The Flyers need a culture change -- but it's not the one you're thinking of

The Flyers need a culture change -- but it's not the one you're thinking of

The Flyers have a culture problem.

But it’s probably not the one you’re thinking of. It isn’t the “Broad Street Bully” culture that has the cap-strapped Flyers at 4-9-1 and sinking in an awful Metropolitan Division. It also isn’t their seemingly endless management nepotism, though that doesn’t help.

It’s the big money culture that has to go.

The Flyers’ problem stems from their inability to adapt to the cyclical nature of the salary cap era. Before the hard cap was introduced in 2005-06, the Flyers were known as a heavy spending team that bought their way through downturns, threw money at issues and “went for it” every year by trading young talent for veterans.

The league changed but the Flyers didn’t.

Living year-to-year pressed hard against the cap, the Flyers still shun development in favor of spending. And it’s that archaic premise has them in quite a jam both financially and on the ice, sitting as one of the league’s worst teams with one of its highest payrolls.

This money-slinging culture problem is especially apparent on the Flyers’ blue line, which is slow, old and outrageously expensive for ranking 16th in goals-against per game. In fact, the Flyers (without Chris Pronger’s $4.941 million) easily lead the league in defense spending at over $28 million.

But where did the Flyers go wrong? It’s in their team-building strategy.

The same ‘buy competitiveness’ philosophy that helped the Flyers through the late 90’s and early 00’s, is what compelled general manager Paul Holmgren to trade the 27th overall pick in 2008 for defender Steve Eminger.

Instead of trying to find the next Kimmo Timonen, the Flyers re-signed the 38-year-old to a one-year contract for $6 million. Instead of replacing unrestricted free-agent Matt Carle with inexpensive production from within, the Flyers signed 35-year old Mark Streit at $21-million for four years.

Yet it isn’t just impulse buying that has the Flyers in a bind -- it’s their long-time disinterest in creating inexpensive options. There is no PK Subban, Ryan Ellis, Jonas Brodin or Jacob Trouba waiting to step in or step up into a major role. The team’s brightest defensive star is 24-year-old Luke Schenn, who has been relegated to the press box for the last two games as a healthy scratch.

Currently, the Flyers are the only team in the NHL to not have a drafted player on their defensive roster. They have just one homegrown player (signed first entry-level contract and played first NHL game with the same club) -- college free agent Erik Gustafsson, who is sharing popcorn with Schenn.

In comparison, the Chicago Blackhawks have three homegrown defensemen. Both the Boston Bruins and LA Kings have four. All three have won the Stanley Cup in recent years and all three spend less on defense than the Flyers.

Although you can point at the Flyers’ broken and inept AHL pipeline for their inability to transform below-average talents into inexpensive and serviceable NHL players, acquiring, drafting and developing high caliber defensemen has not been a priority for this club. They simply don’t feed the pipeline with quality talent.

Since 2004, the Flyers made 70 draft selections. Only 23 were defensemen and only two, over that 10 year span, were picked with the team’s first pick -- Luca Sbisa, 2008 and Sam Morin, 2013. Including those two, the Flyers only selected a defensemen in the third round or higher 10 times.

Of the 23 defensemen picked, only five have played with the Flyers -- Oskars Bartulis, Kevin Marshall, Marc-Andre Bourdon, Oliver Lauridsen and Luca Sbisa. Led by Bartulis’ 66 games, this group has combined for a total of 175 games played in a Flyers jersey.

Out of 10 years of drafting and 23 picks, the Flyers received a little over two full seasons worth of return. Only Bourdon and Lauridsen are still with the organization, now playing with the Adirondack Phantoms.

When analyzing the Flyers’ many issues, it’s not Jay Rosehill, Zac Rinaldo or the bully culture that caused this mess -- it’s another out-of-date mentality. It’s the small-picture, big money, run-and-gun spending philosophy that has doomed these Flyers.

MLB Notes: Mets' manager Terry Collins worried David Wright might be headed for DL

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MLB Notes: Mets' manager Terry Collins worried David Wright might be headed for DL

NEW YORK -- Mets manager Terry Collins is worried David Wright may wind up on the disabled list because of a neck injury.

New York's captain and third baseman was out of the starting lineup for the third straight day Monday because of his neck. He was given anti-inflammatory medicine over the weekend.

Now 33, Wright was on the disabled list from April 15 to Aug. 24 last year when he strained his right hamstring and then developed spinal stenosis. He has a lengthy physical therapy routine he must go through before each game.

Wright homered in three straight games last week before getting hurt. He is batting .226 with seven homers, 14 RBIs and 55 strikeouts in 137 at-bats.

White Sox: Shuck called up with Jackson injured
NEW YORK -- With Austin Jackson bothered by turf toe, the Chicago White Sox recalled outfielder J.B. Shuck from Charlotte and optioned right-hander Tommy Kahnle to the Triple-A farm team.

Jackson left Sunday's game in the eighth inning because of his left foot.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura said before Monday's series opener against the New York Mets that he doesn't think Jackson's injury at this point merits a move to the disabled list. He adds that the team does not "necessarily want to lose him for two weeks right away."

Shuck was batting fifth and playing center field Monday. He was 0 for 9 with the White Sox before he was sent down April 18 when Chicago needed to add a pitcher. He is hitting .299 at Charlotte with two homers and 17 RBIs.

Kahnle is 0-1 with a 2.70 ERA in four games over three stints with Chicago this season.

NBA draft profile: Kentucky G Jamal Murray

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NBA draft profile: Kentucky G Jamal Murray

Jamal Murray

Position: Guard

Height: 6-5

Weight: 210

School: Kentucky

It's tough for a Kentucky star freshman to fly under the radar, but that's exactly what Murray did last season. While Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine dominated the spotlight, Murray was quietly as good as anyone in the country for the second half of the season.

In Kentucky's final 14 games, Murray averaged just under 24 points and shot better than 46 percent from three-point range. For the season, he averaged an even 20 points and connected on 41 percent of his three-point attempts. He also chipped in an impressive 5.2 rebounds. 

Kentucky lost some games early and fell toward the bottom of the Top 25 rankings. But Murray continued to produce and played his best basketball down the stretch, lifting the Wildcats to 27 wins and SEC regular season and tournament titles. 

As good as he was during his only college season, Murray projects to be an even better pro. He's the best guard prospect in the 2016 NBA Draft. 

Strengths
Shooting the ball. He has the best shooting stroke of any prospect in this year's draft. Murray's form on his jump shot is textbook with the results to match. He's able to get his shot off quickly and has range well beyond the NBA three-point line. Murray's outside shot is his greatest asset. Shooters are always in high demand and have never been more valuable in the NBA. The defending champion Warriors offer all the proof you need of that.

However Murray isn't a one-dimensional player. He can get to the basket off the dribble and is a terrific finisher around the basket. He also developed a polished mid-range game during his time at Kentucky. Murray also plays hard — a characteristic that NBA executives monitor closely. He rarely takes a possession off and competes hard on the glass for a perimeter player, as evidenced by his five rebounds per game last season.

Weaknesses
Murray doesn't have a defined position on the NBA level. He's not a true point guard and isn't quite big enough to be considered a prototypical shooting guard. While NBA talent evaluators are concerned by this, I don't necessarily view it as a weakness. Murray projects as a combo guard, capable of playing point guard but also comfortable away from the ball. He's similar to the Trail Blazers' C.J. McCollum in that regard.

Murray isn't an elite-level athlete and by no means is he a great defender. He'll struggle to stay in front of the more dynamic perimeter players in the NBA. But he has a very good work ethic and should be able to improve defensively.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
Extremely well. The 76ers need shooters. That need will only become exaggerated if and when they draft Ben Simmons with the No. 1 pick. With Simmons, Dario Saric, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid, the Sixers have a significantly frontcourt-heavy nucleus. They need quality guards to balance out their lineup.

The much-discussed hypothetical trade that would send Okafor to the Celtics for the No. 3 pick makes a ton of sense for the 76ers. They could clear out space in their frontcourt rotation as well as acquire Murray with that third pick. Murray would flourish playing alongside Simmons, knocking down the open jump shots that Simmons creates.    

NBA comparison
I see a mix of Bradley Beal and Eric Gordon in Murray's game. Beal and Gordon have similar builds to Murray and both entered the NBA as exceptional shooters. All three are natural scorers who have no problem getting their own shot on the NBA level.

Draft projection
Murray will be a high-end lottery pick. He could go as high as the No. 3 to the Celtics and shouldn't fall any lower than No. 6 to the Pelicans.  

Western Conference Finals: Warriors-Thunder ready for Game 7

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Western Conference Finals: Warriors-Thunder ready for Game 7

OAKLAND, Calif. -- After a record 73 wins and a memorable Game 6 comeback on the road, the Golden State Warriors' goal of getting back to the NBA Finals and defending their title comes down to Game 7 at home against the powerful Oklahoma City Thunder.

All along, the Warriors have said the numerous team milestones and personal accomplishments they set during this special season won't matter a bit unless they repeat as champions.

They need one more victory to become the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 postseason deficit.

"I've learned that our players are tough, they're mentally tough," Coach of the Year Steve Kerr said Sunday, when his team took a day off from film and practice. "I don't know if I really learned that. I already knew that. But they've firmly confirmed that. It's been a great comeback. Now we still have to play. We still have another game."

Kerr just wanted his Warriors to grab back some momentum from Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Now, they have it, all right, heading into the decisive game of the Western Conference finals Monday night after winning two straight.

When his team won Game 5 on Thursday night, MVP Stephen Curry hollered "We ain't going home!" -- and Golden State wants no part of the Thunder having the last say in the Warriors' summer plans.

"We got a big one last night to stay alive, and now we've got some momentum. But it can work in reverse," Kerr said. "One game changes everything, and we've got to come out and play our game and play well to finish the series out."

Golden State hardly considers this a gimmee just because the team is playing at deafening Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost just three times this season. They have had their problems against Durant, Russell Westbrook and the towering Thunder.

Oklahoma City is fueled by trying to reach its first NBA Finals since losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012. James and Cleveland are waiting on Monday's winner.

"It's going to be a hard game. If we thought tonight was hard, Game 7's going to be even tougher," Curry said. "Everybody on both sides of the ball is going to leave it all out on the floor. It's win or go home. So we can't expect just because we're at home that we can just show up and win."

As has been the case all playoffs with Curry ailing, Golden State got a huge performance from Klay Thompson. He made a playoff-record 11 3-pointers and scored 41 points in a 108-101 win at Oklahoma City on Saturday night, and will need an encore Monday.

"Lot of people probably counted us out," Thompson said.

Kerr said last week that his group might be different than the all the other teams that have tried to come back from 3-1 down: because the Warriors won it all last year.

The Thunder certainly would have preferred to close out the series at home over traveling back across the country to the Bay Area for the deciding game.

Yet they never expected it to be easy against the 2015 champs.

"This is what you dream about, getting this opportunity. We've got to take advantage of it," Durant said Sunday. "Go up into their building, and it's going to be great atmosphere. ... No matter where you play, you've still got to play. That's how we look at it."

That's partly because first-year Thunder coach Billy Donovan has talked to his team about the mentality it takes to win in a hostile venue like raucous, sold-out Oracle Arena, and Oklahoma City came in and did it in Game 1.

"We lost Game 6, and it was a tough, hard-fought game," Donovan said. "We're disappointed about not having a different outcome. But we haven't lost the series, and we have an opportunity again. I think just being around these guys, they're a resilient group."

Curry and the Warriors expect another entertaining, great game.

From an ankle injury that sidelined him in the first round against Houston to a sprained right knee and puffy elbow, Curry has dealt with his share of pain this postseason. He has to push that aside for what he hopes is one more game this series and then a second straight trip to the Finals and another championship.

"I actually kind of like it, because you understand the moment of the playoffs and just kind of gets you going," he said. "I'll be ready to go and give it everything I've got for Game 7."