Looking Forward with a Look Back Its Go Time for Hackworths Union

Looking Forward with a Look Back Its Go Time for Hackworths Union

Apparently it’s become a thing to download your
Twitter archive, just to see how stupid you sounded when you first created
your account.

My first few tweets were boring replies to the likes
of Grant Wahl and Bill Simmons. My first “real” tweet was,
not surprisingly, Union-related.

March 25, 2010: @smoore1117: Counting down to @Union2010 season opener
tonight! Got the jersey on and ready to go. See you at Dark Horse! 

See?
Sounds stupid, right?

Anyway,
I scrolled up to see my thoughts on January 31, 2012, when Peter Nowak
traded Sebastien Le Toux to the Vancouver Whitecaps. I went Twitter-crazy
that day, but here’s a few that stuck out:

- “It is very possible that Le
Toux has shown his best already. It could be a "sell high"
scenario that works out great for us.”

- “It definitely sucks. But the
team has to take emotion out of decisions. especially in a league where
money is inherently tight.”

- “Not saying I like it, or that
I have blind faith. But we only look at it with emotion. Team has to
use everything but."

- “If you think Le Toux just
gave you the 2 best years he has, then u sell high & get a huge
return on a guy you got for nothing. Still sucks.” 

This
does more than prove that I am that guy who uses “u” in tweets.
It proves that I, like many Union people, bought into “in Nowak we
trust.” Every time he made a move that seemed strange, I’d see that
tweet fill my timeline. “In Nowak we trust.”

One
year, one manager and 18 horrendous losses later, I feel like the guy
who made that first tweet before the Union’s first-ever game in 2010.
Excited for the season opener, but with absolutely, positively no idea
what I’ll see when I get there. 

So,
using my newly unearthed Twitter Archive, I give you the 2013 Philadelphhia
Union.

October 27, 2012: “Can't wait to read this week's "Final Whistle
with Hack". I'm hoping it's just a long list of players we're cutting” 

OK,
so we didn’t cut him, per se, but the player who shall not be named
will not be at PPL Park on Saturday. As you know, I was somewhat of
a fan, but I’m glad we’ve moved on. Many would say he doesn’t
need to be replaced, since he didn’t bring much to the table. But
someone has to orchestrate the midfield.

Often
that point guard falls to a strong holding midfielder. Brian Carroll
is a great anchor in the center, but by no means is he a playmaker.
Amobi Okugo could be that guy near the back, if Hack does what I hope
he will and move him into the midfield, but not just yet. 

So,
in more words than were necessary: It’s Roger Torres time.

I
haven’t been as impressed with Torres as many in this town, but he
hasn’t had much time to prove himself. That needs to change. No Union
player has more creativity and individual skill than Torres, and it’s
time to see him do something he has never done: 

Go
90 minutes.

That’s
right, the kid is 22 years old and full of energy, and he has NEVER
played 90 minutes for the Union. Much of that was Nowak’s unexplained
skepticism and obsession with overcoaching in the final minutes, and
some had to do with nagging injuries. 

But
according to Hackworth, whose “expectations are pretty high about
what he is capable of,” according to an MLSsoccer.com article,
Torres is injury-free and ready to play. Much like the rest of the roster,
it’s put up or shut up time. Put him in the starting 11, give him
targets up front, and take your hands off the wheel.



November 4, 2011: “Neither Farfan came to play tonight. Just like
everyone else.” 

I’m
still very skeptical about Gabriel Farfan at left back. He never seemed
comfortable and was often bailed out by Carlos Valdes and Okugo last
year. Valdes is gone, Okugo is (hopefully) moving to the midfield, and
it will likely take Jeff Parke and Bakary Soumare (or Okugo) some time
to figure things out in the middle of defense.

The
Union tried to draft for the position – sort of – in forward
Don Anding, who Hackworth says can play in the back. But it appears
to be Farfan’s job to lose. 

A
little farther upfield sits the other Farfan, Michael, whom many see
as the new midfield anchor and playmaker. Ask any Farfan fans about
him, and they’ll mention the sublime
chip goal against Real Madrid
. Call me skeptical,
but I’m not sold. Maybe with actual targets up front, things will
change. But Farfan often got a free pass for many of the same mistakes
made by he-who-shall-not-be-named. 

I’m
still not sure Farfan isn’t better served playing outside than in
the middle. But if Hackworth goes with the 4-3-3 he seems to be working
on, maybe Farfan will find his place alongside Le Toux and Conor Casey
(or Jack McInerney). 

September 30, 2012: “Also, I'm sure MacMath is staying, and that's
fine. But I'm not as high on him as I used to be.”

At
the end of this season, there needs to be six-to-nine points in the
standings that can be credited solely to Zac MacMath. Team can’t keep
the ball? Make a few big saves. Defense hangs you out to dry? Make the
stop no one expects. Get outshot 15-3? Secure the 0-0 draw. 

He
doesn’t need to be the locker room leader Faryd Mondragon was, but
MacMath needs to take charge in the back. He has the athleticism, let’s
see if he has the makeup to lead a team out of the doldrums.


April
3, 2011: “Keon Daniel is all over the ball. Looks more comfortable
on the ball than anyone we have right now.”

Keon
Daniel may be the wildcard this year when it comes to trying to predict
the regular lineup. I think Danny Cruz is the Saturday starter on the
right side of midfield, but Daniel is a much different player who could
occupy the same position. Daniel is a creative wing midfielder, while
Cruz gets by on his effort and tenacity. 

If
Daniel proves to be a spark off the bench who can contribute in the
final third, Cruiz might be supplanted. But if the defense can’t hold
things down and needs the help, Daniel might not be a luxury Hackworth
can afford.

January 22, 2013: “If they get anything for Adu & want to spend
DP $, it should be on a veteran in MF. Too many young guys playing at
once.” 

The
biggest off-field question is this: If the team has a glaring need after 8-to-10 games (and I’m sure it will), will the money it’s currently
wasting on Unnamed Midfielder stop Hackworth and Co. from pulling the
trigger?

It might prevent a move for Messi or Ronaldo, most
likely, but there’s always Joey Barton.


December 6, 2012: “Love the "Le Toux doesn't
fit in our system" tweets. What system? The one that doesn't score
goals and doesn't win games?”

If trading away Le Toux was bizarre, the Twitter reaction
to his return was downright insane. On the day Hackworth fixed one of
Nowak’s biggest mistakes, there were plenty of tweets about Le Toux
“not being as good as he was,” or “not fitting into our system.”

Listen, do I think Le Toux is Messi or Benzema? Absolutely
not. But he’s better than anything we used last season in the same
position, and sincerely, genuinely never wanted to leave. Call me naïve,
but I think that’s just as important as individual skill.

Le Toux is not only old enough and mature enough to
become a leader of a young team, but he seems to have a relationship
with Hackworth that allows the Frenchman to speak his mind if he feels
he could be used in a better way.

He’s not a savior, but his return marks a big step
forward for the franchise, both on and off the field.

* * *

I’ll
be back on Saturday with a few Predictions Sure to Fail, as well as
a glance at Sporting Kansas City, a tough test out of the gate for the
Union. 

In
the meantime, it’s officially March. And the season opens tomorrow.
Get your beanbag tosses dusted off.

We’re
plenty excited, a little more skeptical and a lot less forgiving. 

Your
move, John Hackworth.

Follow
Steve on Twitter @smoore1117.


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