Lappy's Just a Different Breed

Lappy's Just a Different Breed

One of the
first things I wrote for this site was an ode to Sami Kapanen, which was inspired by the courage and selflessness he showed
in getting off the ice after absorbing a brain-rattling hit from Darcy
Tucker against the Maple Leafs in the 2004 Eastern Conference
Semifinals. To this day what amazes me about that play is that Sami got up because that’s what hockey players do. He certainly did not have his wits about him enough to
process the implications of getting up. He got up because it was his
natural hockey playing instinct. Hockey players just do that sort of
thing. It’s in their DNA.

In thinking about the current Flyers
playoff run I keep coming back to that same realization that hockey
players are just a different
breed. We’re not like them. Their ability to
absorb and withstand pain is beyond anything I could possibly imagine.
Shrugging off broken feet, brain contusions, pucks to the face, and the
hush-hush upper and lower body injuries has reached the point of being
cliché. Think about it - when a player suffers an injury requiring 70
stitches and he somehow returns to the ice 10 minutes later we simply
shrug and say “he’s a hockey player”.

No one personifies this more than
Ian Laperriere. As you know Lappy took a frozen disk of vulcanized rubber
moving at upwards of 80 MPH to the face. The shot broke his orbital
bone, aka broke his face, and caused bruising of
his brain. Let me say that again…he suffered a
bruised brain. He couldn’t even see afterwards to the point that he
asked Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin whether he’d lost an eye. You know how
you look at the injury report in other sports and it typically says
something along the lines of “Player X: doubtful knee”, or “Player Y: questionable back”? Yeah, Lappy’s injury report would have read “Laperriere:
out brain”. You will never see something like that
in a sport other than hockey.

The injury was horrifying. He literally
left his blood on the Prudential Center ice that night. I cannot imagine
there was single person who saw that injury and did not think that his career was over. He’s 36 years
old. He’s played over 15 years in the NHL. He’s had a terrific career. No one could have blamed him had he simply
decided to hang it up.

But that’s not what hockey players do. The most you
could get him to concede was that he’d begrudgingly agree to wear a
shield next season. Oh, and he volunteered that when he dropped the
gloves to fight next season he’d simply remove his helmet first.
Naturally, he expressed some worry about his life post-hockey, and his
ability to enjoy being a husband and father, but he was already
contemplating how he would adapt to wearing a shield. Again I return to
the familiar refrain “he’s a hockey player”.

So what does he
do after suffering the broken face, the brain bruise, the fear that he’d
lost an eye, and the prospect of losing the ability to fully enjoy his
family? He continues to work out with the hope that the team advances to
the point that he could rejoin them. Simply wanting to come back from an injury like that is beyond anything I
could ever imagine. My retirement papers would have been at the league
office the next day. Lappy? He's dying to get back out there.

Now at no point
did I actually think he’d make it back. However, assuming he did the
unthinkable and actually did play again there was no way in a million
years he’d resume his shot blocking, forechecking, penalty killing ways, right? Wrong. Almost
immediately after stepping onto the ice in Montreal he was in a
wrestling match along the boards with Roman Hamrlik. During Game Five he was back to laying out in front of shots from the point. He has zero fear. He’s
completely deactivated the flight part of the fight or flight response.
He gleefully reaches out to touch the hot stove over and over again.

In Philadelphia
we like our athletes bruised and bloodied. We demand maximum effort. We
insist they care as much as we do. Hockey players
willingly give up their bodies, their teeth, and their health in pursuit
of the Stanley Cup. Like us they just care so damn much. Unlike us they
are wired in such a way that they're willing to withstand and play
through unimaginable pain and injury. Ian Laperriere and Sami Kapanen
are two of the most courageous athletes I’ve ever seen. They embody everything this city loves about
its athletes. They are
fearless. They are relentless. They are hockey players.

Sixers were right to reject Pelicans' reported Jahlil Okafor trade offer

Sixers were right to reject Pelicans' reported Jahlil Okafor trade offer

If the reports are accurate, Bryan Colangelo probably made the right decision not trading Jahlil Okafor last week.

After the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins early Monday morning in a shocking, post-All-Star Game blockbuster, ESPN's Ramona Shelburne reported several interesting pieces of information regarding the Sixers.

"The Pelicans were very close on a deal for Jahlil Okafor about 10 days ago, offering a similar package except it didn't include [Buddy] Hield," Shelburne wrote

A few hours earlier, she reported on ESPN that the deal for Okafor would have netted the Sixers Tyreke Evans, a protected first-round pick and a future second-round pick from New Orleans.

The protection the Pelicans sought was heavy — they wanted top-20 protection, according to Shelburne.

That just isn't a meaningful enough return, even for a player without a role in Philly.

Why? 

• Evans is a free agent after the season who has had three knee surgeries in the last two years and can't shoot threes. 

• A second-round pick is just a sweetener, so moving on from that ...

• A top-20 protected first-round pick isn't that enticing at all. Of the players selected between 20 and 30 in the last draft, only Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Toronto's Pascal Siakam and San Antonio's Dejounte Murray even have roles. 

In the previous year's draft, the best picks between 20-30 were Bobby Portis and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. 

The year before, Rodney Hood and Clint Capela panned out for their teams, but the eight others selected in that range have done little.

This sort of trade might have worked for the Sixers if they weren't already accumulating some roster depth. They don't need to go search for another late-first-round pick they can hopefully turn into the eighth or ninth guy in a rotation. With players developing like T.J. McConnell, Robert Covington, Richaun Holmes and Nik Stauskas, the Sixers are already building a decent second unit for the future.

There are a lot of people in this city ready to give Okafor away, but doing so just makes no sense for the Sixers. All it would solve is the center logjam and awkwardness, but the value in that New Orleans proposal just wasn't there for the Sixers. 

At this point, it's looking extremely unlikely Okafor is traded before the Feb. 23 deadline. The Blazers were interested but acquired Jusuf Nurkic from Denver instead. The Pelicans were interested but landed Cousins. 

The only team left we've heard connected to Okafor is the Bulls, who don't have much of intrigue to send the Sixers' way.

But still, hanging on to Okafor and trading him after the season, or on draft night, could yield the Sixers a better return than New Orleans was offering. Forget about Evans and forget about the second-round pick — that offer was basically a pick in the 20-30 range for Okafor. 

Not enough. 

The Sixers held out in hopes of New Orleans' making the pick top-10 protected or lottery-protected instead, but Pels GM Dell Demps knew the Sixers didn't have much leverage and thought to himself, "If I'm trading away a potentially valuable draft pick, I want a better player in return."

And so he got Cousins. That's how we ended up where we are today.

The Sixers' future is brighter because their pick swap with the Kings now holds more value, so last night was a win for them even though Okafor remains on the roster.

Sixers' big picture still bright even after recent bumps in the road

Sixers' big picture still bright even after recent bumps in the road

If you’re a fan of the local professional basketball franchise, it’s understandable that you might have been a bit frustrated to learn, weeks after the fact, that Joel Embiid suffered an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny meniscus tear.

And you might have found it a tad concerning that contrary to popular opinion, there exists the possibility that Ben Simmons won’t play at all this year. Or that Jahlil Okafor won’t play somewhere else.

This reminder: You can love your team, but don’t expect it to love you back.

And one more: As disillusioned as you might be at present, you’ll be back.

You know it, and the Sixers know it.

They can be somewhat less than forthright on the injury front or somewhat less than successful on the trade front, and it won’t matter. They can, in fact, do everything short of moving to Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J., and it won’t matter.

Because if you’ve stuck with this outfit to this point in The Process – and man, you’re a real glutton for punishment if you have – you sure as heck aren’t going away now.

Not after watching Embiid, who – 31 games into his professional career already – looks like a transcendent player. And not when you stop to consider the promise of Simmons, the first overall pick in last summer’s draft. Or the promise of whatever Okafor might bring in a trade.

That said, the optics are not good right now. Not with the smoke from three brush fires hovering over the team, partially obscuring some promising developments (the rise of Dario Saric and T.J. McConnell foremost among them).

General manager Bryan Colangelo appears to have only told the truth about Embiid’s injured left knee as a last resort – i.e., after Derek Bodner of derekbodner.com reported the meniscus tear on Feb. 11.

Before that, the team had most often referred to the injury, sustained Jan. 20 against Portland, as a contusion, which would seem to connote some sort of minor, skin-deep issue. As he continued to miss games – in all he has been held out of the last 11, and 14 of 15 – there was, eventually, the admission that it was a bone bruise.

In a hastily convened news conference after Bodner’s story broke (and before a game against Miami), Colangelo finally said that the team knew from the start it was “a very minor meniscal tear,” in addition to a bone bruise.

Not the finest hour for a GM who had promised transparency.

Then the Inquirer’s Keith Pompey reported last Friday, at the start of All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, that the Jan. 23 CT scan on Simmons’ surgically repaired right foot indicated he had not fully healed.

Simmons suffered a Jones fracture of that foot’s fifth metatarsal on Sept. 30 -- i.e., the final day of training camp. The word then was that he would miss three months and thus be back in January. Then there were reports he would return after the All-Star break. As recently as last Wednesday coach Brett Brown told ESPN.com, “I fully expect him to play this season.”

After Pompey’s report, Colangelo issued a statement saying the team is “employing a conservative and thoughtful approach” to Simmons’ recovery, and basing his return “on the advice and direction of medical professionals.”

Colangelo added that Simmons’ next examination is scheduled for this Thursday, the day before the Sixers resume their season at home against Washington. Brown has said the rookie will need four or five full practices before he plays in a game, of which 26 remain in the season. The math doesn’t look promising, people.

The trade deadline also arrives Thursday, and on Sunday night Sean Deveney of The Sporting News and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com tweeted out that the Kings offered guard Tyreke Evans, a 2017 first-round pick and a future choice over a week ago for Okafor before shipping a similar package (as well as rookie guard Buddy Hield) to Sacramento for All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins.

Shelburne tweeted that the sticking point in the Okafor-to-the-Pelicans deal was the fact that the Sixers and New Orleans could not agree on the protections for the first-round pick.

So this saga continues. As far back as Feb. 6, there was a report (from USA Today’s Sam Amick) that the Sixers were talking with New Orleans about a deal involving Okafor.

Then, during a break in that Miami game on Feb. 11, Okafor was seen shaking hands with teammates as if a deal had gone down. He didn’t play that night – Brown admitted it was because of “trade rumors” – and Okafor didn’t even travel to Charlotte for a game two nights later.

But he rejoined the team last Wednesday in Boston for the Sixers’ final game before the break and saw some time off the bench. David Aldridge of Turner Sports has since reported that a swap with Portland fell through.

Other outlets have reported that Denver and Chicago expressed interest (the Nuggets presumably before swapping centers with the Blazers), and on Saturday Deveney wrote that Dallas was a potential destination.

So far, nothing.

Lest you be inclined to fret about any of this, understand that the Sixers stand to benefit from a (likely) downturn in Sacramento’s already-dim fortunes, given that they can swap first-rounders with the Kings under terms of a larcenous 2015 trade engineered by Sam Hinkie.

On another front, Embiid said that if all goes well in practice this week, he “probably” will return Friday.

And kindly consider the big picture – that the Sixers have had far worse times than this. Far worse, even, than the first three years of The Process. They are the franchise that traded Wilt, Moses, Barkley, AI and nearly Dr. J. The one that went 9-73 when they were TRYING to win. The one that twice frittered away 3-1 leads en route to losing playoff series; no other Eastern Conference team has done it that often.

You will get through this.

Deep down, you know it. And they do, too