Sixers' future is now, but maybe not quite there yet

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Sixers' future is now, but maybe not quite there yet

Wow, was that first half against the Golden State Warriors fun Saturday night or what? Going into the break up 22, with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons dominating, Robert Covington and JJ Redick hitting from everywhere and the Warriors playing at least marginally shook, looking like a team woefully underprepared for a fully weaponized Sixers squad. It was absolutely stunning seeing it all come together, since as good as the Sixers had been through 14 games so far this year, they'd still never played a full game this season with both their shooters hitting and their stars locked in. 

And they still haven't. As second quarter gave way to third, can't say for certain if the Warriors' switch was flipped, but something definitely was. All of a sudden, the paint closed off for Embiid and Simmons, Covington started clanking and trying to defend the Warriors was as fruitless as trying to save a soup with a hole torn in the takeaway carton. Philly's 22-point lead turned into a 10-point deficit, and it wasn't coming back. Final score: 124-116, Warriors. 

Once this one really got outta control — in a bad way — you kinda just had to laugh about it. The Sixers' first-half steamrolling was head-smackingly unsustainable, but to see everything good about their performance dissolve so fully and so quickly, there was nothing really to say: You just had to recall fondly how hilariously beautiful those first 24 minutes were, and know that someday we'll get a performance like that from the Liberty Ballers that extends all 48. Maybe even against these Warriors, who probably weren't gonna lose to both the present and the future of the Eastern Conference in back-to-back outings. 

As much fun as it would've been for the Sixers to jump their timeline about two seasons in one night, they're not there yet. Half their bench is out, for one thing, including that guy Markelle Fultz who should still be an enormous difference-maker for Brett Brown's crew if he ever gets his head (and his shoulders) straight. And though Simmons and Embiid already both show flashes of "Oh My God They've Figured It Out" and "We're All Doomed" with absurd frequency, to expect them to have totally solved the NBA with 59 games of Association experience between them is not terribly realistic. The team's turned a corner this season, no doubt, but there's still a lot of corners left in that treehouse for them to investigate. 

The good news? The Sixers are staying at home for a while now — after playing 10 of their first 14 on the road, they're now in the midst of eight of nine in South Philly — with challenging, but mostly winnable games coming up, including Monday night against the Utah Jazz. The Sixers are not ready to run the rest of the league off the court just yet, but they're ready to establish themselves as one of the decisively good teams, and hopefully, their home building as one of the league's obviously tough arenas. For a team where crisis forever lurks just below the surface, that would certainly be enough Process-to-Progress for one season. 

Markelle Futlz progressing, but not ready to return to Sixers yet

Markelle Futlz progressing, but not ready to return to Sixers yet

Updated: 2:45 p.m.

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Markelle Fultz isn't cleared to play just yet.

The Sixers rookie was reevaluated Sunday for right shoulder soreness and scapular muscle imbalance and will be reevaluated again in approximately 2-3 weeks, the team announced. 

His return date will be based on how he handles training and practices. An examination by Dr. Ben Kibler, Medical Director of the Shoulder Center of Kentucky at the Lexington Clinic, showed Fultz's soreness and muscle balance is improving. Fultz met with Kibler on Oct. 29 and has seen multiple shoulder specialists. 

The rehab plan is for Fultz to continue with physiotherapy treatment.

"Just the fact we expect to get back into full basketball activity soon," Brett Brown said after practice Sunday, "I don't know the exact timeframe of that, but the news is good in relation to the improvement of his shoulder, enough for us to put out a press release saying what I just said and look forward to bringing him into the team and playing basketball again."

The No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft has appeared in only four games this season, averaging 6.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists off the bench. He has been battling the shoulder discomfort since training camp, and his shot was visibly affected by it.

Fultz has been traveling with the Sixers. He is staying engaged with the team during his own pregame warmups, assisting with rebounding after practices and staying incorporated with teammates off the court. 

Bayless to return
The Sixers anticipate getting one player back from injury Monday.

Brown expects Jerryd Bayless (left wrist) will play against the Jazz. Bayless went through practice Sunday. Brown looks forward to having Bayless' veteran experience, playmaking, and on-ball defense back in the mix. Bayless has missed the last six games and doesn't plan to have any minute restrictions on his return. 

"It's feeling OK," Bayless said of his wrist. "It's feeling like it's ready to go. I'm excited to play and be back out there." 

Justin Anderson (left leg) and Nik Stauskas (right ankle) remain sidelined. As a result of all the injuries, guards T.J. McConnell and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot have seen a bump in minutes. 

Hunt for clues about Saquon Barkley's future at Penn State is on

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Hunt for clues about Saquon Barkley's future at Penn State is on

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – For months now, everyone has been seeking clues as to what Saquon Barkley’s intentions beyond this season might be, and the detective work continued Saturday.

Is Penn State’s prized junior running back headed to the NFL after this season? Is he even going to play in the Nittany Lions’ bowl game?

The latter question was answered in the affirmative after Barkley generated 224 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in PSU’s 56-44 defeat of Nebraska: He’s a go for whatever bowl the No. 10 Lions, now 9-2, find themselves in.

Still TBA beyond that. While coach James Franklin advised Barkley before the season as to what he should do, Franklin wouldn’t divulge the particulars of that conversation. (You’re shocked, I’m sure.) And Barkley said he still wants to talk to his family before he decides whether or not to declare for next spring’s draft.

So we wait. And we hunt for clues.

Like when Franklin said he was “blessed to have coached” Barkley – past tense -- what did THAT mean?

Uh, nothing, Franklin said – though he did launch into a monologue about advising Barkley, and advising players in general.

“What I try to do for all of my players is give them advice that I would give my son,” he said. “If I feel like they should come back to school to finish their degree and have the opportunity to go on and get one more season of development, and then go to the NFL, I tell them that. If I think they should leave early, then I tell them that as well.”

It’s quite simple, in his mind.

“If IBM came to our computer engineering department and offered a junior a $12 million contract, they’d be gone,” Franklin said. “So I give these guys information all the time based on the entire picture -- what their future is like, where they’re at academically.”

Which sounded like a hint at to what he might have told Barkley, all those months ago. But again, who knows?

What we do know is that Barkley is a likely top-five pick. And while he has performed unevenly this season through no fault of his own (i.e., the offensive line has been surprisingly poor), he scored on a 65-yard run three plays into Saturday’s game, went over 100 yards for the game (and 1,000 for the season) when he broke off a 30-yard run on the final play of the first quarter and finished the half with 142 yards and three TDs.

The Lions were up 42-10 at that point. Barkley's final totals were 17 carries for 158 yards and three TDs, and six catches for 66 yards. He became just the second player in program history to surpass 1,000 in three straight seasons – Evan Royster was the other – and overtook Lydell Mitchell for most career rushing TDs; Barkley now has 39.

And that's all with two games remaining this season.

Yes, definitely two – at Maryland in next week’s regular-season finale, and then the bowl, wherever that may be.

Again, there were clues as far back as May that Barkley might follow in the footsteps of two other NFL-bound running backs, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, who skipped bowl games last year to prepare for the draft. Fournette was taken fourth overall by Jacksonville and McCaffery was taken eighth overall by Carolina

In an SI.com profile by Pete Thamel, Barkley was quoted as saying the following: “I would have a hard time doing it (i.e., skipping a bowl), but I’m not going to sit here and say I would never do it. I don’t know. I could be in a situation next year where I have close to two broken ankles, God forbid, or something going on in my upper body, and I can’t play in a game if I’m considering playing in the NFL.”

But he said Saturday he definitely plans to play, barring the unforeseen.

“I understand why some other players have not played in a bowl game,” he said. “I’m different from Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey. … Our situations are different.”

Barkley admitted that he did get “a little emotional” Saturday, not so much because it was his final home game but because it was the last time he would be playing alongside the seniors in Beaver Stadium -- “no matter what happens.”

No clues there, then. His play, however, would appear to offer the biggest clue of all, and leaves little reason for doubt.

Why, at this point, should the sporting equivalent of IBM have to wait any longer?