12 Days of Philly Christmas: Day 3, Win Free Darko's Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac

12 Days of Philly Christmas: Day 3, Win Free Darko's Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac

To be eligible for our 12 Days of Philly Christmas
drawing to win a copy of Free Darko's book, simply leave an intelligent comment on this
post and be sure to enter your real email address OR send a tweet on
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Feel free to do both if you'd like.


Today, we're not only giving away a copy of the amazing FreeDarko presents The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, but we also have a chat we did with one of the main brains behind the amazing creation. Nathaniel Friedman of Free Darko and the Sporting Blog among other places answers our questions.

Enrico: Perhaps, if you like, you could briefly tell us about your Philly ties?

Nathaniel Friedman aka Bethlehem Shoals: Myself, Big Baby (illustrator/designer), and
Silverbird5000 (stats) all went to Haverford College, and lived in
Philly after graduating. I was in the area a grand total of eight
years. Also, my mother grew up in Bucks County, and a couple of my
aunts and uncles stayed in the area, so I was around there a lot when I
was younger.

E: One
of the main points of the FD Manifesto states "We find rooting for the
home team spiritually and emotionally limiting." Do you think this
holds true in all cities, specifically in a very loyal sports city like
Philadelphia?

Shoals: I'd say a lot of the Manifesto—which is a
stark, go-for-broke version of what I actually believe on the
subject—was a direct result of, or reaction to, my time in
Philadelphia, around Philly fans and teams, etc. In fact, that's
probably true for a lot of what I believe about sports. If you took the
book, and completely inverted every single word, you might have the
perfect Philly fan's Bible.

E: One of my favorite sections was the "jerseys
for every occasion." (Example: at a wedding the best man could rock a
Barkley Rockets jersey and the ring bearer could sport a Iverson
Sixers jersey.) Now how about Christmas eve dinner at Aunt Marie's?

Shoals: Do they make James Naismith masks?

E: For
the few kids out there who haven't yet seen the book, Gilbert Arenas
writes the foreword and sets up the book as being about the antics of
NBA players. When it comes to appreciating a players game and antics on
an individual level, Allen Iverson immediately comes to mind. Do you
think if you guys did this book 5-7 years ago, Bubba Chuck would have
warranted a more in-depth chapter instead of a Newport News mayoral
candidacy and a glossary item?

Shoals: We've been asked this a lot. The reason
we didn't do an Iverson section, or anything specifically
Jordan-centric, is because they're too important for that little space.
One or both of them are mentioned in like half the essays. And I
actually think Iverson warrants more consideration now than he would've
5-7 years ago, since we've really gotten a chance to see how wide and
varied his influence has been. Also, perspective has allowed some of
the more visceral feelings for and against him to cool down.

E: This
book is pretty amazing and must have taken quite a while to put
together. Did you guys have any crazy ideas that seemed great in theory
but you just couldn't translate to paper? Maybe something that hit the
cutting room floor?

Shoals: There's a lot of stuff we discussed that we're
hoping to use in the future, so I don't want to spill the beans on
anything. But I will say that there was a comic strip that ended up
falling victim to time constraints, an oral history section
(AI-related, actually) that didn't end up coming together, and some
stats about degree of difficulty that we didn't have the necessary data
for.

E: Speedy
Claxton got a shout out in the amazing 2000 NBA Draft section. He used
to live down the street from me in Havertown. Or maybe his mother did.
I'm not sure. But we always saw his sick Escalade. That was neat.

Shoals: I always liked that he and Lamar Odom were best
friends. And wondered if he ever considered reliniquishing the nickname
"Speedy" when he joined the Sixers, since AI was so obviously speedier.
He should've; sometimes I felt like it was tongue-in-cheek.

E: Regarding
Kobe, I couldn't agree more with the ambivalence factor. I often hate
him but then he's so good that it's hard not to love watching him. The
illustration accompanying his chapter is perfect. Did the art typically
come after the text or what kind of process did you guys use to come up
with some of the imagery?

Shoals: It depended. In the case of the Kobe one, I
had a clear idea of what I wanted and told Jacob (BBB). In other cases,
he'd just work off of the essay himself. Then sometimes, we'd go back
and forth on what visual motifs would both make sense and not look
stupid before he actually sat down and tried to draw something.

E: Finally,
some simple hoops talk. How bout a little Sixers analysis. Can Iguodala
and Thad Young coexist on a successful team in the East? Is there any
hope for Sammy D.? What are your thoughts on the future of the Sixers?

Shoals: I think they should trade Dalembert,
play Brand at center, Young at PF, and Iggy at the small forward. Then
get someone to reliably hit threes at shooting guard. . . as part of
what you get back for Dalemebert. That would solve everything, right?

E: Uh, I don't know how to solve this team.

Thanks, to Shoals for taking the time to answer our questions and you should all really go buy this book right now.

NFL Notes: All-Pro safety Eric Berry to report to Chiefs Sunday

NFL Notes: All-Pro safety Eric Berry to report to Chiefs Sunday

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- All-Pro safety Eric Berry plans to report to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, giving him two weeks and one preseason game to prepare for the start of the regular season.

A person familiar with his plans told The Associated Press that Berry will join the team after its preseason game Saturday in Chicago. The person spoke on condition of anonymity Friday because he was not authorized to discuss Berry's plans publicly.

Berry was given the franchise tag early in the offseason but has not signed the deal, which means he could skip all of training camp without being fined. Once he signs the one-year contract, he will make just over $10.8 million, making him the league's highest-paid safety.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey have said all along they expect Berry to report ahead of the regular season, but it was never clear when that might happen.

Kansas City plays its first regular-season game Sept. 11 against San Diego.

"I think it's important to see what kind of shape he is in and then gradually bring him back into the football speed of things," Reid said Tuesday, when asked what Berry will need to do to get up to speed. "I don't think it's the end of the world if he doesn't play in the last preseason game (see full story).

Falcons: 1st-round pick Neal to have knee surgery
ATLANTA -- Atlanta Falcons rookie strong safety Keanu Neal, the team's first-round pick and a projected starter, will miss the beginning of the season with a knee injury.

Neal will have arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Monday and is expected to miss three to four weeks, according to the Falcons. Coach Dan Quinn said he is encouraged Neal avoided a more serious injury that could have kept him out longer.

"Hopefully it's a shorter-term injury where we're looking at two and hopefully the worst would be three games," Quinn said, adding that he knows Neal will work for a quick return because "he's kind of just built that way."

Wide receiver Julio Jones is expected to be limited in practice after leaving Thursday night's game in the second quarter with an ankle injury. Quinn said he the injury is not expected to threaten Jones' status for the regular season.

Neal hurt his knee in the first quarter of the Falcons' 17-6 preseason loss to the Miami Dolphins. He had to be helped off the field but walked to the locker room without assistance (see full story).

Ravens: Former Navy star Reynolds finds NFL life 'humbling'
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Keenan Reynolds' foray into the NFL has overwhelmingly altered his perspective of the game.

As a standout quarterback at Navy, Reynolds was revered in Annapolis. He ran for an NCAA-record 88 touchdowns, went 4-0 against Army and finished fifth in the 2015 Heisman Trophy balloting.

However, his prowess at running the triple option is of no help in his quest to make the Baltimore Ravens. Fighting for a job as a backup receiver and special teams contributor, Reynolds is just another rookie buried deep on the depth chart.

"It's very humbling," he acknowledged. "I'm just trying to make the best of it."

At Navy, Reynolds ran, handed off or threw the football. His job now is to catch it.

"I have a lot more respect for the position of wide receiver," he said, "especially after being a quarterback."

Chooch was 'a fireball,' says Ryan Howard, last of the '08 Phillies

Chooch was 'a fireball,' says Ryan Howard, last of the '08 Phillies

NEW YORK — Phillies players were greeted by a message from Carlos Ruiz when they entered the visiting clubhouse at Citi Field on Friday.

“I will miss all of you guys. Good luck the rest of the season. Love you all, Chooch! Gracias,” (see story).

Ruiz did not actually write those words on the whiteboard by the entry to the clubhouse, but they were his. He reached out to visiting clubhouse manager Tony Carullo and asked that the message be written in just that way.

Ruiz, 37, was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday, ending an 11-season run with the Phillies that included five NL East titles, a World Series championship, an All-Star Game, a slew of clutch hits, many words of praise from the pitching staff and a million calls of Choooooch from fans in the stands (see story).

“Everybody loved Chooch for a number of reasons,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He’s the kind of guy you loved seeing every day, a hard-working, humble and appealing human being.

“I’d like to think when he’s done playing, the Phillies might have a place for him.”

Mackanin paused and laughed.

“As long as they don’t make him manager and he takes my job.”

Ruiz’s exit leaves Ryan Howard as the only member of the 2008 World Series championship team still with the club. Over the last few seasons, Howard has seen Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and Chase Utley depart.

It’s a topic that Howard seems to have grown weary of talking about.

“I've had to hear about it every year,” he said. “It's again the same thing. You play with guys your entire career and now you see them in different uniforms. It's definitely going to be something to get used to but that's baseball. That's the business aspect of it. Teams make moves and that's what happens.”

Like the rest of the core of that team, Howard, 36, has been available for trade the last few seasons, but there has been no real interest because of his decline in performance and huge salary.

So he will play out the final six weeks of his contract and try to hook on elsewhere next season.

Howard saluted his former teammate, Ruiz.

“I'm trying to think of the right words,” he said.

“The thing about Chooch — he was the quarterback in a sense. The way he handled the pitching staff, the way he prepared himself for games with the pitchers, from the defensive standpoint knowing different situations, knowing what guy you want to beat you, what guy you don't want to beat you. Just the way he played the game, he was a fireball. He was a fireball out there. I'm definitely going to miss him. I hit him up yesterday a little bit after I found out. I was happy for him and wanted to wish him the best.

“Chooch, he was always very, very positive. Always trying to help guys out, trying to pick guys up when he can and it carried over onto the field. That was his mentality.”

The Phillies acquired veteran backup catcher A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitcher Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later for Ruiz (see story). Ellis is due to join the team Saturday. In the meantime, the Phillies added prospect Jorge Alfaro from Double A (see story). He will be the backup catcher Friday night, then return to a talent-rich Reading club that has the best record in minor-league baseball and a date with the Eastern League playoffs.

Jordan Matthews sticks up for beleaguered Eagles wide receivers

Jordan Matthews sticks up for beleaguered Eagles wide receivers

Jordan Matthews is probably the only Eagles wide receiver you feel remotely good about right now.

Nelson Agholor and Josh Huff are draft picks who haven’t accomplished much yet. Rueben Randle and Chris Givens are veteran offseason pickups who’ve shown little this preseason (see story). Dorial Green-Beckham is a former second-round pick whose first team gave up on him after just one year.

It’s not a group that inspires a whole lot of confidence right now. 

Potential? Sure. But opening day is 16 days away, there’s only one preseason game left for the starters to play, Sam Bradford has two guys to throw to — Matthews and Zach Ertz — and potential is a scary word at this point.

Matthews isn’t a superstar at this point. He’s a solid pro who seems to be getting better. His 1,862 yards are 10th most in NFL history after two seasons. 

But compared to the Eagles’ other receivers, he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

He's got credibility and because of that the 24-year-old Matthews has become a spokesman for the entire group. And this past week, two games into the preseason, he found himself in the position of having to defend this entire beleaguered bunch of wide receivers the Eagles have put together.

“The funniest thing is last year [the receivers] played extremely well in the preseason, got into the season, didn’t play well, and everybody’s like, 'Preseason doesn’t matter,'" Matthews said.

"Then the first preseason game we don’t play well, everybody’s like, 'The preseason matters, you guys suck!' Hold on … I thought it didn’t matter. You know what I’m saying?”

What he's saying is it's too early to write this group off. Maybe Huff and Agholor and Randle and Givens — or whichever among them makes the team — will turn it on once the regular season begins.

But going into the Colts game Saturday evening at Lucas Oil Stadium, the numbers are not pretty.

Huff and Randle both have three catches for 13 yards. Agholor has two catches for 30 yards. Givens is 0 for 0.

Matthews hasn’t played yet in the preseason because of a knee injury, and the next four receivers have a combined 56 receiving yards in two preseason games.

Paul Turner, an undrafted rookie, leads the group with nine catches for 78 yards. 

Improvement? Matthews sees it.

“I take this approach,” Matthews said this week. “Every rep counts. And so if every rep counts, what are we trying to do? We’re trying to do better the next rep, and I felt like guys took steps forward for the next rep. And that’s the main thing you always want to see, that improvement.

“I understand it’s the NFL, I understand obviously people are going to say you get paid a lot of money to do one thing, but I’ll tell you what, I know the guys in that room, they want to do well. None of those guys went into that game wanting to mess up or not put their best foot forward.”

Probably no recent draft pick has infuriated Eagles fans as much as Agholor. Well, other than maybe Marcus Smith and Danny Watkins. And Lane Johnson maybe.

But it’s tough for some to be patient with Agholor when Jeremy Maclin had 773 yards as a rookie, DeSean Jackson had 912 and Matthews had 872.

Heck, even Reggie Brown (571 yards) and undrafted Hank Baskett (464) were factors as rookie wideouts.

Agholor’s 283 yards last season rank tied for 27th out of 32 wide receivers drafted in the first round over the past 10 years.

But he has a big-time supporter in Matthews.

“I felt like the jump he made from the first game to the second game [was significant]," Matthews said "Even the stuff you don’t see. Blocking? [Darren] Sproles caught a short pass and Nelson turned his route around … he ran a great route, got open, turned around, blocked and probably sprung Sproles for another 10, 15 yards.

“He had another bubble situation where he had to block for Josh and he did. Definitely better than the first game, and that’s what you want to see. That’s the biggest thing. And it gets lost in the shuffle.”

That Sproles play, a 21-yard gain, was called back because of a penalty on rookie guard Isaac Seumalo.

But Matthews is passionate when he talks about how Agholor’s lack of production as a rookie doesn’t mean anything moving forward.

“I don’t know if y’all know this, but I love Jordy Nelson (Packers Pro Bowl receiver),” Matthews said. “I love him. One of my favorite receivers. Jordy Nelson didn’t have 1,000 yards till Year 4.

“Let’s put it in perspective. Guys get better. And I feel like that’s what I want to see from my group. Are guys getting better?

“There’s two things that I really look for from my group — attitude and effort. And do Nelson and Chris and Josh and those guys bring great attitude and effort?

“Yes. That’s what I want to see, and I feel that’s what we’ve shown.”