How Low Can We Go? Looking At How Far the Sixers Might Tank This Year

How Low Can We Go? Looking At How Far the Sixers Might Tank This Year

Are we sure that Doug Collins isn't secretly, like, a brilliant tanker?
We've gotten so caught up in the question of why he continues to play
Damien Wilkins and Royal Ivey over the higher-upside likes of Arnett
Moultrie, Charles Jenkins and even Dorell Wright—is he just overvaluing
his veterans? Does he really hate young guys that much? Are the Russians
somehow involved?—that maybe we're just totally glazing over the
obvious answer that Collins really doesn't want to win ballgames that
badly right now. After all, maybe Moultrie and Jenkins are like,
secretly really awesome at basketball—at least with Ivey and Wilkins,
you now the low-ceiling brand of hoops you're getting.


Anyway, if that is Dougie's brilliant, evil plot, it's totally
working. After dropping two to the Heat and Knicks this weekend, the
Sixers have lost five in a row, and are now a full ten games under .500,
officially their lowest point since the Eddie Jordan era. Once seen as a
playoff challenger in the East—and sadly, they still technically are,
just four games back of the similarly sagging Bucks—the Sixers have even
now fallen back to Toronto territory, the Raps having played much
better since acquiring Rudy Gay in a trade and getting a couple other
players back from injury. Were the season to end today, the Sixers would
finish with the 11th-worst record in the league, giving them about a 1%
chance of landing in the lottery.


Now, you probably don't need me to tell you why this is important,
but I'll do it anyway—the Sixers, as a young and (ostensibly) improving
team, are now in a position to additionally acquire an invaluable asset
at season's end with a top-ten draft pick. This could potentially
benefit the Sixers in one of two important ways: Either it gives them a
chance to add a potential core player to their existing
Jrue-Evan-Thad-(maybe Funny Looking Kid With the Big Hair?) unit,
cementing the team as one of the most promising young rosters in the
league, though leaving them likely still a season or two away from
possible contention. Or, they could package the pick with another one of
their non-untouchable trade assets—Evan or Thad maybe, depending on
what a team is more looking for—and try to land them a real star player
in the off-season, to go with Jrue and maybe/possibly a re-signed
FLKWTBH. It's enough to dream about, that maybe this season won't have
to end as a total waste.


Even in their best worst-case scenario, the Sixers probably won't
have a great shot at a top-three pick—we'll probably end up with at
least 30 wins, if only incidentally, so we're not likely to end with
more than a 7.5% chance or so of their ping-pong balls being selected.
Still, even if the Sixers won't be able to land a Ben McLemore or
Nerlens Noel at the top of the draft—and nobody's a surefire star in
this draft anyway—they could still get an impact player in the 6-10
range, a rangy center like Indiana's Tyler Zeller or Maryland's Alex
Len, or maybe an athletic wing slasher like UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad or
Kentucky's Alex Poythress. These guys might not be franchise players,
but they could be big pieces (no RyHo) for the Sixers, and better,
cheaper players to build around than those they'd be likely to find in
free agency.


But before we start scouting who we're going to pick, we should
figure out where we're likely to be picking. The Sixers lay in 11th now,
but they could conceivably climb much higher, depending on who among
the league's bottom-feeders they can catch near the bottom of the
standings. Let's examine the likely suspects.


1. Toronto Raptors: 23-34, 10th Worst Record in League. A
loss at home to the Wizards last night—not as embarrassing an occurrence
these days as you might think—breaks their tie with the Sixers in the
East, leaving the Raps in sole possession of 10th place in the lottery
standings. Still, as previously alluded to, our friends North of the
Border have been playing about as well as anyone in the Atlantic,
winning six of their last seven before the Washington loss, a nice core
congealing around the likes of the recently acquired swingman Rudy Gay
and improving (and recovering) young center Jonas Valanciunas. With team
management seemingly all-in on Toronto's unlikely playoff push, you can
expect they'll pass the Sixers with ease before long.


Chance of Out-Tanking: Very Good

2. Minnesota Timberwolves: 20-33, 9th Worst Record in League.
The Timberwolves got off to an impressive start with about 50% of their
roster injured at season's beginning, starting the year 13-11. Then
that 50% number got even higher, a couple returning players didn't
provide the needed boost, and the bottom fell out, with their recent win
against the Sixers (sigh) one of just six wins the T'Wolves have
accrued thusfar in 2013. Still, they've picked things up a little
recently, with point guard Ricky Rubio finally starting to impose his
will on games as he was predicted to do upon his return from ACL
surgery, and franchise power forward Kevin Love should be coming back
sometime in Mid-March. They may only have to be competent to pass the
Sixers, and with a healthier roster and the always-sturdy Rick Adelman
at the helm, they have a pretty good shot, even in the crowded West.


Chance of Out-Tanking: Good

3. Detroit Pistons: 22-36, 8th Worst Record in League.
The Pistons have teased with promise for much of the year, beating
powerhouses like the Spurs and Heat but losing a whole lot of winnable
games in between. Struggling recently, they'll get a boost with the
return of rookie sensation Andre Drummond, missing about a month with a
stress fracture. But they play only nine of their last 24 at home, and
might fold up the tent early if they decide (not erroneously) that
winning games isn't really worth their while this season. (A late game
against the Sixers on Apr 15th might very well make the difference, so,
uh, mark your calendars for that one.)


Chance of Out-Tanking: Slight

4. New Orleans Hornets: 20-37, 7th Worst Record in League.
The Hornets looked like they were ready to roll with the return of
maxed-out shooting guard Eric Gordon early in the New Year, winning six
of seven at one point and looking like they'd finally found the recipe
after a dismal 7-25 start. But the Hornets have been up-and-down ever
since then, failing to break away from the lottery contenders. The
Hornets' remaining schedule remains a tough combination of winnable road
games and challenging homers, so it'll really depend on which New
Orleans team shows up for the rest of the season to see if they'll be
able to make up the three-and-a-half game difference between them and
the Sixers.


Chance of Out-Tanking: Slightly better than slight

5. Washington Wizards, 18-37, 6th Worst Record in League.
Not long ago it would have been unimaginable to talk about the Wizards
possibly catching the Sixers in the standings—not because the Sixers
were ever that good, but because the Wizards started the year so very,
very bad. But after their dismal 4-28 start, the team has been playing
exponentially more inspired basketball since the return from injury of
former #1 overall pick John Wall (plus some other dudes), and have now
won seven of their last nine, with all but one of those seven wins
coming against teams currently in line for the post-season. This may or
may not be sustainable enough to catch the Sixers from 4.5 back, but I
certainly know which team I would bet on when they face off this Sunday.



Chance of Out-Tanking: Surprisingly good

Probably Not Gonna Happen: Cavaliers, Kings, Suns, Magic, Bobcats

Ultimately,
I'd say three of these teams will probably pass the Sixers before
season's end, with the return of TFLKWTBH obviously being a very big
variable in either direction. That would leave the Sixers 8th in the
lottery standings, which sounds about right to me. You guys good with
getting the 8th pick this year? I could certainly talk myself into it.

Nick Pivetta excited for big-league debut — even if rainout delays it a few days

Nick Pivetta excited for big-league debut — even if rainout delays it a few days

The Phillies' starting pitching rotation, for the time being, features four arms that were acquired in trades that have coincided with the team's rebuild, which started after the 2014 season.

Nick Pivetta will become the latest to join the group when he is officially activated. He was in the Phillies' clubhouse Tuesday afternoon and was scheduled to pitch on Wednesday, but those plans changed when Tuesday night's game against the Miami Marlins was postponed because of rain.

No makeup date was announced.

The rainout means Pivetta's big-league debut will be pushed back. Vince Velasquez, Tuesday's scheduled starter, will pitch Wednesday night against the Marlins and Jeremy Hellickson will start the series finale Thursday. Jerad Eickhoff and Zach Eflin are likely to stay on turn and pitch Friday and Saturday in Los Angeles. That means Pivetta's debut will likely happen Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. Not a bad venue for an unveiling. He does not have to be activated until that day. In the interim, the Phils are carrying an extra reliever in Mark Leiter Jr.

Even with the weather-related change in plans, Pivetta was thrilled to be in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

"I've achieved my goal of getting here eventually," the 24-year-old right-hander said. "I'm happy to be here. I want to get my feet on solid ground right now and just take it one step at a time.”

Pivetta is a Canadian from Victoria, British Columbia, about 100 miles northwest of Seattle. As a kid, he watched Toronto Blue Jays' games on television and idolized Roy Halladay. (see story).

Victoria must now be Phillies territory. Michael Saunders, the team's rightfielder, also hails from the town.

"You see it more and more, more Canadians getting into the game of baseball, so it’s always nice to see another one in the locker room," said Saunders, 30. "Clearly he’s pitched well enough to earn his way up here and I’m looking forward to seeing him play."

Pivetta is 6-5, 225 pounds. He was originally selected by the Washington Nationals in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. The Phillies acquired him for Jonathan Papelbon and cash in July 2015.

Pivetta will take Aaron Nola's spot in the rotation. Nola is on the disabled list with tightness in his lower back. He could be back as soon as early next week.

Nola said he probably could have pushed himself and stayed in the rotation, but the team chose to be cautious.

"I don’t think it's any big thing," Nola said.

With Pivetta on board, the Phillies now have four pitchers in their rotation that came over in "rebuild" trades.

Eflin arrived in the December 2014 deal that sent Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers.

Eickhoff came in the July 2015 deal that sent Cole Hamels to the Rangers.

Velasquez came in the December 2015 trade that sent Ken Giles to the Astros.

Pivetta did not immediately pitch well upon joining the Phillies organization. He had a 7.31 ERA in seven starts for Double A Reading in the summer of 2015. In 28 1/3 innings, he struck out 25 and walked 19.

Pivetta was a different pitcher last season. He registered a 3.27 ERA in 148 2/3 innings between Double A and Triple A, struck out 138 and walked 51. That performance earned him a spot on the team's 40-man roster.

“In 2016, he showed us the potential to be a really good major-league pitcher,” said Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development. “He was a little excitable after the trade in 2015, but he came back calm and confident last year. His stuff is legit — 93 to 96 (mph) with life on the fastball, good breaking ball and good feel for the changeup.”

His control continued to improve this season as he got off to a 3-0 start at Triple A. He pitched 19 innings, gave up just two earned runs, walked just two and struck out 24.

"Just getting ahead with my fastball," said Pivetta, explaining the early-season success that put him in line for the promotion. "First-pitch strikes are big. Even if I get into that 0-1 count or that 1-1 count, getting back to that 1-2 count is big. So being able to even up those counts have been really big for me, as well, and being able to finish off with my off-speed later in the counts, too.”

Pivetta pitched for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March. He made one start and took a no-decision in the team's 4-1 loss to Columbia. Pivetta worked four innings and allowed one run.

“That helped me," Pivetta said. "It was awesome. It was like having playoff baseball in March."

It's not clear how long Pivetta will stay in the big-league rotation. But he has more than put himself on the map, and if he continues to pitch well, he'll make more starts with the big club this season.

“I did not expect to be here this early in the season," he said. "I am happy to be here right now. I'll see how long I stay and just have fun while I am here.”

Ron Jaworski: Carson Wentz shouldn't 'have any input' in Eagles' 2017 NFL draft

Ron Jaworski: Carson Wentz shouldn't 'have any input' in Eagles' 2017 NFL draft

Should the Eagles give Carson Wentz a say in who they take in the draft?

He is the future of the franchise after all.

"If there's any player on our roster that has insight into a guy in free agency or the draft, it's part of our information gathering," Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said last Thursday.

So the Eagles will at least listen to Wentz — and others — about certain prospects. The second-year QB got a firsthand look at a few receiving prospects during offseason workouts. 

However, former Eagles quarterback and ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski thinks it would be a "mistake" to give Wentz any input into the team's draft decision-making. 

"I don't think the quarterback should have any input in the draft," Jaworski said Tuesday. "Plain and simple. The quarterback should quarterback his football team. I know he'll be a teammate, but the Eagles — like every other team in this league — do extensive scouting. They know what they're doing, they'll select the player they believe is the best player."

Jaws would know -- he made that very mistake once.

"I had someone ask me a question back in 1978 or '79," Jaworski said. "They said, 'Hey Jaws, what do you think the Eagles need?' And I said we could probably improve our wide receiver position. 

"Oh, by the way, Harold Carmichael is one of our wide receivers, the next time I saw him he said, 'Hey, what are you talking about?' So it was a mistake, and I apologized to Harold and that was the last comment I ever made about the draft and my teammates. So I think players ought to shut up and let the front office make those decisions."

To be fair, Carmichael held a little more weight in his day than Nelson Agholor or Dorial Green-Beckham do now. 

Jaworski went on to tell a wild story of his own draft day in 1973 (watch video here), and also made the case for the Eagles to stock up on cornerbacks in the draft (watch video here).