after just one season? Or can he bide his time in Happy Valley and wait for a Power 5 job to open up?

Al Golden – Tight Ends coach, Detroit Lions
You knew this one was coming, so let’s tackle it now.

Golden, the Owls’ head man from 2006-10 before he left for Miami, checks all the boxes on the list of things Kraft said he wants in a head coach. He obviously knows the area and how recruit it. Rhule is a disciple of Golden, so the transition would be almost seamless.

And Golden deserves another shot to be a head coach at the collegiate level after he walked into a no-win mess at Miami with sanctions the program dealt with from a booster scandal years prior. Golden went 32-25 with the Hurricanes, but that’s not good enough when you’re Miami.

This may not be the time for a return to Temple, however. He was the right coach at the right time in 2006 and was basically a miracle worker with some things he pulled off on North Broad Street during his tenure with the Owls.

But this is a much different job than it was in 2006. It’s in a much better place, thanks in large part to the work Golden started a decade ago. Kraft and his team now have some clout when it comes to finding a new head coach and may want to go with one with a bit more on his résumé.

That’s no disrespect to Golden in any means, but this just doesn’t feel like the right fit right now.

Phil Snow – Defensive Coordinator, Temple (for now)
Rhule and Snow are very close, so the odds of Rhule trying to entice Snow to Baylor are high.

And rightfully so. 

Look at the job Snow has done at Temple, leading a ferocious defense that’s produced stars such as current NFL players Tyler Matakevich and Tavon Young. This season, Snow’s group finished eighth in the nation in scoring defense with just 17.2 points allowed per game. That group was second in the nation with 145.2 yards allowed per game through the air. Only Michigan was better.

Snow has been well traveled throughout his career with stops at Boise State, Cal, UCLA, Arizona State, Washington, Detroit with the NFL’s Lions, Eastern Michigan and now Temple.

Snow is tremendously well-respected by his players and his peers. 

But would the 60-year-old Snow want to be a head coach at this point? It’s a question to ponder. And imagine what he could do with the type of talent pool Baylor and Rhule will be able to recruit from.

Ed Foley – Tight Ends coach, Temple
Speaking of tremendously well-respected, Foley has been at Temple for nine years now and has served on the staffs of Golden, Steve Addazio and Rhule. He’ll get his chance to run the show for at least a game, as he’ll be the Owls’ interim head coach for the Military Bowl against Wake Forest on Dec. 27 in Annapolis, Maryland.

Foley is as good of a guy as you’ll find in the college ranks. Anyone will tell you that.

But Foley’s only experience as a head coach at the college level came from 2004-05 at Fordham. When Foley came to Temple in 2008, it marked his first experience as a college coach at the FBS level.

Foley has seen it all while at Temple and has even spent time as the Owls’ recruiting coordinator, which will certainly stick out to Kraft when going through his list of candidates.

But this doesn’t feel like a fit for the long term. A more experienced head coach seems like more of a fit right now. But if the players rally around Foley, who knows? Anything is possible.

Charlie Strong – Former head coach, Texas
Now this is a mighty interesting possibility.

Strong was recently canned at Texas after going 16-21 in three seasons. Before that, he did a great job at Louisville, where he went 37-15 in four seasons.

He has a heck of résumé with coaching stops at Ole Miss, Notre Dame, South Carolina and numerous years at Florida before he went to Louisville.

He’s a man of values and can be demanding of his players. That’s just his style.

Strong may not be familiar with this area, but he’s dealt with all the muck that comes with coaching Texas, so the competitive Philadelphia market wouldn’t be anything new to him. And when it comes to recruiting, his name carries weight. He’s had to fight for some big-time recruits in the hotbed of Texas, so he would do just fine here.

And to think the former Texas coach going to Temple would be a step back is inaccurate. This is not the Temple of old. There is legitimacy here now and Strong would add a whole new dimension of legitimacy to the program.

The question is whether Strong would want to come to North Broad Street. He got a massive buyout (reportedly around $11 million – V=http://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/charlie-strong-fired-by-texas-after-three-underwhelming-seasons-with-longhorns/), so he may not want to coach again right away. But if he does, he’ll have offers from other schools, which means the Owls will have to pay up for his services. But the investment could be worth it.

Doug Pederson indicates Lane Johnson will start at RT when he returns

Doug Pederson indicates Lane Johnson will start at RT when he returns

Talk about too, little too late.
 
Lane Johnson is due back in two weeks, and Eagles head coach Doug Pederson on Wednesday for the first time seemed to indicate that he’s leaning toward getting Johnson back at right tackle as soon as he returns.
 
Johnson, the Eagles’ best offensive lineman the first month of the season, was suspended by the NFL for 10 games for a second positive test for a banned substance. By the time his appeal was heard and rejected, it was after the Eagles’ loss to the Lions.
 
Johnson hasn’t played since.

The Eagles face the Redskins at the Linc and Ravens in Baltimore the next two Sundays. Johnson is eligible to return to the NovaCare Complex the day after the Ravens' game, which would be Monday, Dec. 19.
 
The Eagles then face the Giants three days later on a Thursday night at the Linc and finish the season on Jan. 1 at home against the Cowboys in a game that will likely have no meaning for either team.
 
Previously, when asked about Johnson, Pederson was non-commital about playing him. But on Wednesday, he seemed to indicate he would move him back to right tackle for the Giants' game.
 
“Listen, he was a big part of our success early in the season,” Pederson said. “So I wouldn’t hesitate to put him back out there.”
 
The Eagles, 5-7 after a 3-0 start, are on the brink of playoff elimination and could well be eliminated by the time Johnson returns.
 
Rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai started the first six games after Johnson’s suspension before getting hurt. Left guard Allen Barbre started the last two, with Stefen Wisniewski moving into left guard.
 
Even though Pederson indicated Johnson would return to right tackle as soon as he gets back, he did qualify the statement.
 
“He comes back on a short week, too, against the Giants, in a couple weeks,” he said. “Got to see where Big V is at coming off an injury and see where that’s at. 
 
“We’re beginning the conversations right now. When he does return, we’ll have to see. We still have some games. Have to get through these two games.”         
 
Johnson, the fourth pick in the 2013 draft, started 44 of a possible 48 games his first three seasons, missing only four in 2014 during his first NFL suspension.
 
After the Lions game, he said he hoped the Eagles had meaningful games remaining when he got back.
 
The Eagles are 3-1 this year with Johnson and 2-6 without him. In his four NFL seasons, the Eagles are 27-22 when he plays.
 
“Stay in shape and hopefully the team is good enough to stay in playoff contention,” he said in the visiting locker room at Ford Field back on Oct. 9. 
 
“Come back and I’ll be fresh and we can make a run for it. That’s the best-case scenario. We’ll see what happens.”