Preview: The Ryder Cup

Preview: The Ryder Cup

With the success of the 2010 AT&T National at Aronimink this summer and the advance of the U.S. Open at Merion in 2013, professional golf has returned to the Philadelphia area in a big way. Regardless of whether you, our loyal readers, play the game yourselves, it should be noted that our town lays claim to one of the strongest golf traditions in the country. Just take a look at a Google Map satellite over the area in and around 309 at Fort Washington to see the outrageous number of private country clubs all dating back roughly a century. The phrase "densely populated" comes to mind.

Now, even if golf isn't exactly your thing, I'm going to try to appeal to you on a basis I think we can all appreciate: blind patriotic support for national sporting endeavors. This, of course, brings me to this week's Ryder Cup. If at some points it seems like I'm going a bit overboard from here on out -- I'm not. This is golf people. We're going to war.

Having made their way to the Celtic Manor Resort in South Wales, golf's best will be teeing it up on the brand new "Twenty Ten Course," the first golf course ever built specifically for the purpose of hosting a Ryder Cup. Well, alright, it isn't exactly new. The track is actually just an extensively remodeled version of something originally built in 1999 called Wentwood Hills. This sort of dubious posturing should prove readily apparent to the most ardent patriots as a disingenuous attempt by some shifty Europeans to one-up us on their own soil, and I, for one, won't have it. Alright, I'm going overboard.

On to the golf itself, Corey Pavin's boys in the Red, White & Blue will be facing off against a very deep European squad led by 0-time Major Champion Colin Montgomerie. Comparing the squads on paper and factoring in some relevant history, like the fact that the United States has not won on European soil since 1993, puts the Americans at what appears to be a disadvantage. However, since the PGA Tour had instituted the Fed-Ex Cup playoff system in 2007, the United States has gone a perfect 3-0 in international competition. World #2 Phil Mickelson attributes the success to the forced change in schedule:

"In the past before team events, we would have six weeks off after the last major championship, the PGA, where guys would kind of shut it down," Mickelson said. "With the FedEx Cup it's kept our games sharp, and so the by-product has been we've had great performances in the last three team competitions.

But, as ESPN golf writer Jason Sobel's above article goes to speculate, with 9 of the 12 team members having played the last four weeks in a row, fatigue could become an issue. Either way, the two sides enter this weekend at vastly different conditions as related to both mental and physical rest. 

One American who will not be bothered by fatigue, however, is Tiger Woods, who required a captain's pick just to make the team after failing to earn an automatic berth. Having not qualified for last week's Tour Championship at East Lake, the best in the world had the week off to work on his game and, well, whatever else it is he now does with his time. While showing flashes of brilliance during brief periods since his return, his back-9 during the third round of this year's U.S. Open, for example, Woods also hit a distinct rock bottom at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. Finishing second to last in an event he usually owns, Tiger posted his worst 72-hole score ever as a professional.  2010 has been  in many ways a referendum on Woods both as a golfer and as a person. I personally am going to stay away from his family situation for the purposes of this discussion and stick only to what he does on the course.

In light of all the above, and fill in the blanks where necessary, other golfers, specifically 21-year-old European Team Member Rory McIlroy, see enough chinks in Woods' armor to get unusually brazen with the former juggernaut. In a press conference earlier this week, McIlroy declared:

"I would love to face him," McIlroy, who won the Quail Hollow Championship in May for his first PGA Tour victory, said in an interview with the BBC last month. "Unless his game rapidly improves in the next month or so, I think anyone in the European team would fancy his chances against him."

When asked for his own comment, Woods coldly responded with only, "me too." Discussion on the subject was then closed. U.S. Captain Corey Pavin is, at least publicly, ruling out a direct grudge match between the two. Still, it should be interesting to see if Woods will face McIlroy during either the team matches Friday and Saturday, or, god-willing, in singles on Sunday. In the event that he does, can Tiger finally channel all his frustration, sorrow and disappointment into one truly dramatic comeback performance this weekend?

Golf fans have been so eager to declare Tiger "back" over the last 6 months that it's become a recurring tease. Every time he takes one step forward, he almost immediately takes two steps back. As such, do not take whatever happens this weekend as kind of definitive statement about where Woods will go from here. With only two months to go until Thanksgiving, the one year anniversary of his life's unraveling, the last ten months have clearly been the most trying of his life and figure to only bring more challenges (like possibly spending this year's Turkey Day away from his ex-wife and children). Listen, I want the old Tiger Woods back as much as everyone else; I'm just saying that he's clearly going to have to do it on his own time, when he gets his own life in order. Whatever happens at Celtic Manor this weekend, good or bad, it will be just one more step on a long road back to normalcy and shouldn't be viewed as symbolically representative of anything larger.

This, on the other hand, should be taken exactly that way. Give 'em hell, boys.

(Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images Europe)

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