Game 4: Can Flyers Complete the Let's Just Watch the Game.

Game 4: Can Flyers Complete the Let's Just Watch the Game.

I'm
usually someone who demands a reasonable amount of evidence before I
believe something. I don't consider myself a cynic, but I ordinarily
think there is more to a story than is presented, or less. And yet, when
it comes to sports in particular, I find that I'm entirely
superstitious. 

I shouldn't be anywhere near the internet today. Any
mention of the action one does with a broom makes me want to slam my
laptop shut. The cashier saw my shirt and asked for my prediction on the
game tonight, and I gave him my best Peter Laviolette deflection. I
refuse to think about the outcome of this game, and it pisses me off
that you're not all on board with me. 

Do the Flyers have the decided edge in this series?
Would it take a monumental, historic comeback for it not to end with
them advancing? Do the Penguins appear to be regressing rather than
getting back to elite standing? Yes, to all of that. 

But if the Flyers themselves are treating tonight
like anywhere near what I'm reading, hearing and doing my best not to
think… We'll be in for a game 5, at least. This series didn't end on
Sunday. Some pretty tough obstacles stand between the Flyers and a
celebration tonight. Let's take a look. 

The Other Team on the Ice (No, Not the Penguins)Thankfully,
although the Penguins' power play has recently started scoring on the
Flyers after a regular season of futility and a sluggish start in the
postseason, the Flyers' PK has been just about as productive. Tonight,
they may need to be again. The NHL is under the microscope after
suspensions 6, 7, and 8 were handed out last night, and #9 will likely
come tomorrow. The officials from game 3 of this series were criticized
for letting the game get out of hand. If either side wants to bring the
rough stuff, will the refs treat it like that final game of the season,
when run-of-the-mill rule-breaking resulted in ejections?

If so, who will it favor? Who does it usually favor?
To
add fuel to the fire, Hockey Buzz's Bill Meltzer points out a very
curious choice in the refereeing assignment tonight. I have a ton of
respect for Bill, and following him on twitter is highly recommended for
any Flyers fan.
He's a wealth of knowledge on factors that exceed the range of most
fans and many in the media. Today, he pointed out that the refs tonight
will be Chris Lee and Wes McCauley. Lee isn't a household name, which
can be a good thing, but in this case, Meltzer indicates it is in part
because Lee is one of the worst refs in the league and rarely gets the
call in the postseason. 

Tonight, a deciding contest between two teams that
have amassed as many penalty minutes as they have played, the calls will
be at the whim of a man whistling his fifth NHL postseason game despite
being in the league for 10 seasons. 
Poking the LionI don't
lose sleep over whether anyone's opinion regarding the Daily News'
coverage changes based on a joke they run on their cover. I don't
discredit anyone whose opinion is adversely affected, though my own was
not. I do, however, hate the fact that one of the greatest-ever Flyer
killers has a new decoration for his bulletin board. 

Again, my superstition getting in the way of reason? 
Reason
would dictate that the gauntlet was thrown down on Sidney Crosby well
before the paper was printed and handed to him by Lisa Hillary. Although
he's seen some success in spurts this series, he's made headlines for
all the wrong reasons. In fact, he's damn lucky the league's justice
system is based on punishing acts more so than preventing them, because
he was throwing gasoline on a powder keg in game 3, ultimately leading
to several explosions.

Does the all-world talent take over tonight, or will
his demons get the better of him again, forcing his teammates to focus
on protecting the star rather than passing to him?
Speaking
of his teammates… Man… I almost don't even want to mention #71. The
odds-on favorite for MVP has been locked in Sean Couturier's trunk for the past week. It's appeared as if Cooter is winning the matchup,
but Malkin is also in a slump. He's shooting wide, sloppily, and without
his usual precision. Is he frustrated by his competition, or just a
little off? 

Marc-Andre Fleury has allowed a historic amount of
goals through three games. The defense in front of him will be even more
banged up tonight, and the forward ranks a little thinner without the
three suspension recipients. But can he really be flogged this badly
four games in a row?

By now, I hope I've shaken all the black cats you
people have been throwing in my path to the game tonight. I'll be in the
building with a ticket, top row of the upper deck. I want to be SINGING
on my way out. But not til then… There's at least 60 more minutes of hockey
the Flyers need to treat like they did the last 60 minutes. Despite the
series record, this is not an opponent we want getting even a whiff of
its passion back…

Sixers' future payroll: Flexibility, Robert Covington prioritized over Nerlens Noel

Sixers' future payroll: Flexibility, Robert Covington prioritized over Nerlens Noel

As the Sixers were expending all of their energy Monday night trying to stay with the 50-9 Warriors, Nerlens Noel was down in Dallas contributing to a Mavericks win, their second in a row since acquiring him at the trade deadline.

In two games off the bench for the Mavs, Noel has played a combined 55 minutes, scored 15 points with 16 rebounds, two steals and two blocks, made 6 of 11 buckets and 3 of 4 free throws.

He's played crucial minutes down the stretch in both games for Dallas, helping them at the defensive end even on plays in which he doesn't affect a shot. His length, activity and paint-roaming ability is why the Mavs traded Justin Anderson and two second-round picks for a half-season of Noel and his restricted free-agent match rights this summer.

The Noel trade has already been analyzed to death at this point, so this won't be another examination of whether the Sixers got enough in return or what they should have done.

Since the trade was clearly about the contract Noel will receive this summer and the Sixers' unwillingness to allocate so much money to the center position, let's take a look at the Sixers' finances moving forward.

Next season's payroll
The NBA salary cap spiked to $94 million last offseason and is expected to take a smaller jump to about $100 million this summer.

As of now, the Sixers have $48,077,210 committed to the 2017-18 payroll.

* Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson are due $9 million each.

* Ben Simmons will make just under $6.2 million, and Joel Embiid will make $6.1 million.

* Jahlil Okafor is owed just under $5 million, Nik Stauskas $3.8 million, and Dario Saric $2.4 million.

* Justin Anderson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Robert Covington, Richaun Holmes and T.J. McConnell will all make between $1 million and $1.6 million.

* And the Sixers will pay $500,000 of dead money to Tibor Pleiss, who they immediately waived after acquiring from the Jazz last August for Kendall Marshall and a swap of second-round picks.

That leaves the Sixers with $52 million to spend.

How will they spend it?
Based on recent history, don't expect the Sixers to spend every last dollar in the offseason. They are focused on improving the team while not crippling its future, and Bryan Colangelo accomplished that goal somewhat this season by signing Henderson and acquiring Ersan Ilyasova early in the season.

The Bayless signing did not work out this year -- he's out for the season with a wrist injury -- but he's on the books the next two years at $9 million a pop.

Expect to see those kinds of moves made by the Sixers, unless they're able to identify a free agent young enough, good enough, and enough of a fit to sign to a long-term deal.

Guys who might potentially fit that description?

* Kentavious Caldwell-Pope of the Pistons
* Otto Porter of the Wizards
* Tim Hardaway Jr. of the Hawks
* Ian Clark of the Warriors
* Jrue Holiday of the Pelicans
* Jeff Teague of the Pacers (maybe)

Clark, Holiday and Teague are unrestricted free agents; the others are restricted. So if the Sixers were to offer KCP or Porter $80 million over four years, the Pistons and Wizards would have the opportunity to match. If they do, the Sixers wouldn't get them.

Of course, those teams would have to have enough money to re-sign them. That's where the Sixers' ample payroll space comes into play.

KCP and Porter seem like locks to get max contracts in the $20 million-plus per year range. Holiday and Teague may or may not get that much; it will be determined by how the point-guard market plays out.

Clark and Hardaway Jr. would require lesser commitments because they're currently role players with the potential to grow into more.

Joel Embiid's inevitable extension
The Sixers are going to need to max out Embiid in the near future. Although he's played only 31 games in three NBA seasons, those three years count contractually.

The last guaranteed year of Embiid's rookie contract is next season. After that, he's a lock to make $25 million per year, provided he's healthy. 

In similar positions, C.J. McCollum got $106 million over four years from the Blazers, and Hassan Whiteside got $98 million over four years from the Heat.

The Sixers could sign Embiid to such an extension before Oct. 31, 2017, but it wouldn't go into effect until the 2018-19 season. 

Looking ahead to 2018-19
Two seasons from right now.

The eventual Embiid max contract will not cripple the Sixers financially. They'll still have a lot of wiggle room.

Why? Because of how few long-term commitments they have. 

For example, Henderson makes $9 million next season but is then a free agent. So if Embiid gets $25 million per year, the net is $16 million of additional payroll once you account for Henderson's expiring deal.

If the Sixers trade Jahlil Okafor between now and 2018, that would trim $6.3 million more from their 2018-19 payroll.

So, looking ahead to 2018-19, the Sixers would have $55 million committed to Embiid (max deal), Bayless, Simmons, Okafor, Saric, Anderson, TLC, Holmes and McConnell.

Missing from that equation is Covington, who will be an unrestricted free agent that summer. If Covington keeps playing like he has, racking up steals, hitting threes, improving in the lane and defending the best perimeter player every night, he's going to be in line for a contract in the $15 million per year range.

So, for the sake of logic, let's add Covington's $15 million to that 2018-19 payroll and subtract Okafor's. That would put the Sixers at about $64 million of payroll commitments two years from now, leaving them around $36 million to $40 million of cap space to sign free agents.

In 2018, the Sixers theoretically will be closer to actually contending, and free agents will be more realistic and meaningful. 

This is why the Sixers traded Ilyasova, for example. He's a free agent this summer and could command an annual salary in the $12M to $15M range given the scarcity of available stretch-fours. If the Sixers kept him and re-signed him, they might not have enough money down the road to pay Covington, a younger and more important player.

That 2018 free-agent class is not extremely appealing -- it's highlighted by Kyle Lowry, Isaiah Thomas, Chris Paul, Paul Millsap, Greg Monroe, Derrick Favors, Avery Bradley and C.J. Miles.

A few of those guys, like Thomas, won't even reach free agency -- they'll be extended ahead of it.

Mentioning that only to point out that the Sixers' options in free agency this summer might be better than their options next summer.

So ... did they need to trade Noel?
Some think Noel is going to get $20 million per year in free agency. 

I personally think his contract will be more in the $17 million per year range, a figure in between the annual average salaries for Timofey Mozgov ($16M), Tristan Thompson ($16.4M), Joakim Noah ($18M) and Ryan Anderson ($20M).

In any event, it's going to be a pricey contract for Noel.

So, how would a contract of say, four years, $68 million for Noel have affected the future payroll numbers laid out above?

It would mean that with Embiid's max deal, with Covington re-signed to a higher number, with Noel here and with Okafor traded, the Sixers would have around $79 million committed to payroll, leaving them about $20 million free to spend.

That would be enough for one really good-but-not-great player. Or they could try to creatively move a few contracts and line themselves up for a great player. 

But consider then that in 2018-19, Ben Simmons will be in the position Embiid is in now. Simmons would be in the third year of his rookie deal and eligible for a max extension before Oct. 31 of that year.

The numbers just do not add up.

I hated the Noel trade because I thought they should have gotten more, but dealing him did indeed make financial sense.

If the Sixers chose to keep Noel and re-sign him, they could have had a 2018-19 core of: Embiid, Simmons, Saric, Noel, Covington, Holmes, McConnell, TLC, and either a few mid-tier free agents or one star.

That could be a solid core if everyone continues developing at their own rate and if Embiid and Simmons can stay on the court ... but the Sixers wouldn't have many options. The goal is a championship and that probably isn't a championship core.

The $17 million or so of savings from not keeping Noel will be very important then. 

In a way, the Sixers essentially chose Covington over Noel.

Rating the Rumor: Eagles 'In on' Alshon Jeffery

Rating the Rumor: Eagles 'In on' Alshon Jeffery

Ian Rapoport for the NFL Network reports the Chicago Bears are not expected to place the franchise tag on free-agent wide receiver Alshon Jeffery before the March 1 deadline. Meanwhile, league sources previously told Jason La Canfora for CBS Sports that they “anticipate” the Eagles “being in on” Jeffery should the 2013 Pro Bowler become accessible.

Put two and two together, and there are folks around the NFL who believe the Eagles will pursue Jeffery when free agency opens on March 9.

Yet while receiver is one of the Eagles’ two greatest needs this offseason, whether they should make a run at Jeffery and whether they can afford him might be two different answers. Getting another weapon for Carson Wentz seems like it will be the top priority in free agency, but doing so will not be cheap, and the club is up against the salary cap.

There’s little doubt the Eagles will reach out to Jeffery. Aside from the organization being known for always doing its due diligence with players, the 27-year-old is hands down the best option on the market. Over the 2013 and ’14 seasons, Jeffery averaged 87 receptions, 1,277 yards and 8.5 touchdowns per year. He’s dealt with injuries and a terrible supporting cast in the two years since, yet still managed to go over 800 yards receiving in each.

Jeffery has some baggage, specifically the four-game suspension for violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy in 2016. Despite everything, only nine active players are averaging more than his 72.2 yards per game, and only 10 better than 15.0 yards per reception. The talent is undeniable, and with a quarterback of Wentz’s caliber throwing him the football, the sky is the limit.

The Eagles absolutely should pursue Jeffery. Actually signing him is where this begins to get tricky.

For starters, the Eagles are currently sitting at an estimated $9.69 million under the cap, according to OverTheCap.com. Only three teams are in worse shape. There may be more moves to free up space in the coming days, which will help, although even if they get that figure closer to $25 million through a series of trades and releases, the numbers are tight.

Jeffery collected $14.6 million under the franchise tag in ’16, and while he might not see quite that much annually on his next contract, it’s not out of line with expectations. Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant are all making $14 million or more per season. Jeffery may not have the body of work of those players, but as the top receiver available, the market will value him and be willing to pay as such.

That $25 million the Eagles can theoretically free up might be the best case scenario. It likely won’t be that, which means signing Jeffery would take up practically all of their cap space for ’17. Obviously, there are ways to structure a contract to push money into future years, and the case could be made the Eagles don’t need to sign any other free agents.

No matter how you slice it, there are some logistical concerns here. Until the Eagles shed some of those contracts and we can see what they’re working with, it’s difficult to envision how they win a bidding war against suitors with upwards of $50, $60, even $70 million to spend.

It’s not so much a question of interest for the Eagles. It’s whether or not signing Jeffery is realistic in the first place.

Rating the Rumor: We’ll see