The700Level

Now my Sixers fan heart is Fultz

Now my Sixers fan heart is Fultz

It's been lottery night all weekend for Sixers fans, since the news started to trickle out Friday that the Philadelphia 76ers were deep into talks with the Boston Celtics to swap picks in the upcoming NBA draft -- presumably for the Sixers to take Markelle Fultz, consensus No. 1 pick and potential franchise point guard. Now, a variety of sources (including NBA omniscient narrator Adrian Wojnarowski and Sixers Twitter's own Derek Bodner) report that the deal is done in principle, with only a Monday phone call awaiting for it to become official. The Sixers will trade the No. 3 pick and the L.A. first-rounder still owed to us for 2018 -- with protections on the pick (only conveying if it lands between 2-5) meaning we may end up owing Boston our 2019 first-rounder from Sacramento instead -- in exchange for the No. 1 pick. 

If this seems like a huge win for the Sixers, that's because it probably is. The Colangelos took a handful of the crown jewel assets of Sam Hinkie's tenure -- the pick swap and first-rounder from the Nik Stauskas heist of summer 2015, the Lakers pick from the robbery-in-retrospect Michael Carter-Williams deal of the '15 trade deadline, and don't forget the Saric/Payton swap of draft night '14, which gave us our '17 1st-rounder back from Orlando -- and synthesized them into the guy who could truly be the final piece, without selling the farm to do so. It's a major accomplishment, and both our current GM and our Once and Always Dark Lord deserve all the credit in the world for pulling it off. 
 


Fultz, at least as advertised, is just about everything the Sixers are looking for in a lead guard. Shooting, playmaking, athleticism, intelligence, and (potentially) defense -- I won't pretend to know how good Fultz already is or could be (like a lot of us, I only know the YouTube stuff) but smarter people than myself seem to think he's an elite two-way talent, and to match him with the couple other elite two-way talents we already have on the roster could make for a pretty cool next 5-10 years of post-Process Sixers' ball. He seems to be the perfect complement to Ben Simmons especially, as a guard who can devastate on or off the ball. You know those Chris Paul/Blake Griffin pick and rolls that always seem to end with DeAndre Jordan slamming down the easiest alley-oops in the world? Picture that with Fultz, Simmons and Joel Embiid and you have a pretty good snapshot of how beautiful the Sixers could be in a year or two's time. 

What's more, the timing of the deal couldn't have been much better. Sixers fans worrying about a major overpay of an aging free agent like Kyle Lowry to help make the team immediately better shouldn't toss those fears out the window, exactly, but they can certainly breathe a little easier than they were a week ago. There's no major fixes currently needed, really: Adding Fultz to our lineup from day one next season gives us -- knock on Ronnie Wood, James Woods, Wood Harris and several VHS copies of 1999 dramedy The Wood -- a complete young core to go out and compete with pretty much immediately. Dream with me for a moment: 

Starting 5: Fultz-Stauskas-Covington-Simmons-Embiid

Next 5: McConnell-TLC-Henderson-Saric-Holmes

VP in Charge of Bench High-Fives: Jahlil Okafor

Ain't gotta dream no more -- in October, failing any one of several potential crises to afflict the Sixers in the interim, this will by our Day One reality. And that's not even included any further free agents, or whatever we do with our quartet of second-rounders. But the most important part of this is that we isolated the guy we wanted, and we got him. And now we're ready; truly, finally ready. 

Is there a "but"? Well, sure. First off, make no mistake: We paid a high price for this. That Lakers pick is one of the most valuable draft assets in the league right now (NBA Assets ranks it 11th among all current and future draft picks, and 35th among all assets) and I'd say it's at least 50% likely to convey to L.A. next year as a top-five pick. That's not nothing, certainly, and if Boston really didn't see Fultz as being a better player and/or fit for them than Josh Jackson or Jayson Tatum -- both likely available at No. 3 -- then you could say they essentially added a top 5 pick from us for nothing. (And for the record, unless the Kings make a dramatic turnaround net year, I think Sixers fans probably should root for the Lakers pick to be as high as possible next year -- so that either we get it at No. 1 or the Celtics get it at 2-5, and we get to enjoy the '19 Kings pick unfettered, which should also be top 10 at the very least.) 

And there's another minor "but" to be found here in that if Boston was willing to part with Fultz this easily, we might want to consider that there could be a reason why. Not that Celtics GM Danny Ainge's judgment is infallible by any means, but he has a pretty good track record with trades like this, and doesn't pull the trigger easily -- he's not Vlade, in other words. Of course, Markelle makes more sense in Philly, where we have no blue-chip guards, than in Boston, where they already have Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. Still, if Ainge believed Fultz to be the generational talent some Sixers fans are billing him has, it's hard to believe he wouldn't have taken the point guard anyway -- and indeed, some reports have already trickled out that Boston passed on Fultz in part because they didn't believe he was a "winner." That sounds like bulls--t, certainly, and it's easy to dismiss it as such, but again, Ainge isn't an idiot: If he had real concerns about Fultz, we shouldn't disregard them outright just because LOL BOSTON. 

One more thing: Sixers fans certainly don't want to think about this today, but before we start camping out on Broad Street in advance of the parade next June, we should take a moment to consider how uncertain everything still is for this Sixers team. Lest we forget, in four combined player seasons between Embiid and Simmons, we've only actually seen 31 games' worth of (mostly) healthy performance. JoJo lived up to and above expectation over those 31 games, but they didn't exactly quell fears that injury concerns would plague his beautiful body for the entirety of his career. 

Meanwhile, we've still never even Simmons and Embiid healthy on the court together, or to get any kind of assurance that the broken foot that ended up knocking Simmons out for the season won't be a continued hindrance for the 6-foot-10 point forward. Hell, we don't know for sure how good Simmons actually is, or how he fits with Embiid and the rest of this Sixers team, or if he even shoots with the correct hand. We hope these two dudes are Sixers' fixtures forever, but both are still very far from safe bets. Markelle Fultz is such an appealing get for Philly in large part because of how brilliantly he seems to slot in alongside Simmons and Embiid, but if those two dudes can't stay on the court with him, giving up the Lakers' pick to move up for him might start to seem like an overpay. 

Still, these are relatively minor misgivings when you consider how the implicit goal of the NBA for about as long as smart people have been running teams has been to find three star-caliber talents to build around -- preferably players who mesh together on and off the court, and who are all on roughly similar developmental timelines. The Sixers, at least for one shining, pre-tragedy moment, appear to now have that; and we still have Dario, RoCo, all our own future draft picks and one hammer pick still owed to us. The Process is complete, Retweet Armageddon lies just around the corner, and the lingering promise of the last four years has finally been paid in Fultz.

Kennett Square's Jack Regenye makes catch of the year at Junior League World Series

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USA Today Images

Kennett Square's Jack Regenye makes catch of the year at Junior League World Series

Sunday gave us the catch of the year. And it didn't come from MLB, or the minors, but from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania's Jack Regenye in the Junior League World Series.

Just take a look at this. Then watch it again and again, trying to figure out how this is possible. 

After being initially ruled an out, the umps reversed the call, calling it a home run. After more deliberation, it was finally ruled an out because rules be damned, when a catch is that good, you have to count it.

Regenye's Junior League team (ages 13-14) went on to lose to Chinese Taipei, 12-1. 

With Odubel Herrera on the DL, maybe the Phils should give Regenye a call.

Eagles' latest Achilles heel emerges in preseason

Eagles' latest Achilles heel emerges in preseason

Right when the Eagles get finished plugging one potential hole, another springs up.

For months, cornerback was considered by far the greatest weakness on the Eagles' roster, but Howie Roseman appears to have taken care of that with the trade for Ronald Darby. Now, all of a sudden, the Eagles' secondary has the potential to be a strength in 2017.

Yet, just as the plan at corner is beginning to take shape, another concern is emerging halfway through the preseason, at a position many fans thought Roseman solidified in May. Running back looks like it could quickly become a serious problem for the Eagles if it hasn’t reached that point already.

It’s only preseason, and the offensive line hasn’t done him any favors, but LeGarrette Blount has nine carries for 17 yards with a fumble in two games. Fifth-round draft pick Donnel Pumphrey – who the coaching staff seemed enamored with this spring — has 14 total touches for 34 yards. After a strong start at training camp, Wendell Smallwood has yet to play in an exhibition game due to a hamstring injury. And by now, everybody is aware 34-year-old Darren Sproles isn’t an every-down back.

The best any running back has looked in exhibition games is undrafted rookie Corey Clement, by far. Whether that’s a testament to his development or a commentary on the state of the backfield is a matter of perspective.

Regardless, you could’ve seen this mess coming from a mile away.

The Blount signing was met with tremendous enthusiasm when it really should’ve been met with tremendous skepticism. Though he rushed for 1,161 yards and led the NFL with 18 touchdowns in 2016, Blount averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, sat by in free agency as the Patriots moved to replace him, and turns 31 in December. He’s never been a threat as a receiver, and even his gaudy numbers last season with the Super Bowl champions were an outlier compared to the rest of his career.

The reality is Blount is not a mortal lock to make the Eagles' roster. He likely will, because he still has value in short yardage and at the goal line, and most of all, because the competition hasn’t made enough of a push. However, releasing Blount would only cost the Eagles $400,000 against the salary cap, according to OverTheCap.com, while his age and the limitations of his skill set are worth reiterating.

The question is what then?

While the Eagles have toyed with getting Pumphrey and Sproles on the field at the same time, projections as to how prevalent those designer packages would be always felt ambitious as well. Listed at 5-foot-9, 176 pounds, Pumphrey has not looked like an NFL-ready player through two games. Even if he is ready to contribute, that is not an offense designed with running the football in mind.

The Eagles’ ability to let Blount go would seem to hinge almost solely on Smallwood. Of course, it was an unwillingness to rely on a second-year player with 83 touches that caused the club to seek veteran help in the first place.

Smallwood is not an unimpressive prospect. A fifth-round draft pick from West Virginia a year ago, Smallwood has the size and athletic ability to handle the bulk of the work. He was running with authority in camp. He simply hasn’t been able to stay healthy, which is his biggest shortcoming at this point, aside from inexperience. It’s impossible to tell whether Smallwood is in line to finish with the most touches in this backfield (regardless of Blount’s presence) or if he’s fighting for his job.

Clement is the bright spot in all of this and arrives as a more polished pass protector than Smallwood was as a rookie. Seeing as inexperience was one of the primary reasons the Eagles weren’t willing to entrust Smallwood as the primary ball carrier, it’s difficult to imagine Clement could be the guy the in September.

Again, some of the culpability for Blount’s struggles falls on the offensive line. Some. Blount’s last season in New England was far from the norm, and for most of his eight-year career, he’s been purely a situational player. Even under optimal circumstances, expecting him to recreate last season’s numbers, or come close, never made much sense.

And while it would be easy to chalk up the pitiful ground attack as a symptom of the preseason, the fact is these games have exposed a problem that’s been lurking beneath the surface. Blount is old and not an ideal fit for the Eagles' offense. Pumphrey is an undersized rookie. Sproles is Sproles. Smallwood is a mystery.

Up until a week ago, everybody was worried about the cornerbacks. Before that, it was the wide receivers, until the Eagles made significant investments in talent over the offseason. All along, there’s been an underrated need at running back, or at the very least, an uncertainty.

Try as he might, Roseman can’t seem to find a solution for every hole on the roster — and it’s beginning to look like running back is the spot the Eagles might spring a leak.