To the Faithful Departed: Andre Iguodala

To the Faithful Departed: Andre Iguodala

This week, I'll be saying a proper goodbye to some longtime Sixers
players that won't be suiting up in the Red, White and Blue next season.
On Tuesday, we remembered Elton Brand. On Wednesday, Lou Williams. Today: Andre Iguodala, traded to Denver as part of the deal for Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson.

I
love Andre Iguodala. Always have, always will. He's a smart, talented,
exciting basketball player, who for a long time didn't get nearly the
league-wide respect that he deserved. He was the best guy on the Sixers
for a half-decade, and he got the Sixers to the playoffs in four of
those five years as their unofficial leader. I have an Iguodala jersey
that I wear proudly, even though the '00s Sixers jerseys were some of
the ugliest goddamn jerseys in basketball history. He was a great 76er,
and I will forever remember him as such.

Of course, that doesn't mean that I haven't been calling for him to
be traded for the last two-plus years. After the bitter disappointment
of the '09-'10 season, in which it became clear that 'Dre wasn't ever
going to be the first-option-type scorer that the Sixers wanted him to
be (and that they so badly needed), I concluded that neither Iguodala
nor the Sixers would ever reach their full potential with him at the
helm—a position I still hold today—and I figured it would be better for
both parties if they went their separate ways. (For what it's worth, the
Sixers seemed to agree with me, and he spent most of those two-plus
years on the trading block—though so many opportunities to deal him came
and went that it seemed like he might be on the trading block right
until the second his contract expired.)

Basketball can be a cruel sport when it comes to player evaluation.
As I talked about with Elton, it's a lot harder to be forgiving of
overpaid players in the NBA, because their contracts are always actively
prohibiting you from potentially making up for your lack of production
elsewhere. When Andre Iguodala was given his six-year, $80 million
contract in the summer of 2008, people expected him to be the Sixers'
do-everything kind of player, and that included being their most
skilled, most prolific scorer. When he wasn't able to do that, people
invariably pointed to that $80 million price tag, many of them declaring
his contract a failure as a result.

But here's the thing—unlike Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala wasn't ever
overpaid. In his four years as a Sixer post-contract extension, Andre
Iguodala was the team's best defender, one of the team's best passers,
one of the best rebounders, and easily the most durable player, playing
in every game from 2008-2010 and leading the league in minutes in
'08-'09. And for at least a couple of those years, he was also one of
their best scorers—it's easy to forget now, but he averaged nearly 19 a
game in '08-'09 on very respectable 47.3% shooting. Are you telling me
that that package wasn't worth the average of less than $12.5 mil a year
we paid him the last four seasons?

This is the other reason that basketball player evaluation can be
unfair. Let's say the Phillies had themselves a new 25-year-old center
fielder. He's a regular .300-.320 hitter who takes enough walks for a
regular OBP in the low .400s, he steals about 40-50 bases a year, he
always hustles and rarely misses a game, and he's one of the best
defensive center fielders in the game, as measured by both advanced
metrics and by highlight plays on MLB tonight. The only missing facet of
his game is that he doesn't have much of a power stroke—he shows
occasional flashes, but he generally only hits about 10-15 homers a
year.

If the Phillies signed him to a six-year, $80-million contract, and
he maintained all his previous skills but never hit more than 20 home
runs in a season, would you consider his contract a bust? Of course
not—you'd recognize that only a handful of players in a generation have
that set of skills AND can also hit for power, you'd be thrilled that
the Phils had themselves an ideal lead-off man and reliable
center-fielder, and you'd hope that they could get some other guys to
help drive him in a little further down the lineup. Even if they never
found those RBI guys, you wouldn't begrudge him for not developing that
power stroke—he does more than enough to justify that contract already,
and it's not his fault that management never found the guys to
complement him.

But because Iguodala's large contract was one of the reasons—though
not the biggest reason—that the Sixers were unable to go find themselves
that #1 scorer once it became clear that he wasn't going to be the guy,
he always took an unreasonable amount of criticism. Even as he
demonstrated day-in and day-out that he was the Sixers' best all-around
player, he would always have to answer for his lack of
scoring—especially in late-game situations, where he was regularly given
the ball, and very rarely came through with big buckets in big moments.
'Dre wasn't meant to be a closer, but without an obvious alternative,
basketball logic dictates that the ball should go to the team's best
player—which was Iguodala, but just not for those reasons.

It was tough to watch a lot of the time, especially because there was a moment—however brief—where it really seemed like 'Dre could
be that guy. In the team's first-round series against Orlando in 2009,
Iguodala's first season post-extension, the dude was brilliant,
averaging 21.5 points on 45% shooting (39% from deep), along with over
six rebounds and over six assists a game. And in the team's two Ws in
that series, he hit some absolutely huge shots, including a game-winning
jumper over Hedo Turkoglu's outstretched paw in Game One that ranks
only behind Sweet Lou's Miami-beater for my favorite Sixers shot of the
post-Iverson era. After struggling mightily against the Pistons the
playoffs before—just 13.2 points a game on miserable 33% shooting—it
seemed like 'Dre was about to make The Leap to an elite offensive, as
well as defensive player.

Needless to say, it didn't happen. 'Dre's scoring average and
field-goal percentage dropped the next season, and his late-game scoring
became particularly problematic. It seemed he had used up all his
clutchness in that Magic series, since he seemed physically unable to
hit a game-winning shot in the seasons that followed. Unfortunately for
'Dre, nobody else on the team stepped up to fill the closer role either,
so it kept defaulting to him, and he kept floundering. (Why NBA coaches
always insist that there be one guy playing iso ball at the end of
games, rather than running an actual play, remains beyond me, but Doug
Collins certainly wasn't going to be the guy to break that mold, and
Iguodala was the unfortunate victim of that basketball tradition.)

In the meantime, an odd thing happened—Iguodala's free-throw
shooting started to plummet. From '07-'10 he was a decent free-throw
shooter, converting at a clip in the low-mid 70s—not exactly Steve Nash,
but acceptable for a swingman. In 2010-'11, though, that slipped to
69%, and the next season, it fell all the way to 62%, unforgivably low
for a shooter. Of all the frustrating things about Andre Iguodala on
offense, this became the most irritating, and by the end of his tenure
as a Sixer, you just assumed that at best he was going to split his free
throws at the line, and just hoped he would at least hit the one.

That's what made Iguodala's ultimate moment of Sixers redemption, in
Game Six of the team's first-round series against the Bulls, so totally
perfect When he was fouled by Omer Asik in the final seconds of the
game, and went to the line with the Sixers down one and the chance to
(theoretically) make two and put them in the second round of the
playoffs, the possibility of him actually doing so seemed like maybe the
eight-most-likely outcome of that situation. Like always, I just hoped
he would make one, and force an overtime at home that we could maybe (maybe)
pull out. When he actually did make both, and then later acted like it
was no big deal and making clutch free throws was easy...I was too busy
laughing at the irony of the situation to even care that the team had
won their first post-season series in seven years. 

Of course, if any Sixers fans dared to dream that those FTs
represented some kind of turn-the-corner moment for Andre Iguodala, and
not some extremely well-timed fluke, they were brought back to reality
by the team's second-round series against Boston, in which 'Dre bricked
free throws with reckless abandon. He went a ridiculous 18-37 from the
line in that series, for a 49% rate even Shaq would be a little bit
humbled by, which included momentum swinging 0-2s in each of the team
final two losses. For better or worse—mostly better, but occasionally
worse—'Dre still was who he was.

And so, for the third straight off-season, 'Dre was rumored to be on
the trade market. But as the draft came and went, and then the team
made a host of off-season moves that appeared to settle their roster,
and Iguodala was still on the team, it looked inevitable that he would
once again start (and likely finish) the season as a Sixer. When I first
heard the rumor of the deal that would essentially trade Andre for
Andrew Bynum, I gave it about a 5% chance of actually happening. By that
point, all I really wanted for 'Dre was cap relief and a draft pick,
the idea of getting a possible franchise player for him was downright
inconceivable. The fact that we actually did get that kind of
return...well, it's a hell of a parting gift from a guy we didn't always
treat so well in Philadelphia.

One final note on 'Dre's tenure in Philadelphia: The team never got
that #1 scorer for 'Dre to play off of, but it's not like they didn't
have chances because of his prohibitively expensive contract. In fact,
they had two very legitimate shots at it—first in the same '08
off-season in which they extended 'Dre, when they still had max-type
money they were willing to spend on a big-time free agent, and then in
the 2010 draft, when they lucked into the #2 pick despite only having
the sixth-worst record. If they had landed the elite scorer they were
hoping to get either of those times around, then 'Dre could have settled
into the complementary role he was much better suited for, and who
knows—he might've been taken off the trade market, and could still be on
the team today.

Unfortunately for Iguodala, the team whiffed both times. The first
time around, they gave their big money to Elton Brand, who eventually
turned into a reliable offensive presence and veteran team leader, but
spent most of his first two years in Philly injured and/or ineffective,
and never lived up to his contract or fan expectation. And then in '10,
they took Evan Turner with the #2 pick, who struggled out of the
gate—and played the same position as Iguodala anyway, so even if he did
(or does) live up to his potential, it would probably spell doom for
'Dre on the Sixers just the same. Ultimately, it wasn't that Iguodala
failed the Sixers, it was that the Sixers failed Iguodala, by pushing
him into situations he wasn't equipped to handle and failing to surround
him with the players to best play off his considerable skill set.

It would've been nice to see Iguodala end up on a team like the
Lakers, an established group where the top scorers are already in place
and 'Dre can just focus on defense, passing and mop-up work, as he did
on Team USA in both the '10 World Championships and this summer's
Olympics. But it might be even more fun to see him on a team like the
Nuggets, which lacks that #1 guy but has a bunch of guys as skilled,
athletic and up-tempo as 'Dre—as well as his old running mate Andre
Miller, who should be grateful to have his like-named ex-teammate to
throw alley-oops to again.

Whether or not the Nuggets team ends up a contender, we hope 'Dre
enjoys playing somewhere where the weight of his contract and
performance expectation has finally be lifted, and he can just be a
great basketball player that helps you win ballgames. And hopefully in
retrospect, Sixers fans can recognize that that was always what Andre
Iguodala did for us, even when he was bricking free throws and clanging
fourth-quarter jumpers. He was miscast, but not overpaid or overrated.
And he will be missed.

One rib still damaged, Carson Wentz won’t play Thursday

One rib still damaged, Carson Wentz won’t play Thursday

It looks like Carson Wentz’s preseason is over.
 
Because one of his ribs isn’t completely healed Wentz won’t play in the Eagles’ preseason finale on Thursday, the rookie quarterback said.
 
According to Pederson, a CT scan revealed that Wentz’s 10th rib on his right side is completely healed but the 11th is just at 60 percent.
 
When asked if that means Wentz won’t play, Pederson said, “If he’s 60 percent with that rib, probably not.”
 
The No. 2 overall pick hurt his ribs when he took a shot late in the first preseason game against the Bucs back on Aug. 11. He hasn’t practiced in full since then, but has worked out and went through a lengthy pregame workout on Saturday. Pederson said Wentz is still sore from Saturday’s workout.
 
For now, the plan is to continue to rehab Wentz by giving him more and more over time.
 
“Obviously, where we are this late in the process as far as training camp goes, it definitely hurts from a young quarterback standpoint, his position to fully grasp and understand the offense,” Pederson said. “But again, I just go back to what I see in the classroom, what I see off the field. His work habit here, his work ethic here, and just what he knows and what he understands.”
 
Pederson also said he’s a little less concerned because of where Wentz is on the depth chart. The plan all along was to have Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel ahead of Wentz.
 
Still, Wentz missed a ton of reps. And it’s not really feasible to replace them.
 
“It’s hard in the regular season to replace those types of reps,” Pederson said, “because our focus is with the ones and the starters, getting them ready to go offensively and defensively.”

Player standing outside NovaCare Complex hoping for shot with Eagles

Player standing outside NovaCare Complex hoping for shot with Eagles

Twenty-four-year-old Troy Beckett found a scrap piece of cardboard in his Willingboro, N.J. home, took a marker to it, and headed across the bridge. 

The former Willingboro High School and Bemidji State defensive back arrived to the NovaCare Complex at around 7:30 on Monday morning with a sign that reads: “Not homeless … But starving for that shot!!!” 

Beckett hopes he’ll get the Eagles’ attention and the team will offer to work him out. 

“I’m nothing special,” Beckett said. “I’m not a big story. I’m just trying to make a living playing the game that I love. I’ve been playing it since I was 5 years old.”

In 2009, Beckett graduated from Willingboro High School, where he played wide receiver and defensive back for the Chimeras. He went to little-known Division II Bemidji State in Minnesota to play football, but has been out of school for two years. 

He said he’s worked out for a few arena teams, including the Philadelphia Soul about a year ago. Nothing came from that workout. 

Beckett’s idea to stand outside the NovaCare Complex wasn’t his own. He said Joe Anderson, a wide receiver who stood outside of Houston’s NRG Stadium with a similar sign last year, inspired him. Anderson was actually signed to the Jets’ practice squad six weeks later. 

Beckett said he had a conversation with a friend last week, when the friend asked him why he never got a shot. So Beckett decided to head over the bridge on Monday. 

For now, Beckett has a job loading trucks. 

“I’m just looking for an opportunity to show this organization what I can do,” Beckett said. “I never got the big shot coming out of college, coming out of high school at the big name school or whatever.”

Beckett said it’s been tough to try to keep his dream alive. 

“It really is, man. It really is,” he said. “I’m 24 years old. I’ve been out of school now for about two years. I’m just looking for a fair shot. I’d be OK with myself if they said no. As long as they give me the chance to workout and showcase my talent, I’ll be OK.”

As of around 9:30 a.m. on Monday – two hours in – Beckett said he hadn’t yet talked to anyone from the organization. 

With temperatures expected to peak in the 90s on Monday, just how long does Beckett plan to stand by the NovaCare gate? 

“As long as it takes,” he said. “Until the parking lot is empty.”

And if nothing happens on Monday? 

“I’ll be out here tomorrow,” he answered. “I’ll be out here every day.” 

Dave Zangaro predicts Eagles' 53-man roster 3.0

Dave Zangaro predicts Eagles' 53-man roster 3.0

The Eagles are down to one final preseason game before they’ll have to figure out their final 53-man roster. 

But no need to wait, I have it right here. Or at least what I think it will look like after watching all of OTAs, training camp and the most important preseason games. The team made it a little easier with several key cuts on Sunday (see story)

Let’s jump right in: 

Quarterback (3): Sam Bradford, Chase Daniel, Carson Wentz 
With apologies to the law firm of McLeod Bethel-Thompson, this was pretty easy. 

Running back (4): Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner, Wendell Smallwood
I toyed with the idea of taking Smallwood off the roster. I thought perhaps the team will try to stash him on IR — that quad could always act up again — and instead take Byron Marshall on the 53. But I just couldn’t pull the trigger. For now, the team will have to hope Mathews and Barner can carry the load while Smallwood gets caught up. 

Wide receiver (5): Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff, Dorial Green-Beckham, Paul Turner
I’m taking only five because the unit hasn’t been very strong. The team’s decision to cut Rueben Randle and Chris Givens on Sunday wasn’t very surprising to me. They were on prove-it deals and had only proven what the Eagles probably feared. Instead, the rookie Turner is on the roster, which is an important message for the team: Effort matters. Still, expect the Eagles to keep a watchful eye on the waiver wire here.  

Tight end (4): Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton, Chris Pantale
Pantale isn’t nearly as good a tight end as the other three, but Doug Pederson seems determined to have him on the roster as a fullback and special teamer. Four tight ends and four running backs is tough to swallow in terms of roster spots available, but I think that’s the way it’s going. Look for Burton to have an increased role in the offense this year too. 

Offensive line (9): Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Allen Barbre, Stefen Wisniewski, Matt Tobin, Halapoulavaati Vaitai, Josh Andrews
I left Lane Johnson off this list because he’ll probably be suspended by the season opener and won’t count against the 53-man roster. Wisniewski will be the backup at all three interior line positions. After cutting Andrew Gardner on Sunday, the Eagles will keep Tobin and Andrews as reserve linemen. Andrews played guard on Saturday — likely a chance for him to prove he’s not just a center. Keep an eye on tight end-turned-tackle Dillon Gordon too. He has an outside chance to make the roster and a very good shot to stick on the practice squad; very athletic and versatile player. 

Defensive end (6): Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, Steven Means, Marcus Smith, Bryan Braman
Six defensive ends is a lot, but at this point, Braman isn’t really a defensive end. He’s just a special teams ace. And with the rotation at DE, I think it’s more important to have ends than it is to have extra players in the secondary. If the team is able to trade either Means or Smith, then this number could be down to five. 

Defensive tackle (4): Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Beau Allen, Taylor Hart
During training camp, Jim Schwartz said to not count out Allen and Hart just because they didn’t seem to be scheme fits. Both have proven him right this preseason. Sure, undrafted rookies Destiny Vaeao and Aziz Shittu have looked good, but they won’t be able to contribute as much this season as the veterans. At least one of those rookies should hold down a practice squad spot. Mike Martin was the third defensive tackle for a long time but was released on Sunday, after a few weeks of a knee injury. 

Linebacker (6): Jordan Hicks, Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham, Stephen Tulloch, Najee Goode, Quintin Gause
Tulloch will be the primary backup at the MIKE, while Goode and Gause, the undrafted rookie from Rutgers, get the nods at the backup outside 'backer positions for now. But expect the Eagles to take a good look at the waiver wire for linebackers. 

Cornerback (5): Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll, Ron Brooks, Jalen Mills, Eric Rowe
If the Eagles keep five, I think these will be the five. Rookie C.J. Smith has been impressive but could use a year on the practice squad. I thought Denzel Rice, thanks to his special teams contributions, had an outside shot, but he was cut on Sunday. 

Safety (4): Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Chris Maragos, Jaylen Watkins
A little light at safety, but Mills or Rowe could probably move back there if needed. Really, Jenkins and McLeod aren’t going to come off the field much as long as they’re healthy; there won’t be a rotation. If five safeties were to make the team, sixth-rounder Blake Countess would be the next one up. I think Ed Reynolds is a longer shot at this point.  

Specialists (3): Donnie Jones, Jon Dorenbos, Caleb Sturgis
After an impressive training camp, Sturgis takes down Cody Parkey for the kicker job. 

Practice squad: DT Destiney Vaeao, CB C.J. Smith, G Dillon Gordon, WR David Watford, WR Marcus Johnson, G Darrell Greene, LB Myke Tavarres, S Blake Countess, CB Aaron Grymes, RB Byron Marshall