Unless you are one of those, like myself, who has found a way to follow the Eagles throughout the entire calendar year or you are emotionally invested in how the team’s Pro Bowl participants will play in the annual exhibition game, the focus has finally shifted away from the 2013 season. Unfortunately, depending on if you’re a glass half-full or half-empty type of person, this means it’s time to start paying attention to the three other major sports teams. The Flyers, Phillies, and 76ers all had the benefit of the gargantuan rose-colored glasses the Birds put on the eyes of area sports fans. Now, with the team packing up 2013 and moving forward, everyone has a chance to see what they will be paying attention to while the anguish of the offseason slowly sets in.
With the arrival of pitchers and catchers in Clearwater nearly upon us, the Phillies have done an excellent job reminding us to get ready for what looks to be another miserable season. Ruben Amaro Jr. and his trolling ways hit a fever pitch this past week when the team signed former scapegoat Bobby Abreu to a minor league contract. While the deal had very little financial impact on the Phillies (Abreu will make $800,000 should he make the major league roster), it was almost as if the General Manager was perking everyone up to the fact that he was still the man with the power. With the Yankees and Dodgers each breaking open the checkbooks and soaring past the luxury tax threshold, the Phillies series of small-money moves have made their situation even bleaker than last year. Amaro Jr. can insist that his team is healthy all that he wants, but with at least two teams in the division noticeably better from a talent standpoint than Philadelphia, it’s shaping up to be another downer of a season for the ‘Phightins.
The Flyers are trending in the wrong direction heading into the weekend. Since an exhilarating comeback win over the Islanders at home last Saturday, the Orange-and-Black have lost three in a row, all to division opponents. After the team signed goalie Steve Mason to a reasonable extension, one of Paul Holmgren’s more savvy moves as general manager, the series of very un-savvy moves that have the Flyers far from the elite of the NHL have reared their ugly head. Between their putrid team defense, slow back line, and continued trend of taking too many penalties the Flyers now find themselves clinging to the final playoff slot in the Eastern Conference. Making matters worse is their upcoming schedule, which includes the likes of: Boston, Detroit, San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Colorado before the relief of the Olympic Break in early February. The team is able to provide momentary excitement and there is still young talent to keep tabs on, but I’ve said it before, anyone who’s remotely familiar with hockey can see this team is nowhere close to contending for a Stanley Cup this season.
The Eagles brass just finished up a week evaluating what is being considered one of the least-talented Senior Bowl rosters in recent history. There are some intriguing talents in Mobile for the annual all-star game, but very little ‘sizzle’ as far as prospects to get excited for. Fortunately, a record-number of underclassmen entering the 2014 Draft more than makes up for the lack of starpower in Alabama. While the focus of the NFL world is on next Sunday’s potentially snowy Super Bowl, there are a handful of talking heads around the league already shifting into ‘Mock Draft’ mode. With the emergence of social media and the rise of the NFL to the top of the sports entertainment world, one can follow their team’s progression 365 days a year. As a team looking to be on the rise, the Eagles are among more of the intriguing squads who hope to find themselves in the position of the Seahawks or Broncos sooner than later.
This week, we start with the 76ers though. It’s astounding how a few moves in personnel and upper management can change the energy surrounding an NBA team. Forever, it seemed, the Sixers were unwatchable. Not necessarily because they couldn’t win games or make the playoffs; but more because, like so many other teams in the NBA, they had zero chance of contending for a title. In a sports town notorious for angry fans, it was impossible to get angry about the 76ers. Instead, a numbness swept over the once-passionate following as first round playoff exits, unspectacular free agent signings, and meaningless lottery picks piled up. Finally, after the disastrous 2012-2013 season concluded, the organization decided to start taking things a bit more seriously. Starting with the hire of Sam Hinkie, whose draft night blitzkrieg shook the foundation of the franchise, the 76ers set themselves up for an effective rebuild. With a promising young point guard, an intriguing big guy with an entire season to build up his game, a proverbial ‘golden ticket’ in the form of an extra 2014 1st round draft pick, and a whole bunch of cap room the team looked like they actually knew what they were doing. Still, the most important hire took the longest to make. After Doug Collins’ unceremonious exit, the 76ers had to bring in a coach with the knowledge, tenacity, and teaching ability to carry a roster through the growing pains of learning to win. After an arduous interview process with several candidates, the 76ers plucked an assistant from under the wing of arguably the best coach of this generation. Brett Brown, a former Spurs assistant, would be the man in charge of teaching a team to compete and win in today’s NBA. From his first press conference, the New England native has captivated fans and analysts with his endless knowledge and straight-forward approach to his team and the state of the NBA. Even while Chip Kelly has achieved more success in terms of wins and losses, Brown is right there with the Eagles coach as far as admiration within the city. This week’s Four-for-Four starts with the 76ers, and what is looking like their perfect pick for head coach.