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Sixers are better than all but the best teams

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Sixers are better than all but the best teams

Generally speaking, there have been two types of wins for the Sixers this season: ones where their stars bail out their shooters and ones where their shooters bail out their stars. It's felt pretty rare that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have dominated inside the arc at the same time that Robert Covington and JJ Redick have rained down holy hellfire from beyond it. But more often than not, at least one of those tandems is making the magic happen, and making Philly tough to outpace for 48 minutes. Last night, it was mostly the latter, as Covington hit six huge triples to break out of his week-long shooting slump, and help the Sixers earn a 108-103 win over the Detroit Pistons (and newly ranked Process foe Andre Drummond). 

It wasn't the best of nights for Embiid and Simmons. Embiid ended with respectable numbers of 25 and 10, also fouling out Drummond (who dared return fire over JoJo's trash-talking pregame and was subsequently booed all night at WFC) while posting them, but he also shot an unsightly 7 for 21, with six turnovers and no assists, as he became perhaps a tad myopic in his Drummond demolition. And Simmons was uncharacteristically reserved on offense, scoring just five points on six shots — both career lows — and only handing out six assists in 39 minutes. What seemed at halftime like it was going to be an easy Sixers win instead became a grind-it-out W, as Philly's third-quarter offense imploded and Detroit vaporized the 16-point halftime lead by the start of the fourth. 

But Covington's 25 kept the Sixers afloat, as did a combined 35 from JJ Redick (6-10 FG, 1-3 3PT) and Dario Saric (6-11 FG, 2-5 3PT). Though Redick has run scalding and frigid with his long-range shooting this season, he's starting to show some of the other things he can do to stay productive while frosty from deep — not only nailing twos off curls and step-ins, but moving the ball exceptionally, ending with a team- and personal season-high seven dimes last night. And Dario has really come on since Thanksgiving, averaging 18 and 8, shooting 53 percent from the field and filling in the gaps in the Sixers' offense with smart cuts, extra passes and second-chance-opportunity creation. 

Though the Sixers' bench is struggling a little bit — particularly in the absence of unit anchor T.J. McConnell, who missed his second straight last night with a shoulder contusion — the starting lineup has proven capable of hanging with just about any opposing first five. Simmons-Redick-Covington-Saric-Embiid is an insane net plus-19 points per 100 possessions in 150 minutes of on-court time, according to Basketball-Reference, which is fourth-best in the whole league among lineups that have played at least 100 minutes together. 

And that's sort of the point with the Sixers at this juncture of the season. Through 22 games, they've played about as insane a schedule as any team — 14 of their 22 games coming against teams currently with winning records, including a combined seven against the Warriors, Rockets, Celtics and Cavaliers — and they're still four games over .500, and beating pretty much every team except those four. The Pistons are 0-2 against the Sixers, and 14-6 against the rest of the NBA. The Sixers aren't good enough to hang with the league's true elite, but you have to like their chances against pretty much anyone else. A quarter through the season, and their only truly bad loss came in that absurd collapse to the Kings. It's disconcerting rooting for a team this reliable.
 
But when you have a first five like the Sixers do, stocked with franchise-caliber talents and championship-caliber supporting players, it's hardly surprising that you end up winning a lot of games. They won't be true contenders this season — the decisive 1-6 record against the league's real contenders should ably demonstrate as much — but they're already in the tier just below that truly elite class, and with a couple easy-appearing games coming up on their schedule (home to the Suns and Lakers this week), their record may soon start to reflect it as well. Injury concerns are the only thing separating these Sixers from not only making the playoffs, but being a legitimate problem for their first-round opponent. To anticipate that things might get even better than this in seasons to come — which, y'know, they probably should — feels damned greedy. 

Eagles wise to reject Nick Foles trade offer ... for now

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Eagles wise to reject Nick Foles trade offer ... for now

Nick Foles for the 35th overall pick in the draft? A lot of Eagles fans would’ve probably pulled the trigger on that trade.

We know now the Eagles, wisely, did not.

Technically, it was Foles who shunned the Cleveland Browns’ overtures. According to an NFL.com report, the Eagles approached the Super Bowl MVP in March about the Browns’ offer of a second-round choice in the 2018 draft. He would rather remain a backup quarterback in Philadelphia than start for the league’s most pitiful franchise.

The Eagles respected his wishes. It wasn’t what was best for Foles. He earned that deference.

But it wasn’t what was best for the Eagles, either.

Never mind the organization owed it to Foles to ask his feelings about a possible trade, or that dumping him off in Cleveland against his wishes would’ve been unpopular with fans and around the league. Those were good reasons to turn down the offer. Just not necessarily the only reasons.

There was no need for the Eagles to settle for a second-round pick at that point in time, and all the rationale in the world says to wait and see what transpires.

Carson Wentz’s ongoing recovery from a torn ACL is the obvious. As confident as Wentz is he’ll be under center for the Eagles in Week 1, that remains to be seen. His progress was an even greater unknown when the offer was made over two months ago.

Was No. 35 enough to gamble on Wentz’s getting healthy in time for the 2018 season, amid the Eagles’ bid to repeat?

Maybe, maybe not – fortunately, the Eagles didn’t have to decide to trade Foles right then and there.

If recent history has told us anything, it’s not only do the Eagles have the option to trade Foles at a later date, but his value could increase based on demand.

The Eagles would know. Fans couldn’t believe the front office didn’t ship a disgruntled Sam Bradford to the Broncos for a second-round pick after making the move to draft Wentz in 2016. A few months later, almost everybody was amazed when Bradford was dealt to the Vikings for a first and a fourth.

Circumstances changed. The Vikings were a viable contender that, due to an injury, suddenly became desperate for an established quarterback just as the regular season was about to begin.

There’s no telling which teams might have interest in Foles between now and the mid-season trade deadline, or what price they might be willing to pay. And the Eagles were never going to find out had they shipped him out for the first semi-decent package that was floated their way.

The absolute worst-case scenario now is Foles sticks with the Eagles all this season, is never called upon to play a meaningful snap, then opts out of his contract and becomes a free agent next year.

Yet, even in that scenario, the reigning Super Bowl champions had the best insurance policy in the NFL, for a relatively modest price at $8 million against the salary cap, and the league eventually awards the team a compensatory draft pick after his departure. Along the way, the Eagles simultaneously get to do right by Foles and engender positive vibes among fans and around the league.

The Eagles could’ve used the cap space and another second-round pick this year, but they were better off keeping Foles.

For now, at least.

Eagles releasing Mychal Kendricks the right thing to do

Eagles releasing Mychal Kendricks the right thing to do

For the past two years, the Eagles kept Mychal Kendricks in a state of limbo. It was about time the team set him free.

The Eagles didn’t release Kendricks on Tuesday simply because it was “the right thing to do” — if there was such a thing in this instance. They did it because the move will save $6 million against the salary cap in 2018. They did it because Corey Nelson is a cheaper alternative. They did it because Kendricks isn’t an ideal fit for Jim Schwartz’s scheme. They did it because, evidently, they couldn’t find a trade partner.

In short, the Eagles released Kendricks because the 27-year-old linebacker wasn’t worth $16-plus million over the next two seasons. That really should be enough.

It was also about time the Eagles put Kendricks out of his misery. He made no secret about being unhappy with his reduced role since Schwartz became defensive coordinator, asking the team to either cut him or move him last offseason. The subject of trade rumors annually since 2015, Kendricks probably hadn’t felt comfortable about his standing with the organization for quite awhile.

At what point are the Eagles holding him hostage?

Good thing the club didn’t oblige Kendricks’ request last year, as he wound up filling in for the injured Jordan Hicks and playing a pivotal part in the Eagles’ Super Bowl run. Some see that as evidence the team made a mistake in letting a six-year veteran with 78 career NFL starts to walk away for nothing.

While it’s true Kendricks came up big in 2017, he wasn’t exactly an impact player for the Eagles, finishing the season with four tackles for loss and two sacks in 18 games, including playoffs. He hasn’t forced a fumble since 2015. He hasn’t recorded an interception since 2013. And rushing the passer, arguably his greatest strength, goes almost completely unutilized in Schwartz’s scheme, which sent Kendricks after opposing quarterbacks just eight times all year, according to Pro Football Focus.

Numbers may not do Kendricks’ campaign justice, but typically more would be expected of somebody who was set to carry a $7.6 million cap figure into ’18.

The Eagles also feel they are in better shape now in terms of depth at the position (see story).

Kendricks’ days appeared to be numbered the moment the club signed Nelson and the free-agent addition declared he would compete for the starting weakside linebacker job. It’s unclear whether the Eagles are putting too much faith in the former Denver Broncos reserve and the host of linebacker prospects already on the roster. Regardless, the team likes its options.

So why force Kendricks to stick around? From the team’s standpoint, it was a lot of money for the level of production, for not being a great scheme fit and given his impending return to the bench. The Eagles were wise to keep him around for one more year, but with other arrangements since made, moving on now doesn’t sting as much.

The fact Kendricks was anything less than thrilled to be back only makes it easier. After handling his displeasure like a pro last season, then helping the Eagles win their first Super Bowl championship, granting his release seems like the least the team could do.