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Sixers fans have earned a loud cackle at the Lakers' expense

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Sixers fans have earned a loud cackle at the Lakers' expense

Though the methods of their rebuild process have received far less scrutiny than those of the Sixers, it's worth remembering that the Los Angeles Lakers have been bottoming out for nearly as long. The last time the Sixers made the playoffs was 2012, the Lakers last made it in 2013, their last chances of contention having limped away weeks earlier, along with Kobe's busted Achilles. In 2014, the Lakers drafted seventh while the Sixers picked third, and the three years after that, L.A. has picked second. 

The third time, L.A. jumped all the way from No. 6 in the lottery standings -- due to an unexpected late surge of Ws at season's end, after coach Luke Walton had already sent multiple vets home for the holidays -- to No. 2. Afterwards, Walton offered, "I've always believed that things work out the way they're supposed to. and we decided to play the end of the season to try to win ball games and not go into tank mode, and the Basketball Gods shined down on us for that today." This was a half-callback to earlier in the season, when Walton previously referenced the Basketball Gods and their distaste for tanking, explaining, "Philly's been there for a while. They look like they're doing pretty well right now but they're still a long way from being a true contender. I would prefer not to be stuck in the lottery for very long."

The Sixers entered this week 19-19, in line for the eighth seed of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Lakers started it 12-27, on pace to earn a fourth consecutive No. 2 overall pick at this June's draft. 

For the second straight season, Los Angeles got off to a promising-enough start -- beginning the season 8-10 with one of the league's best defenses and one of the season's most productive rookies (though not the one they picked with this year's second pick) -- and then completely fell apart. While the Sixers were fumbling their way to a 5-10 December, the Lakers went 3-11, then proceeded to lose their first three games of the New Year. They've since amassed Ws against the lowly Hawks and Kings, but despite already picking in the top ten four straight years, it certainly doesn't look like Walton's crew has any chance of getting unstuck from the lottery this year. 

It might be a couple years for them still. The Lakers have a stock of legitimately promising young players -- rookie forward Kyle Kuzma, second-year swingman Brandon Ingram, even lightning-rod point guard Lonzo Ball -- but no prospect yet on the obviously game-changing two-way level of Joel Embiid, or even Ben Simmons. They hoped to be a landing spot for LeBron James this summer, but the Lakers' on-court ineptitude has blocked them from being a legitimate player in free agency for a half-decade now, and it's hard to see The King jumping to a team still nowhere near sniffing .500 this late in his career. Other free agents like Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins may or may not be easier sells, but even if so, they're not the sort of players that fix flailing franchises overnight. 

Not to mention the media circus the Lakers are currently engulfed in, surrounding a dude not even directly involved with the team. LaVar Ball caused a press firestorm over the weekend by opining to Jeff Goodman of ESPN that Walton had "lost the team" and that his son Lonzo needed a different coach to help him realize his potential. The rest of the NBA may not be as engaged with the story, but they're likely at least slightly annoyed by its pervasiveness, and the idea of being tethered to LaVar as a part of the Lakers' future probably lurks as a real factor at this point for anyone thinking of joining L.A. in the offseason -- especially while his son continues to put up historically lousy shooting numbers and maybe not even prove worth all the trouble. 

This is all to say: The Basketball Gods do not appear to be smiling on the Los Angeles Lakers thusfar in the 2017-'18 season. And of course, I haven't even gotten to the best part of all of it: The Lakers don't even have their pick this year. It belongs to the Sixers. 

For now, anyway. Due to the Markelle Fultz pickswap trade with Boston over the summer, we give the Celtics the Lakers pick if it falls between 2-5 this season, otherwise we give them the Kings pick we got from the original pickswap deal years ago next year (unless it falls No. 1, in which case we give them our own pick). After their win against Sacramento last night, the Lakers currently sit at No. 4 in the Tanking Rankings, tied with Sacramento -- if they ended the season at No. 4, they'd have about a 29% chance of handing over the No. 6 pick to Philly, with a 12% chance of giving us the No. 1. 

There's been some debate about what the best-case scenario is for Philly of how the Lakers should end the season -- whether we're better off with L.A. winning enough to slide to No. 6 or 7, or basically losing out. I'm with Derek Bodner of the Athletic that I'd rather just have the Lakers lose as much as possible, ending up with as much as a 25 percent of handing us the No. 1 pick (under the last year of the old lottery odds, before reform flattens the possibility a little), though no chance of getting it below five. 

I think that's fine: Getting the highest odds at the game-changing No. 1 pick and taking our chances next year with an unprotected Kings pick seems higher-upside than grabbing the No. 7 pick this year and potentially hand over a top-three choice to the Celts next year. There's basically no reason to think the Kings won't just be bad forever, so I have no problem riding with them in 2019. Meanwhile, we get to continue rooting for the Lakers to lose outright, to enjoy every slip of public dysfunction, every clanked Lonzo Ball three, every sports pundit who claimed LeBron-to-L.A. as a done deal now backpedaling on their words. 

Which isn't to say the Sixers have been drama- or embarrassment-free in the '17-'18 season by any means themselves -- there are certainly a handful of teams who would be at least slightly within their rights to be cackling at us right now. But hey, we're .500, we've got a reasonable chance of postseason ball, we've got at least two of the best young players in the league, and we've got every reason to be optimistic about the immediate and near-future -- none of which the Lakers could confidently say about themselves. 

So yeah -- while the Sixers wrap up their five-day layover in between games and continents, make sure to take a second to let loose a resounding, throaty, ha-HAH! at Luke Walton and the Lakers' expense. It's what the basketball gods would want. 

Super Bowl champs showed up to ESPYS in style including a Philly Special homage

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AP Images

Super Bowl champs showed up to ESPYS in style including a Philly Special homage

The Super Bowl champs showed up to the ESPYS in style on Wednesday night out in Los Angeles.

Nick Foles may have taken home the hardware for best performance in a championship -- with a heck of a speech to boot -- but it was the Eagles secondary who won best dressed.

Or maybe just most outrageously baller. Tough to tell these days.

I mean, just look at what Rodney McLeod wore. Purple. No shirt.

The Green Goblin wasn't far behind. Personally, I liked Jalen Mills going with a vest that still showed off his tat.

And then there was Malcolm Jenkins adding a bit of class to the group.

But the sartorial flair that won the evening may have to go to former Eagle and current member of the Chicago Bears Trey Burton who kept the Philly Special close to his heart.

And shouts to Jake Elliott and his hat just because.

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Are 2018 Eagles better or worse at quarterback?

Are 2018 Eagles better or worse at quarterback?

The one area the Eagles made no major changes from last season is at quarterback. Carson Wentz returns from injury. Somewhat surprisingly, Nick Foles was retained and even signed a contract extension. Nate Sudfeld remains in the fold as well.

The cast may be the same, but with Foles returning to the bench as a Super Bowl MVP, will the Eagles be better or worse off in 2018?

Better

Depth

When Foles took the reins last December, he had barely played or practiced since 2015, his hellish season with the Rams – and, initially, it showed. But after what the 29-year-old signal caller accomplished in the playoffs, does anybody believe Foles is lacking for confidence now? Anybody still wonder whether he’s comfortable running the Eagles’ offense?

Foles is better prepared to take over for Wentz or start Week 1 than he was this time a year ago. So, too, is Sudfeld, who will benefit from his first camp with the team after signing last September, as well as his first NFL game experience in Week 17 against the Cowboys. QB2 and QB3 are both in a better place now, which is remarkable, but true.

Worse

Greater sense of uncertainty

Until the trade deadline comes and goes in October, there’s always the possibility Foles is traded this year. Obviously, there would be some drop-off between the Super Bowl MVP and Sudfeld, a third-year player who’s thrown 23 career passes, should that come to pass.

For now, that’s not the case, but is something to keep an eye for awhile yet.

The same

Nick Foles

Despite everything that’s happened – the winning, the newfound notoriety, going back to the bench, a so-called quarterback controversy, trade murmurs – the one thing you can count on is Foles’ demeanor. He may have questioned himself on the football field at one point in his career, but he’s in a place now where he knows what he’s capable of and his value to the Eagles.

Foles also hasn’t changed much as a player since his historic, breakout campaign in 2013. As long as the offensive line can keep him upright, and he has talented weapons to distribute the ball to, this is somebody that can win you a lot of games in the NFL. There’s no longer any disputing that.

The unknown

Carson Wentz’s knee

Wentz has looked so darn impressive in videos and on the practice field, it’s easy to fall into the trap that his surgically repaired knee is fine, everything is fine. Despite raising the question here, he’s probably better prepared to overcome a torn ACL than some past Eagles quarterbacks who struggled with the recovery in the past – namely Sam Bradford and Donovan McNabb.

Still, more passers than not have come back and looked less than 100 percent in their first season removed from the injury. And many of them had more time to recover than Wentz, who only went down in November.

We don’t even know for sure if Wentz will be cleared to play Week 1. It seems likely he will be, but it’s far from definite. Until he’s playing in actual NFL games, and back to looking like the 2017, MVP-caliber version of himself, all of these concerns give folks some pause before assuming the Eagles would immediately be better off with Wentz under center.

Better or worse?

Fortunately, the determination doesn’t rest solely on Wentz here. A comfortable and confident Foles and the developing Sudfeld should give the Eagles a marginal lift at quarterback. And even after sharing a pile of concerns about Wentz, eventually, possibly sometime in 2018, he will be fine, making Wentz-like escapes and ice-in-his-veins third-down conversions. In fact, if Wentz Is miraculously fine for Week 1, he should still be improving heading into his third season.

Now that’s something BETTER to look forward to.

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