The700Level

Can you trust the process without trusting the Sixers?

Can you trust the process without trusting the Sixers?

Thursday night, the Philadelphia 76ers lost to the Toronto Raptors at home, 114-109. The Sixers dominated the first half and led by as much as 22 in the second half, but coughed up most of the lead in the third and were done in by a superlative 45-point DeMar DeRozan performance (and a much less-than-superlative performance by the game's referees). It was their eighth loss in their last nine tries, dropping them to 14-17 for the season (see observations).

And yet, the loss wasn't nearly as frustrating as the sequence that preceded it. 

After a report from the reliable-if-not-quite-objective Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that the Sixers expected Joel Embiid to sit the next two games against Toronto, Trusters of the Process were despondent but accepting. As ridiculous as it seems that our franchise center should have to miss two more games (four total) as penance for the physical toll of having played 49 minutes in the triple-OT game against Oklahoma City a week ago, well, it's hardly unprecedented with JoJo. As long as he was back for Christmas — the Sixers' first game on Dec. 25 in over a decade, a marquee showdown against the Knicks — Sixers fans could live with a couple more DNPs as he got his back right. 

But as Gameday One against the Raps approached, Embiid had not officially been ruled out. Late afternoon, Embiid remained officially listed as "Questionable," not out. Then, with just hours to go before tip, Embiid was suddenly and surprisingly upgraded to "Probable," though the team still allowed that it would have to be a gametime decision. Those in attendance at warmups say Joel looked good, with the appearance of a man who certainly intended to play. 

Then, with a half-hour to go: Nope. No Embiid. Back pain, sitting this one out. What, you thought he was going to play or something? 

To call it infuriating would be an insult to infuriating things. Now, of course it's hardly shocking that Embiid was never certain to play, that his back would flare up at the last minute, that he'd look good but not actually be good. All of that is understandable. 

What's much harder to comprehend is why the Sixers would have enough faith in his availability to bump him up all the way from Questionable to Probable if that happening with Jo was still such a large likelihood. A cynical person would say that the Sixers feigned optimism with hours to go to help ensure that fans actually showed up for their Thursday night home game, since this Philly team ain't exactly been giving their Phaithful much reason to watch them sans JoJo of late. A non-cynical person would say ... well, it's actually kind of hard to remember, since it's been a long time since this team gave us reason to consider the non-cynic's perspective. 

As frustrating as it could be when Our Once and Always Dark Lord Sam Hinkie went years in between medical updates for his players, at least he managed to avoid situations like this. He never suggested Nerlens would be ready by February when there was never any reasonable expectation Nerlens would be ready by February. It's inexplicable why the Sixers felt it incumbent on them to upgrade Embiid's status to get Sixers fans' hopes up, only to yank the WFC floor out from under them a half-hour before tip. 

If they left him as questionable and it turned out he was ready to go, who (except maybe the Raptors' coaching staff) would've been upset by then? Even if they'd just said "Gametime decision," and made it sound a coin flip, that would be irritating but forgivable. But going all the way from rumored-out to Questionable to Probable — you better not do that unless you're damn confident in Embiid's ability to go, failing him slipping on a wet spot and breaking his femur during warmups. There's just no reason to. Aside from the cynical one, anyway. 

And the Sixers played really well last night! Well enough to win, even — though they, y'know, didn't. But they moved the ball well, Dario Saric was absolutely brilliant (18-10-9 on 7-10 shooting, with an absolutely huge offensive rebound off a missed free throw in the final minute), Robert Covington got back in the shooting groove (5-12 from deep) and Ben Simmons went 9-14 from the field after attempting just six shots the game before. It was a fantastic effort against a better team. But it was a loss, and afterwards, it wasn't enough to shake the feeling of betrayal from our front office and coaching staff. 

Look, who knows why they thought listing Jo as Probable was a good idea. Maybe they really did get a better medical prognosis than expected. Maybe Joel himself insisted he was good to go. Maybe his back acting up pre-tip really was a surprise to all concerned. 

But the alarming thing with this franchise right now is how little of the benefit of the doubt they've earned. Between overextending JoJo last year and not revealing (or not realizing) the extent of his injuries until he was somehow out the whole season, to badly bungling Markelle Fultz's shoulder situation early this season, to making the Noel and Jahlil trades both in the name of public perception rather than asset management, there's just no reason to assume that the front office has the best (or even the smartest) intentions with any move they make. And it's getting harder and harder to trust the process when you can't even trust that the dudes pulling the strings have either the team or its fans as their top priority.

Our first glimpse of Brian Dawkins’ Hall of Fame bust

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AP Images

Our first glimpse of Brian Dawkins’ Hall of Fame bust

It won’t be long until Eagles fans turn Canton, Ohio, into a sea of green this summer. 

That’s when Eagles all-time great and fan favorite Brian Dawkins will be officially enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Class of 2018 also includes Terrell Owens, Ray Lewis, Randy Moss and Brian Urlacher. 

Here’s our first look at Dawkins’ bust, which will eventually find a permanent home in Canton. 

 

The 2018 class will be enshrined on Aug. 4 in Canton at 7 p.m. Dawkins previously announced that his teammate Troy Vincent will present him for the Hall of Fame. 

While players don’t go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of a specific team, Dawkins spent the majority of his career with the Eagles and is arguably the most popular Eagle of all time after making seven of his nine Pro Bowl appearances with the Birds. He now works in the Eagles’ scouting department. 

It won’t be long before the finished bust is presented to the football world. 

Don't write off Eagles RB Donnel Pumphrey quite yet

Don't write off Eagles RB Donnel Pumphrey quite yet

The Eagles don’t hit the practice field as a team for another five weeks, yet each year coaches point to players who distinguish themselves during the months of April and May. These are the players with the most to gain in phases one and two of OTAs.

Before he ever suited up in an Eagles uniform, Donnel Pumphrey had his fair share of doubters. Measuring 5-foot-8, 176 pounds and able to perform just five reps in the bench press at last year’s scouting combine, many questioned whether a running back with such a slight build could survive in the NFL.

Preseason football certainly didn’t convince anybody otherwise. To the contrary, games raised even more concerns.

Despite becoming the all-time NCAA Division I FBS leader in rushing yards at San Diego State, Pumphrey appeared to lack any quickness or burst whatsoever. He was completely ineffective carrying the football for the Eagles, averaging 1.9 yards per attempt, and fared only marginally better as a receiver out of the backfield and return specialist.

The Eagles were undoubtedly tempted to cut their losses and release the fourth-round draft pick out of training camp. Instead, Pumphrey cracked the 53-man roster, then landed on injured reserve with a “torn hamstring” a short time later, resulting in a much-needed redshirt year.

It would be easy to write Pumphrey off after all of that, and many people have. Sure, he had an incredible college career, but the Mountain West Conference and the NFL are two different worlds.

Yet, there’s reason for the Eagles to hold out some hope for Pumphrey, whose redemption tour began Monday at OTAs.

This is the period of the offseason where Pumphrey can show coaches he’s bigger, stronger, faster than when he arrived. All the 23-year-old has been doing since September 2017, besides rehabbing from an injury, we’re told, is working out. Some improvement from a purely physical standpoint should be evident.

If Pumphrey has taken the necessary leaps, his rapid ascent up the Eagles’ depth chart is possible.

Only Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement have their roster spots set in stone, and the former is on the final year of his contract. Wendell Smallwood spent the latter half of last season on the inactive list. Darren Sproles could be re-signed, but is currently a free agent. The Eagles will likely select another running back in the draft next week, but Pumphrey can still carve out a role in 2018 or beyond.

It’s not outrageous to envision Pumphrey filling a Sproles-like role – a running back/receiver hybrid who plays situationally.

Keep in mind, Pumphrey did have a legitimate hamstring injury last summer that caused him to miss time in training camp. Not a lot of work was lost, but it’s unclear how that impacted his preseason performance. It at least might explain the seeming lack of athleticism, and was perhaps related to his IR trip.

Pumphrey’s size is another story, and may always be an issue. Then again, he wouldn't be the first person of small stature to carve out a niche in the NFL, or the last.

That isn’t going away anytime soon. However, if Pumphrey arrived at OTAs with a little more meat on his bones and a little more bounce to his step, he has the potential to turn some heads over the next few weeks.

Then, who knows. Maybe he’ll be in a position to compete for a roster spot come camp.