They Had a Chance: Sixers Come Close, But Fall to Derrick Rose and Bulls

They Had a Chance: Sixers Come Close, But Fall to Derrick Rose and Bulls

I probably should be mad, but I'm not, really. This game was over three
times—three times!—before it was actually over for good. Once, when a
trio of Bulls threes and a Luol Deng layup pushed the Chicago lead to 13
early in the fourth. Then, when the Sixers cut the lead to four, only
to see the Bulls expand it to nine immediately out of a time-out on a
Joakim Noah tip and C.J. Watson three with four and a half to go. And
finally, when Derrick Rose laid in a floater with 20 seconds to go to
put the Bulls up four, followed by an Elton Brand offensive foul to give
Chicago the ball right back.

All three times the game should have been over. But the Sixers
battled back—well, the third time it was more the Bulls coughing it back
up by missing three of four free throws—and actually kept the game
close and the crowd emotionally invested, ensuring that we didn't lose
the game FOR REAL for real until Andre Iguodala bombed an air ball on a
potentially game-tying three with five seconds left. Final score,
Chicago 96, Philadelphia 91. All I could do was laugh, and be glad that
the fourth quarter was a hell of a lot more entertaining than I had
expected it to be.

Coach Collins was a little less understanding
after the game. "It just seems like it's been the same old script here
at home against good teams," he lamented. "We just did not come up with
that timely basket." It's true—as many times as it looked like the
Sixers had blown it, they still had a couple chances to tie or take the
lead in this one late. Down two with a little over a minute left, Andre
Iguodala launched an ill-advised three that came nowhere near landing
and bounced out of bounds. Still down two on the next possession, we had
a nice change of pace with Thaddeus Young instead squaring for a
baseline jumper, looking good but sailing it a little long. It was
almost refreshing to see someone besides 'Dre and Lou Williams miss the
biggest shot of the night, but needless to say, the result was about the
same.

Yet as much as we can hate on those two guys for missing their big
shots, we'd be nowhere near even contending in this one without the
Marvelous play of 'Dre in the first half and Thad in the second. 'Dre
was an absolute marvel for much of this one, distributing brilliantly
and coming up with two of his best finishes of the season, a
behind-the-back move that led to a layup in the first and a
posterization put-back dunk over Joakim Noah in the third. Meanwhile,
Thad brought this team back to life in the fourth, scoring 13 of his 17
points in the final seven minutes, including nine straight for Philly in
a 90-second span, several baskets on gorgeous feeds from Jrue Holiday.
As always, good enough to get the team close, but not enough to put them
over the top.

The tough stuff for the Sixers tonight came with the shooting guards.
Lou Williams had a nice night distributing the ball, ending up with
seven assists and zero turnovers, but went 0-7 from the field, providing
further evidence that he is not really a "closer" for this team,
despite the fact that he played well against the Lakers and hit one huge
shot in the playoffs. Evan Turner had some nice moments but more
scattered ones, including an airballed floater that was one of his most
perplexing shots of the season. And the only two memorable plays that
Jodie Meeks had tonight were managing to miss three-pointers from both
short corners ON THE SAME POSSESSION, and slipping and falling on the
team's final play. (Jodie is 8-37 from three over the team's last eight
games, officially in his worst shooting slump since season's
beginning—we could really, really use him back.)

Oh yeah, and also that Derrick Rose guy. As Deron Williams did for the
Nets on their win here, Rose pretty much won this one for the Bulls,
scoring 35 points on 12-23 shooting with eight assists and just three
turnovers. The Sixers played him fairly well, especially once they
switched Andre Iguodala on him and started shading him with a big man,
but he was hitting his jumper when the Sixers were forcing him to take
it, and getting into the lane for layups and drawn fouls at all other
times. No shame in getting beaten by the best, but the point guard's
play again illustrates how other teams have guys like Derrick Rose, and
we do not.

Sixers back tomorrow against the 14-23 Bucks in Milwaukee. Not an easy
game but not a particularly challenging one either, and at the very
least, the Bucks have no one on their team named Rose or Westbrook or
Love or Nowitzki. We'll take our chances in that one, and continue to
wonder what it's going to take for the Sixers to win a close game
against a good team like this—if they're in fact capable of it at all.

In the meantime, enjoy 'Dre's dynamite hand-switching layup. Fun game, you gotta give 'em that.

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