After a hiatus that felt longer than a marathon viewing of The Godfather trilogy, SkoodSports returns here in the summer of 2016. It’s been a long, strange trip for us here at SkoodSports as well as for the cavalcade of mediocrity that The City of Brotherly Love continues to trot out each season while calling itself a professional sports city.
The last time you heard from me was in August. My, oh my, how things have changed. Back then, the Eagles were considered favorites in the NFC East, the Phillies were a franchise searching for any semblance of a future, the 76ers still “trusted” Sam Hinkie’s process, and the Flyers were considered a favorite for the #1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Over the course of 10 months, some things went right and some went wrong. But, one thing is for sure, the state of Philadelphia sports is in a much better place now than they were then thanks to shrewd performances by all four front office executives in town.
We begin with the Philadelphia Eagles because at the time of last writing, Chip Kelly and Co. were considered the city’s first and only hope towards another title. As it turns out, the Chipper was more Con than Don. His decisions to unload LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles in favor of DeMarco Murray and Sam Bradford were proven to be lateral moves turned disastrous by his complete ignorance of any need for depth along the offensive line. Predictably, the Eagles couldn’t block, couldn’t tackle, couldn’t score, and couldn’t limit turnovers. The same issues that had plagued Chip Kelly the year prior reared their ugly head again. Oddly enough, the same man that preached that “big people beat up little people” decided to binge himself on Lollipop Guild members Kiko Alonso, Byron Maxwell, and Miles Austin. It’s as if Kelly stopped caring after his team blew a 9-3 record through 12 games in 2014.
Flash forward to June, 2016, and the Eagles have undergone more of a facelift than the mutant love child of Joan Rivers and Cameron Diaz. Gone are Kelly and his leftovers, replaced with former Eagles QB Doug Pederson. Howie Roseman and his goofy ice cream analogy remains. However, Roseman proved over the last few months that he remains unabated by team owner Jeffrey Lurie. The megadeal that sent a plethora of draft picks to Cleveland for the selection that ultimately became QB Carson Wentz will be the defining factor between whether the Eagles finally turn the corner to being a championship franchise or sink back into their role as annual NFC also-rans. The team did great things over the course of the offseason to rebuild the offensive line and defense. Now, it’s up to Pederson and new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to turn this team into the threat we all hope they can be.
Meanwhile, the boys of Summer are back in town and the Philadelphia Phillies have finally shown that they may have more of a future than many believed just one year ago. Despite their recent swoon, the Philadelphia phaithful should be content if not moderately pleased with the performance on the field from the Phightins in 2016. Let’s keep in mind that the expectations for this team was that they’d lose nearly 100 games. At 31-44, the Phillies aren’t exactly lighting the world on fire. However, it’s the positives in a sea of negativity that has Philadelphians excited for what lies ahead.
Gone are the days where Ruben Amaro Jr. would implement hideous stopgaps like Nate Schierholtz or Ty Wigginton to keep the team relevant and his seat cold as ice. First year GM Matt Klentak has been the new Whiz Kid; keeping the team moderately competitive while avoiding rushing the youngsters like JP Crawford to the big leagues like his predecessor did with Domonic Brown. Young starting pitchers Aaron Nola and Vincent Velasquez have proven their merit; while position players like Maikel Franco continue to hone their skills on a young team rife with talent.
Will the Phillies win a pennant anytime soon? Probably not. But, it’s the combination of high draft picks like #1 overall selection Mickey Moniak and top notch prospects like Crawford that gives Philadelphians hope that another “World F’ing championship” may be on the horizon sooner rather than later.
Like the Phillies, the Philadelphia 76ers’ rebuild is finally beginning to pay off. After the worst season in franchise history, doubts were abound as to whether or not “the process” would ever warrant trusting. When Sam Hinkie unceremoniously resigned earlier this year, the franchise appeared to hit rock bottom. Their reliance on ping pong balls and 2nd round picks had ground ownership’s patience to a pulp and changes were made with hopes of finally stemming the tide of dismay at the Wells Fargo Center.
Flash forward to today, and the 76ers finally have a cornerstone with which to build on. Thursday night’s NBA Draft saw them select LSU forward Ben Simmons. Considered by many to be the most complete prospect entering the draft since LeBron James, Simmons’ combination of size, speed, passing ability, and defensive prowess is exactly what the franchise had been waiting for. Will he and holdovers Jhalil Okafor and Joel Embiid be able to turn this team’s fortunes around? All signs point to an emphatic yes.
Finally, we have the Philadelphia Flyers, who by process of elimination may be the only Philadelphia team already equipped to win a championship. Going into 2015-16, the Flyers were considered an also-ran. A team that was good enough to compete but not good enough to make the playoffs. Through tremendous goaltending from Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth and heartfelt efforts out of Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds, the Flyers persevered through a poor start and fought their way into the postseason. Their spirited effort against the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals, forcing the series to 6 games after falling behind 3-0, proved to the fans of Philadelphia that this was a team on the rise.
Couple their success this season with the abundance of high end defensive stalwarts in the system, and the Flyers may be contending for a Stanley Cup as soon as 2018. Prospects like Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Robert Haag, and Sam Morin to go along with Calder Trophy nominee Shayne Gostisbehere has the Flyers’ blue line looking golden. If they can develop some of the forward prospects they selected in this weekend’s NHL draft, the sky is the limit for the orange and black.
Of course, the questions you’re always asked by championship starved Philadelphians is, “which franchise has the best chance to win a title first?” This writer believes the answer is clear, and that the Philadelphia Flyers WILL win a Stanley Cup by 2020. The leadership of GM Ron Hextall has hammered that sentiment home. After that, it becomes a bit of a crap shoot.
The 76ers obviously have high hopes with Simmons, Embiid, and Okafor. But, until they can figure out their backcourt situation, it’s difficult to exactly place their likelihood of contention. Likewise, the Phillies have an abundance of futures as well. But, the team has made it a point to not rush anyone. The team also has a lot of money to spend. Though, reports have stated that they’ll likely wait until 2017 to empty their coffers, when Bryce Harper, Jose Fernandez, and Matt Harvey, to name a few, are free agents. The future is bright for both the 76ers and the Phillies. But, that future isn’t likely to be here before this writer turns the big 30 years old.
Finally, we have the Eagles. Oh, fly Eagles fly. You’ll never find a more hopelessly optimistic Eagles fan before the games start. Then, week one rolls around and everything folds like a cheap hooker who got hit in the stomach by a fat guy with sores on his face. For the birds, it all comes down to Wentz. Few will argue that they don’t have the defense necessary to win a title at this point. But, their offense remains a huge question mark. What type of offense will first time head coach Doug Pederson run? Will the Sam Bradford question marks continue to be a distraction come the fall? Will Carson Wentz go the way of Tony Romo or will he turn into another D-2 enigma? These are all questions that have to be answered in 2016 before we can consider the Eagles a championship contender in the years beyond.
Ultimately, none of the Philadelphia franchises should be considered front runners in 2016. There are just too many questions left to answer. One thing, however, is certain. The future of each and every franchise looks brighter today than it did one year ago. And that, for a city starved of success, is certainly something to rest your cap on.