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Sixers turning the corner with low-risk JJ Redick, Amir Johnson signings

Sixers turning the corner with low-risk JJ Redick, Amir Johnson signings

Hey everyone, the Philadelphia 76ers are officially a professional basketball team. After four years of foundational rebuilding with little-to-no emphasis put on actual vertical growth, the Sixers are now doing that thing that NBA teams do when seriously trying to get good: isolating areas of need and adding the best players possible to fill those gaps.

JJ Redick, veteran swingman formerly of the Clippers, headlined yesterday's free agency haul for the Sixers, and you'd need a pretty big microscope to find the flaws in his signing. Obviously, Redick fits neatly into the Sixers' current void at two-guard, where his long-range prowess -- hitting 41.5 percent of his career threes, including 43 percent on six attempts per game last year -- will be a major boon for a team perennially lacking in shooting and spacing. Redick moves well off screens, is a competent team defender and ball-mover, and has been a model of health and consistency the last three years, hitting 200 total threes in both '14-'15 and '15-'16, and 201 last year. Simply put, his presence on the Sixers should make everything easier for everyone.

And of course, the best part of Redick's signing is likely its length: The Colangelos got JJ for the price of $23 million for one year. $23 mil is undoubtedly a greater annual salary than a man of Redick's considerable-but-limited talents and advancing age (he turned 33 in June) is worth, which is why the deal lured him away from multi-year contracts offered by the likes of Minnesota and Brooklyn. But for the Sixers, who went into the summer with about $50 million in cap space, there's almost no such thing as an overpay on a one-year deal for a player they had their sights set on.

Next year, we'll get a one-season trial run to figure out both how well Redick fits into our lineup and how close we are to being the level of competitive where locking up a complementary veteran like Redick long-term makes sense. If so, great and we'll deal with him then, if not, no harm done in kissing and saying goodbye. There's arguable risk that signing him to such a short deal means he can either wander elsewhere next season or command a more considerable multi-year salary next summer. But such concerns are relatively minor compared to what could've been a cap-clogging three- or four-year deal -- one that saw us overpaying a likely declining shooter in his waning years, making it difficult to both get all our young prospects (and Robert Covington) paid, and improve the roster around them.

Stretching the limits of the "no such thing as a bad one-year deal" theory a little is yesterday's undercard FA signing, Amir Johnson. If the consensus reaction to the Redick deal among Sixers fans was generally unrestrained jubilation, the Johnson deal ($11 million for one year) understandably got more of an "...OK, I guess?"

In a sense, Johnson, a bruising power forward (and occasional undersized center), fills a need in our frontcourt rotation, providing the kind of defense that's mostly absent on our depth chart once you get past Joel Embiid. If you squint real hard at him you could also view him as a floor-stretcher, hitting 41 percent of his threes last year, though on an absurdly low sample size of under an attempt a game. Advanced stats love him. But it's hard to know exactly what kind of minutes will be available for Amir on this Sixers team, which already has to find appropriate PT for Embiid, Richaun Holmes, Dario Saric and (possibly still) Jahlil Okafor -- not to mention Ben Simmons, who may functionally be a point guard but will likely still have to guard bigs on defense.

Given that glut up front, $11 million certainly seems like a lot for a guy who only averaged about 12 points and eight rebounds per 36 minutes last year, and who essentially got squeezed out of Boston's rotation towards the end of last year's postseason. Still, the Sixers had the money to spend -- even with his and Redick's contracts on the books, the team has about $15 mil remaining in cap room -- and were arguably in want of another veteran locker room presence (particularly after waiving Gerald Henderson earlier in the week) and definitely in need for some defensive insurance down low. Eight digits is pretty pricey for that kind of fringe production, but for the Sixers at this point in time, it's a defensible overpay.

Perhaps more exciting than any on-court implications of the Redick and Johnson signings is the mere fact that they're coming here at all. Neither is necessarily a marquee free agent, but both are respected, accomplished vets who've spent the most recent stretches of their careers playing for playoff perennials. As much money as we're giving them, it's still a fair bet that they wouldn't be risking wasting years of their NBA prime (or slightly post-prime) if they didn't think the Sixers were building something legitimate. Newly acquired ESPN franchise player Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Redick is "impressed with [the Sixers'] young talent and enthusiastic about playing for coach Brett Brown," and quotes a text from him that Philly is "where [he] wanted to be." Last summer, coming off a 10-win squad with Embiid still yet to play a professional minute, he probably wouldn't have been so eager.

Now, with Redick (and Johnson, sure), there's virtually no ceiling to how good this team can be next year. Which is not to say that the Sixers will definitely make a huge jump next season: Simmons and Markelle Fultz may take time to adjust to pro ball and to playing with one another, and looming injury concerns with nearly the entire roster (and of course Embiid in particular) will threaten to sweep the legs out from under at any point. But the potential for the Ballers to be not just competitive but really, really good -- like, first-round home-court good -- is real, and considerable: When healthy, a Fultz-Redick-Covington-Simmons-Embiid starting five is as loaded as any non-Cleveland team in the East can boast, with a deep roster of bench guys behind them.

And indeed, if there's yet another ancillary benefit to the Redick deal, it's that it gives us time to be patient with our younger wings. Nik Stauskas was awesome in stretches coming off the bench last year, while Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot really came on towards year's end as a potentially dynamic two-way two-guard. Redick's presence pushes them to the bench, where they should still get decent minutes (and with the Sixers' incoming influx of point guards, some of the best looks of their young careers) in a lower-pressure role to bring their games along. If one of them takes a leap next season, then they could provide a younger, cheaper alternative to Redick moving forward, allowing us to pursue other needs in free agency next summer once J.J.'s contract is up.

Remarkably, that appears to be the whole megillah: If there's a clear downside to these deals, or indeed any moves the Sixers have made of late, it's pretty damn insidious. Aside from the usual creeping dread that comes with rooting for such an injury-prone squad (and maybe just with being a Sixers/Philly fan in general), there's really nothing to feel about the Sixers' current outlook but total excitement and giddiness. Between these signings and the Fultz deal, the Colangelos have managed to build for both the present and the future, without hamstringing the latter in the name of bolstering the former. It's how our Once and Always Dark Lord Sam Hinkie would've wanted it.

Eagles still better off at QB than Giants

Eagles still better off at QB than Giants

The Eagles may have lost Carson Wentz for the season, but it could be worse. A lot worse. The Eagles could be in the New York Giants’ shoes.

How much better are the Eagles than their loathsome NFC East rival to the north this season? Even with a season-ending injury to an MVP-caliber player under center, the Eagles still look vastly superior to their Week 15 opponent Sunday. In fact, would you even trade their quarterback situation with the Giants?

We try to answer that question and more while we examine whether the Giants do anything better than the Eagles in 2017. Anything at all!

Probably not though.

QUARTERBACKS
Eli Manning may have a couple of Super Bowl rings, and his supporting cast with the Giants is awful, but I can’t understand why there was such a clamoring to have him remain the team’s starter. Their record is 2-11. He’s averaging 6.0 yards per pass attempt this season — only Joe Flacco has been worse. And Manning turns 37 in less than three weeks, so what’s the upside? He looks shot. At least Nick Foles gives the Eagles some hope heading into his 29th birthday. At this stage of their respective careers, you would take Foles, and it’s a no-brainer. Heck, plenty of people would take Davis Webb over Manning.

Advantage: Eagles

RUNNING BACKS
The Giants’ backfield is better than many suspected at the beginning of the season. Of course, turning out marginally better than the worst backfield in the NFL isn’t a huge accomplishment. Orleans Darkwa runs with power, and Wayne Gallman is a nice change of pace when he’s not fumbling the football. Both average better than 4.0 yards per carry. Shane Vereen looks cooked in the third-down role. Of course, the team doesn’t run the ball much, and none of the trio is a home-run hitter of the caliber of Jay Ajayi for the Eagles. Neither Darkwa nor Gallman looks like a better prospect than Corey Clement, either.

Advantage: Eagles

WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS
The Eagles have three players with more yards and touchdowns than the Giants’ leading receiver. Alshon Jeffery has 732 yards and eight touchdowns, while Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor both have 663 yards and seven scores. New York’s receiving corps was also decimated by injuries to Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall. Despite the losses, speedy Evan Engram is having an incredible rookie season for a tight end, becoming the primary weapon in the passing attack with 55 catches, 623 yards and six touchdowns. Clearly, Engram’s stellar play hasn’t been enough to compensate. Now wideouts Sterling Shepherd and Roger Lewis are questionable to play Sunday, too.

Distinct advantage: Eagles

OFFENSIVE LINES
The Giants’ best O-lineman, right tackle Justin Pugh, is questionable as well with a back injury and hasn’t suited up in weeks. That’s a problem because their line wasn’t very good to begin with. Left tackle Ereck Flowers has improved as the season has progressed, and isn’t nearly as bad his reputation might suggest. Otherwise, there aren’t many bright spots up front. The Eagles have had their issues. The hope is Stefen Wisniewski can go with an ankle injury, and Halapoulivaati Vaitai has looked beatable in recent weeks. At least their issues are confined to the left side. From center to right tackle, the unit is great.

Advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE LINES AND LINEBACKERS
If games were won and lost on reputation, the Giants’ D-line would be among the scariest units in the league. Damon Harrison, Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are all All-Pro/Pro Bowl players, yet New York ranks 31st against the run and is tied for 30th in sacks. The stars are not living up to the hype. Surely, it hasn’t helped that roughly all of their linebackers are on injured reserve. The Eagles still rank No. 1 against the run, though they’ve looked a little shaky of late, and are tied for ninth in sacks. Their defensive end rotation with Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Bennett is becoming quite dangerous, with 20.5 sacks between them.

Slight advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Don’t worry, the Giants’ issues on defense aren’t limited to the front seven. The club also ranks 31st against the pass, and unlike so many other areas of the roster, injuries aren’t solely to blame. Janoris Jenkins was hurt all year and eventually landed on IR. For Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple, it’s been a question of effort and will they or won’t they quit on their teammates. Apple has since been benched and left on the inactives list. The Eagles’ secondary has its flaws, but attitude isn’t one of them. They’re also an opportunistic bunch, with three players — Jalen Mills, Rodney McLeod and Patrick Robinson — with three interceptions, and three more with two.

Advantage: Eagles

SPECIAL TEAMS
As bad as the Eagles’ special teams have been for at times this season, the Giants have been worse. Their kicking game stinks — Aldrick Rosas has made only 75.0 percent of field-goal tries. Their coverage units stink, with a blocked punt and a punt return for a touchdown. And their return game stinks, with a 19.4 average on kickoffs and a 5.1 average on punts. We’re going to assume the re-signing of Bryan Braman this week (see story) fixes some of the issues the Eagles have experienced, and they’re back to being one of the top all-around units in the league.

Advantage: Eagles

COACHING
Ben McAdoo had one of the most meteoric rises and falls you will ever see. In a matter of three years, McAdoo was hailed as a genius for reinventing Manning, usurped the head coaching job from Tom Coughlin, and guided the Giants to the playoffs. Eleven months later, he was out of a job. Perennially overrated defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo took over in the interim, so no groundbreaking changes on the sideline for the time being. McAdoo’s timeline might be a cautionary tale for Doug Pederson and the Eagles. As far as this game is concerned, the staff that’s not in the midst of upheaval has the edge.

Distinct advantage: Eagles

OVERALL
There was no shortage of warning signs for New York heading into 2017. Sure, they managed to go 11-5 and make the playoffs a year ago but had not won more than seven games in any of the previous three seasons. I’m not sure anybody saw 2-11 coming, although, with an aging quarterback, shaky offensive line, and no running game, the Giants needed their defense to shoulder the load. Obviously, that didn’t happen. The Eagles have the injury under center, but I’ll take Foles with his roster over the current version of Manning and his crew of flunkies. And I wouldn’t think twice.

Distinct advantage: Eagles

Richaun Holmes' mishap does not end well

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ESPN broadcast

Richaun Holmes' mishap does not end well

You will not find Billy Donovan on the Thunder's injury report after Friday's game against the Sixers.

But Oklahoma City's head coach may be icing down alongside his players or popping a few Advil.

Why?

Donovan took an errant pass straight to his face during the Sixers-Thunder game at the Wells Fargo Center. Richaun Holmes was looking to collect an assist on a JJ Redick jumper, but the Sixers' big man put a little too much mustard on the pass.

The one-handed dish went right to Donovan … who was not ready to catch it, and why would he be? Holmes also just barely missed former Sixers player and head coach, Maurice Cheeks, who is an assistant under Donovan.

At least that was Holmes' only turnover of the game.