A Brief Summary of the Flyers' Moves on Day One; Voracek, Jagr, Lilja, Talbot

A Brief Summary of the Flyers' Moves on Day One; Voracek, Jagr, Lilja, Talbot

While many fans are still coming to grips with the fact that Jaromir Jagr will be wearing orange and black this season, it was not the only move that Paul Holmgren made today.

Not even close.

The Flyers began their busy day with an extension for the recently acquired Jakub Voracek, who came over in the Jeff Carter exchange. Then they signed free agent defenseman Andreas Lilja to replace the departing Sean O'Donnell, as well as luring center Max Talbot away from the rival Pittsburgh Penguins.

ANDREAS LILJA
Lilja spent last season with Anaheim after spending the previous five in Detroit, where he was part of their run for the Stanley Cup in 07-08. The former second round pick of the LA Kings in 2000 turns 36 in less than two weeks, and he missed most of the 09-10 campaign with a concussion. He appeared in 52 games for the Ducks last season though, and as long as he stays healthy, the addition should solidify the back end of the Flyers defensive rotation. He's signed for three years at $1.7 million per.

MAX TALBOT
Just as it seemed like things couldn't get any crazier, the Flyers announced the signing of Talbot to a five-year, $9 million contract. Talbot played his entire six-year NHL career for Pittsburgh, and like Lilja, was a member of a Stanley Cup winner in 08-09, in fact scoring the series' decisive goal for the Pens. The 27 year old isn't a huge factor on the score sheet—generally registering slightly more than 20 points per season—but he figures to fill Philly's need for a solid third-line center and penalty killer.

JAKUB VORACEK
Earlier, the club came to terms with Voracek on a one-year offer worth $2.25 million. He who was a restricted free agent when the Flyers acquired the right winger from Columbus. No word on whether the two sides discussed anything long term, but Voracek certainly has the chance to create a bigger role for himself in the season ahead. The seventh overall pick in 2007 averaged 48 points across the last two seasons for the unheralded Blue Jackets.

JAROMIR JAGR
And then of course, there is Jagr. Matt covered the Jagr signing in detail, so we won't get too much into that, but at one year it seems like your prototypical low risk/high reward move. Along with Lilja and Talbot, it also appears one of the Flyers' goals with this round of signings was to surround their young team with players who have experience hoisting the Cup. Jagr may not be an instant fan favorite, but he fits the bill of a player who has had post-season success in the NHL.

THE SHAKE
Of course, this round of moves leads many to believe Ville Leino won't return. We've noticed the silky smooth Leino has become something of a fan favorite, and get the feeling he will be missed. There's no arguing his solid numbers (53 points in 10-11), but it seems the team and the winger disagreed on his value, so the franchise moved quickly to fill out the rest of their roster.

None of these moves should blow anybody away, and won't, but the Flyers apparently had a goal in mind. They added a group of cost-effective veterans who have gone the distance, and fill specific holes in the lineup. Time will tell whether this drastic shakeup achieves the desired result, but nobody can accuse the Flyers front office of sitting on their hands this off-season.

UPDATE: More moves, right this way. Kris Versteeg has been traded, and Ville Leino and Brian Boucher have signed with the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes, respectively.

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.