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Backup big man problem behind Joel Embiid highlighted by injuries

Backup big man problem behind Joel Embiid highlighted by injuries

With Joel Embiid possessing the greatest injury risk of any superstar, it remains mystifying that the Sixers continue to have trouble finding a consistent backup big man behind him. A center off the bench for the Sixers could be starting around 15 or even 20 times per season given potential rest for Embiid or whenever he’s banged up. More importantly, that player may even be getting spot starts in the playoffs, as Ersan Ilyasova and Amir Johnson each started a game against the Heat last April when Embiid was sidelined. 

Embiid has been out for the Sixers’ last three games with left knee soreness and will be out once again Thursday night against Oklahoma City. Boban Marjanovic will also be inactive as he deals with a right knee bone bruise, leaving the Sixers with just Johnson, Justin Patton and rookie Jonah Bolden as the only available bigs for the team in their matchup with the Thunder.

The injury to Marjanovic only highlights this glaring depth issue. Despite putting up Wilt-like offensive numbers in a small amount of minutes throughout his career, he remains a statue defensively, prone to lapses against any big man with any semblance of speed or an outside shot. He’s a matchup-dependent player who will be needed against the likes of Marc Gasol in the postseason, but may get run off the court against stretchy bigs in the mold of Al Horford, Brook Lopez and Myles Turner. 

How did the Sixers go from the team with “too many” big men, rostering all of Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Richaun Holmes at one point, to this?

Poor drafting over the last handful of years is the main culprit. Okafor, the third overall pick in 2015, was a bust from the minute he punched some House of Pain-loving guy in Boston during his rookie campaign. Noel, the sixth overall pick in 2013, and the organization at large seemed to detest one another during his last two seasons in Philly, leading to an underwhelming return for a defensively gifted big at the 2017 trade deadline. Holmes, a high second-rounder in 2015, never possessed the defensive awareness that Brett Brown demands from his bigs and he was promptly shipped off to Phoenix without much fanfare this past offseason.

Those guys were Sam Hinkie’s picks, but Bryan Colangelo completely bungling the 2016 and 2017 drafts only made a bad situation worse. 

The Sixers held two late first-rounders in 2016 that they used on Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Furkan Korkmaz, respectively. The fact that the Raptors’ blossoming young power forward Pascal Siakam was taken three spots after TLC and just one pick after Korkmaz stings more and more each game. Siakam is a defensive monster with a continuously improving three-point shot who could’ve worked alongside Embiid to create the league’s best defense or functioned as a Draymond Green-lite role player alongside Ben Simmons with Embiid on the bench. 

There’s the infamous 2017 case of Anzejs Pasecniks, a Latvian big man, who, for reasons I’m still not entirely sure, I’ve dedicated my Twitter account to slandering. Ol’ Big Collar needlessly traded a future first rounder from Oklahoma City for the right to move up and select Pasecniks, who is about five years away from being five years away. For all the talk of Dario Saric never coming over, this is actually the guy who is never coming over. Imagine Darko Milicic with the frame of a greased up light pole on Broad Street. Imagine Nikoloz Tskitishvili with a Latvian passport. This is the player Colangelo, through the transitive property of trades, acquired for Jerami Grant, a small-ball big currently guarding every position on the court and knocking down the occasional corner three for the Thunder. 

Maybe the simplest solution in the meantime is to let Bolden, who has flashed promise at times, go through whatever growing pains that are disauding Brown from giving him consistent minutes or to play super small at times with lineups that have Simmons as the team’s tallest player on the court. This problem isn’t simply going away when Embiid returns to the floor though. 

While talks of whether the Sixers can re-sign Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris will rightfully dominate this offseason, the team’s backup center situations remains an intriguing subplot. Armed with their own first rounder and two top-35 picks from Chicago and Cleveland, respectively, hitting on one of those selections needs to be a priority for Elton Brand and his front office.

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Bryce Harper meets some Philly sports legends at the Sixers game

Bryce Harper meets some Philly sports legends at the Sixers game

The new big man in town, Bryce Harper, went to the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night to take in the Sixers game against the Milwaukee Bucks. He rubbed shoulders with some of the previous biggest (little) men in town.

Harper was in attendance and rang the bell prior to tip-off — something he'll surely do many times during Phillies games across the street this summer.

When Harper made his way to his seat in a suite, he was seated alongside Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. Rhys Hoskins was also in the suite as were all of the aforementioned players' significant others. Talk about some serious Philly sports firepower right there.

And then later in the game, the Sixers shared an image of a couple of legendary No. 3s meeting in the bowels of the Center. I'd love to hear the conversation between Allen Iverson and Harper.

Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was also in the building, sitting a bit closer to the court. Rapper Meek Mill was also in the building and took a photo with A.I. Which got me wondering: What's the perfect storm of Philly sports stardom in a Rat Pack sort of way? Obviously you had Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid on the court last night. In terms of the Flyers, aside from Gritty, you'd have to go Claude Giroux or maybe a fun-loving guy like Scott Hartnell from years past? Recently retired players that could fit the bill from other teams would have to include Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and maybe Pat Burrell just for fun. Is anyone in recent Eagles memory a bigger name than Brian Dawkins? He'd fill the fedora quotient. Nick Foles could be fun in a clean and wholesome sort of way.

My Philly sports Rat Pack would consist of A.I., Simmons, Embiid, Kendall Jenner, Wentz, Jason Kelce and Gritty. We got a good portion of that in the building last night.

Who is in your Philly sports Rat Pack?

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Nationals fans don’t get to be mad at Bryce Harper

Nationals fans don’t get to be mad at Bryce Harper

They can boo him. They can even hate him. But there’s absolutely no way Washington Nationals fans can fault Bryce Harper.

Sportswriters instructed Nats fans not to show up to the stadium unless they plan to boo Harper. Metro TV personalities smashed a pinata with the six-time All-Star’s photograph. Fans destroyed their No. 34 jerseys and showed up to the ballpark with signs that read “traitor.” The mayor of Washington D.C. took to social media to compare a baseball player to Benedict Arnold.

And yet, on Monday it was revealed in The Washington Post that the Nationals didn't just offer Harper less money and fewer years than the Phillies. The structure of the 10-year, $300 million contract proposed in September would’ve deferred payment on $100 million – 33 percent of the total value – until 2052. Then, in January, the club followed up with an even worse deal: 12 years, $250 million that wouldn’t be fully paid until the year 2072.

Harper would be 79 in 2072, assuming he lived that long.

There’s loyalty and hometown discounts. Then there’s situations that just don’t make sense.

Now seems like a good time to point out the Nationals are owned by Ted Lerner, whose own net worth is estimated to be in the multi billions. The team has done pretty well for itself at the gate, finishing 11th in Major League Baseball in average attendance in 2018 despite some of the highest ticket prices in the game. And while the TV contract is in dispute, the organization will eventually claim hundreds of millions of dollars in right fees dating back to 2012.

The money was there. Even without Harper, the Nationals have the seventh-largest payroll in baseball this season – never mind management’s inability to construct a winning team with that checkbook.

Why is this coming back on the player?

It’s one thing for fans to suggest a professional athlete should consider taking less money. It’s quite another to argue the athlete should sign a contract where a sizable portion of the cash might be paid when he’s living in a nursing home.

On some level, this is all reminiscent of when Jayson Werth pulled a reverse-Harper and left the Phillies to sign with the NL East rival Nationals in in 2011. The Phillies chose to allocate finances in such a way the club decided it would only retain Werth for below-market value, so he left. Fans weren’t happy, and he was booed every time he came to town.

But Werth wasn’t a generational talent. He was a cog, people ultimately understood he got a better deal, plus letting him go meant the Phillies could re-sign Cliff Lee, for example.

The Nationals let the face of baseball leave D.C. without a serious offer, and all they got was the money to sign Patrick Corbin.

Hey, it happens, and Nats fans should boo Harper for all 13 years in red pinstripes, the same as any Philly fan would in their shoes.

Just don’t cry Harper is a traitor. He’s in a Phils uniform because the Nationals screwed up, and the only place fingers need to be pointed is directly at the front office.

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