Casey Feeney

Phillies need to keep both Gabe Kapler and Matt Klentak or fire them both — it shouldn't be one or the other

Phillies need to keep both Gabe Kapler and Matt Klentak or fire them both — it shouldn't be one or the other

All-in.

That pretty accurately describes the question in front of Phillies owner and managing partner John Middleton’s mindset toward winning a third World Series in franchise history.

But now the time has come to determine whether he’s all-in or all-out on the heart of his baseball operations staff.

Until a decision is announced on Gabe Kapler and Matt Klentak’s future, we’re all left to speculate as to what Middleton is thinking about who is to blame for a season that began with championship aspirations and ended as many losses as wins. Thursday night, Jim Salisbury reported that a Kapler decision is unlikely to come before next week, and that Middleton is focused only on the manager's job, not the GM's or president's.

I’ll leave the debate as to whether Kapler and Klentak have earned the opportunity to maintain their jobs to others. A strong case can be made in either direction for both men.

But as this draws out, one thing becomes clear: The Phillies need to either keep both of them or fire both of them. Firing just one defies logic.

From all accounts, Klentak chose Kapler, in part, because of his ability to execute the vision of the front office in the dugout. There’s no evidence to suggest that hasn’t been the case. So, if Middleton still believes in Klentak's and the front office’s approach to the game, there’s no reason to fire Kapler.

On the other hand, if you believe that something is amiss in the organizational mindset, why would you keep the general manager who spearheaded that approach while dismissing the manager who was tasked with executing the vision on a nightly basis?

Furthermore, removing Kapler while retaining Klentak just courts future dysfunction. In that scenario, Middleton would likely hire an established manager with his own mindset that likely will not align with Klentak's methodology. Not to mention that Klentak would need to make the postseason in 2020 to avoid having the plug pulled on his tenure. That situation becomes ripe for a power struggle between the newly hired manager and the general manager on the hot seat.

Then, you likely find yourself back here next year looking to find a general manager. Only, the new GM will have his first manager forced upon him. Who knows how that arranged marriage will work? History suggests it won’t go well. 

So, then you find yourself two years down the road and the only place you’ve gotten to is square one with a GM that believes in his manager and vice versa.

As the hours and days tick by, it’s clear John Middleton must answer one simple question: Do I believe in the direction we’re going? 

It’s either all-in or all-out.

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Why USA Basketball should replace Gregg Popovich with Jay Wright

Why USA Basketball should replace Gregg Popovich with Jay Wright

It’s time for Jay Wright to get his chance to serve as the head coach of NBA players.

Deep breaths, Nova Nation. I’m not talking about Wright getting a job with an NBA franchise. Rather, USA Basketball should make the bold step of naming Wright as the head coach of the national team prior to the 2020 Summer Olympics.

That’s because for the first time since 2006, USA Basketball’s gold medal chances in a major tournament went bust. Or more appropriately, they went Pop — as in Gregg Popovich.

In his first run of games as national team head coach, Popovich lost twice as many games in a month as Mike Krzyzewski did in a decade at the helm of USA Basketball. The Pop/NBA apologists will be quick to point out Coach K had more talent at his disposal than Popovich did for this World Cup.

That’s true. But it points to why a college coach should always lead the national team. The No. 1 job (and probably No. 2 and No. 3) for the national team coach is to convince the best players to play. You know who has experience at convincing good players to play for them? High-level college coaches. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Popovich would be interested in sending the texts and making the phone calls necessary to convince top NBA players that were on the fence to participate. But that is second nature to Jay Wright.

Additionally, Wright is unencumbered of the NBA rivalries that can make it a challenge to build the type of relationships necessary to ensure enough frontline stars are willing to give their offseasons to USA Basketball.
 
Another reason why a college coach, specifically Wright, should lead the national team is the nature of the task. Beyond the one-and-done nature of international tournament play, the expectation is for USA Basketball to win every game. When you run a big-time college program, that is a familiar pressure. Any time a Duke or Villanova loses, it’s newsworthy. On the road, it likely means a court storm. When an NBA coach loses a game on the road, he gets on a charter flight and coaches again the next night.

You can argue that Popovich understands that expectation. And I’m sure he thinks he did. But I’d rather roll the dice with someone that lives that pressure every night of their season and plays in a one-and-done setting every March. And no coach has been better in the NCAA Tournament in recent years than Wright. Look at those two trophies on Villanova’s campus for proof of that.

Lastly, a college coach has more time at their disposal to devote towards the USA Basketball program. An NBA season can run from late September to early June. A college campaign goes from mid-October until the first Monday in April. That’s extra time for Wright, relative to an NBA coach, to dedicate to preparation, scouting and recruiting.

Wright — for his part —has been a constant for USA Basketball. He’s serving as an assistant for Popovich currently. He’s presumed by many to be next in line for the role after Popovich coaches the Olympic team next summer.

Maybe USA Basketball can afford to wait until 2021 to hand the reins to Wright. Maybe more All-Stars will agree to take part in a showcase event like the Olympics. Maybe this was just a one-game fluke.

But USA Basketball’s expectations leave no room for doubt.

Wright’s the best man for the job right now.

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Will the Sixers run it back? The answer should hinge on Ben Simmons

Will the Sixers run it back? The answer should hinge on Ben Simmons

The 76ers have 10 players from last season’s roster who can enter free agency in a little over a month. But it’s one of the few players under contract for the 2019-20 season that should be the central figure in determining how the Sixers handle their offseason.

Ben Simmons is not an easy person to read. While Joel Embiid can sometimes be accused of lacking a filter, Simmons is first-team all-defense when it comes to revealing his thoughts publicly.

That’s not a criticism. It’s certainly Simmons’ right to keep his thoughts to himself. But where this comes into play for the Sixers is the ability to read what Simmons is thinking about his future in Philadelphia. Does he desire the chance to break away from Embiid and prove he can be the primary force on a winning team? Or does he want to see just how fertile an extended partnership with Embiid can be?

The answer to those questions should impact how Elton Brand approaches this offseason. 

If Brand believes Simmons wants to stay long term, the Sixers should be hesitant about running it back with last year’s team. While Jimmy Butler proved capable of being an offensive focal point at the end of tightly-contested playoff games, the organization would be better served in the big picture by giving Simmons the chance to develop into that type of player rather than the bystander he became too often on the offensive end in the playoffs.

Taking a look at the Raptors and Warriors, a major factor in making the Finals is having at least one player that can create and make his own shots in the half court. If Simmons can crack that code, the Sixers can attempt to cultivate the depth they lacked this past season with their available cap space. 

There’s undoubtedly risk involved in this proposition. Everyone knows Simmons has never made a three-point shot in his career. Almost all of his scoring takes place in the paint. There are even well-founded concerns as to whether he’s shooting with the correct hand. But even with all of those red flags, the combination of Simmons’ age (still just 22), his incredible skill level, and overall maturity lends credence to the belief that he will develop a consistent jump shot. If and when that happens, there will be nothing he cannot do on a basketball court.

Conversely, if the Sixers believe Simmons wants out of Philadelphia as soon as he has the option, then they should attempt to bring back as much of their veteran nucleus as possible and hope that a full season together and the likelihood that Kawhi Leonard will depart Toronto pushes them over the top. This scenario also ensures that the cupboard is not totally bare for Embiid if Simmons departs. 

So Brand is left to answer a question that has eluded most: what is Ben Simmons really thinking?

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