Brandon Graham reminisces about the time he was in Marcus Smith's shoes

Brandon Graham reminisces about the time he was in Marcus Smith's shoes

The fact that Brandon Graham is still a member of the Philadelphia Eagles is a mild surprise. Virtually every analyst agrees he’s not a good fit for a 3-4 defense, and quite a few—myself included—speculated he could be traded over draft weekend.

Didn’t happen. But the Birds did go ahead and take Marcus Smith in the first round, in case there are any doubts about the club’s direction at outside linebacker. Now, Graham sounds a lot like a man who is just trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

A couple of reporters noted Graham initially refused to speak to members of the media after OTAs on Thursday, but he eventually relented. And, in typical Brandon Graham fashion, he said all the right things.

He sees what’s going on though. After all, he’s been in Smith’s shoes before.

Fans might’ve forgotten the Eagles moved up to No. 13 overall in 2010 to select Graham, if only the player people wanted the team to take there (He Who Shall Not Be Named) hadn’t turned into a perennial All-Pro. Oops.

It’s revisionist history anyway. Graham was enjoying a solid rookie season until he was struck down by a torn ACL. The injury required microfracture surgery to repair, which made for a longer rehabilitation.

By the time Graham was back up to full speed, the Eagles had signed Jason Babin to take his place on the defensive line opposite Trent Cole. Babin’s star quickly faded, but Andy Reid’s finally fizzled, too, ushering in Chip Kelly, Bill Davis, the 3-4, Connor Barwin—now Smith.

So if you can detect a hint of frustration in Graham’s words, even as he tells reporters he’s ready to compete and wants to be in Philly, you can probably understand.

Interestingly enough, Smith told reporters he’s been learning Barwin’s role, not Cole’s. That’s not necessarily an indication of the long-term plan, but it would seem to leave the door open for Graham to spell Cole for the time being.

The reality, however, is Graham could potentially start at defensive end in a conventional 4-3 alignment. Yes, he only has 8.5 sacks over the last two seasons, but in such limited playing time, that doesn’t give us a true sense of how valuable he is.

According to metrics site Pro Football Focus, Graham ranked seventh among 3-4 outside linebackers in 2013 in pass rush productivity, a stat that combines sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rush attempt. In 2012, PFF had him No. 1 among 4-3 defensive ends in the same category. (Minimum 25% snaps.)

Graham is better than most people realize, largely because he doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to show it. Would he have the same impact if he were playing every down? It’s impossible to say, but he deserves a shot.

A shot it doesn’t appear he’ll ever get in Philly, no matter how much he wants it.

I still think there’s a reasonable chance Graham could be moved at some point over the summer. A team that’s thin on pass-rushers or suffers an injury at training camp may be willing to make a move as the regular season approaches.

Should that happen, it seems like it will be a bittersweet day for Graham. Players want to come to Philadelphia and play for Chip Kelly—key word being “play” though. Graham is doing everything in his power, but the Eagles keep on dropping roadblocks in his path.

Instant Replay: Warriors 119, Sixers 108

Instant Replay: Warriors 119, Sixers 108

BOX SCORE

Stephen Curry shot 0 for 11 from three and it didn't even shake the Warriors.

In spite of the star's long-range woes, the Warriors beat the Sixers, 119-108, on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Sixers hung tight with the Western Conference powerhouse in the first half. They trailed by just one after the first quarter and three after the second following a 10-0 run. Klay Thompson led all players with 15 points in the first half while Gerald Henderson and Kevin Durant were right behind him with 12. Meanwhile, Curry went 2 for 11 (including 0 for 7 from long range and a pair of airballs) in his first 18 minutes.

The Warriors, though, opened the third with a 12-3 burst to take a 12-point lead. They scored 34 points in the quarter even as Curry's shooting woes continued (0 for 10 from three through three). Durant scored 22 points through three. The Sixers trailed by 13 heading into the fourth.

The Sixers fought until the buzzer, but were never able to overcome that third-quarter spurt. The Warriors won their 50th game of the season (50-9) while the Sixers dropped to 22-37.

Inside the box score
• Curry went scoreless from three for the third time this season and 37th game of his career. He shot 0 for 10 against the Lakers on Nov. 4 and 0 for 8 on Dec. 7 against the Clippers.

• Durant led all players with 27 points to go with eight rebounds and four assists.

• Draymond Green recorded a 14-point, 11-assist double-double along with six rebounds.

• Jahlil Okafor picked up his fifth foul with 9:44 to go in the third. As a result of his foul trouble, Richaun Holmes logged 28 minutes and scored 15 points with four rebounds. Okafor, meanwhile, committed seven turnovers and scored four points and three rebounds in 17 minutes.

• Dario Saric led the Sixers with 21 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

• Robert Covington pulled down a team-high eight boards.

Saric bounces back
Dario Saric hit the ground after being struck in the face by David West in the fourth. He walked off the court on his own and stayed in the game. West was issued a Flagrant 1 on the play (watch play here).

Grab-and-go defense
What’s the key to defending the Warriors? Grab whoever is open. Brett Brown didn’t want the Sixers to get locked into one-on-one matchups when each player can be a threat.

"You have to accept switching,” Brown said. "You have to accept that it's going to be a generic-type gym in relation to matchups don’t matter a lot in our early offense. You just have to find Klay wherever he is and whoever it is. You’ve got to find Steph (Curry). You’ve got to find Kevin (Durant). Draymond (Green) is a runaway train when he rebounds and leads the break. It's really the instruction that you’re not a prisoner to have to guard your original matchup. You’re going to see a lot of people on a lot of different people."

Bogut era ends
As expected, the Sixers waived Andrew Bogut on Monday after acquiring him in the Nerlens Noel trade from the Mavericks (see story). Brown has known Bogut since the center was in high school thanks to their Australian connection. He would have liked to have coached Bogut but understands Bogut's interest to sign with a contender.

"I spoke with him at length. His goals aren't aligned with ours," Brown said. "He really feels, and I agree with him, he wants to go play on a playoff team at this stage in his career and make an impact from that sort of vision lens, more playoff-oriented than trying to build something. I respect his candidness. I would have liked to have had him."

Hart in the house
Watch Philadelphia native Kevin Hart ring the ceremonial bell before the game.

Up next
The Sixers travel to Miami to face the Heat on Wednesday. They snapped the Heat's 13-game winning streak in their last meeting. 

Bryan Colangelo on Joel Embiid setback: 'We're reacting in a way that's proactive'

Bryan Colangelo on Joel Embiid setback: 'We're reacting in a way that's proactive'

The timetable for Joel Embiid's return to the court keeps getting murkier.

Embiid was ruled out indefinitely on Monday and will now have an MRI on his injured left knee (see story). He initially suffered a bone bruise on Jan. 20 and it was revealed on Feb. 11 that he had a minor meniscal tear.

The Sixers previously had a plan of rest and rehab in place and targeted a March 4 return for the big man. 

"With respect to what's developed over the last couple of days, it's quite simple, Joel developed a little bit of swelling and soreness," Sixers president Bryan Colangelo said during Monday's edition of Philly Sports Talk. "We're reacting in a way that's proactive. We wanted to be more communicative with our fans. We wanted to make sure that there's less question about whether or not he would be available. This is literally changing out for the next two games now to out indefinitely."

That's a quick change of events. As recently as Friday, Embiid was on track to be back in uniform this week.

"I was in a situation where the latest update on Friday was that he was doing well through his planned progression toward returning to play," Colangelo said. "In recent days, his training has developed a reaction with swelling and soreness, and thus we wanted to take a step back, put him on ice for a minute and make sure that we do everything possible, including getting another scan done."

Embiid initially suffered the injury against the Portland Trail Blazers on Jan. 20. The rookie sensation missed three games before coming back vs. the Houston Rockets in a national TV matchup on Jan. 27. He has missed all 13 games since facing the Rockets.

Even with Embiid’s diagnosed tear of his meniscus and recent flaring up of the knee after rehab sessions, the Sixers are being supremely cautious when it comes to any potential procedures. The team is not in a rush to put the center back under the knife after he missed the first two seasons of his career because of a pair of foot surgeries.

"With all due respect, medical injuries are injuries that require care and attention," Colangelo said. "When I take information that comes from the medical team, including doctors and the training staff and the physiotherapists, we apply it as instructed and we do that to protect the athlete. In a case of jumping into someone's knee to operate, when the circumstances are known but the conditions and how he's reacting to certain things are still unknown, I think you go through the planned progression of steps as prescribed and evaluated by doctors."

The quick decision to label Embiid out indefinitely is a sharp contrast to prior updates on the phenom. Just last week, Embiid lamented how the Sixers never announced a true timetable for his return (see story).

Now just days later, Embiid has a prognosis that could technically keep him out for the remainder of the regular season. 

Embiid has proven his worth in 31 games this season by averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 25.4 minutes a night. But with only 23 games left on the schedule, will he suit up again this season?

"Out indefinitely means just that. It's indeterminate at this point," Colangelo said. "I think we're all hopeful to get him out there. It would be beneficial for the fans to see him again. It would be great for us as a unit to have him out there as we continue to strive toward winning as the season concludes.

"But at the end of the day, the health and performance of our athletes is first and foremost. We don't want to jeopardize the long-term health."