For title-starved cities like Philadelphia, there is nothing like the excitement that each sport’s respective draft brings. An injection of youth and potential allows fans to suspend belief and look ahead to the future while the current rosters try to figure out how to capture a championship. Though the NFL and NBA draft provide a bit more fanfare and hype, that does not diminish the importance of drafting well and developing young talent in hockey and baseball. Though each of the four professional teams in the city are at different stages as far as preparing for their respective drafts, the importance of youth and development is always squarely under the spotlight no matter what time of year it is.
The Phillies are guilty of years of undervaluing the draft and their young talent in an attempt to go after ‘one more’ World Series title. Now, with their core group aging and seeing their skills deteriorate, the Phillies organization must go through the tedious process of turning over a roster while maintaining the fans’ interest level. Though there has been little to look forward to over the last two difficult seasons, some of the franchise’s promising players are finally starting to peek through and make a little noise. Make no mistake, this is still a franchise that will need to depend on a handful of 30-somethings if they expect to contend in 2014. That said, if some of the team’s budding talents can continue to make an impact on every level of the organization, the doom-and-gloom that seems to be hanging over Citizen’s Bank Park may be but a temporary situation.
The Eagles have done everything but come out and say, ‘We’re not going to spend big money on free agents because we feel we can draft and construct a team in a more effective manner.’ There were fans and analysts alike who were frustrated by the organization’s economical approach to free agency, bypassing some of the titanic contracts handed out to the likes of players like Jairus Byrd and DeMarcus Ware. Instead, Philadelphia opted to tie up some of their own home-grown talent with long-term deals, flesh out their current roster with reasonable free agent contracts, and gear up for a draft that is said to be as deep in talent as any in the 21st century. Especially in the past week, rumblings about the level of activity expected from the Eagles as the draft draws near has ramped up in a big way. With DeSean Jackson now a member of the Redskins, the debate as to whether the Eagles should address offense or defense with their first pick might as well be a coin-flip.
The Flyers, much like the Phillies, are an organization that is known for a lack of patience when it comes to both developing and hanging on to their draft picks. For a team that is perpetually in ‘win-now’ mode, upper management seems to have always opted for using picks and prospects to acquire established, albeit aging talent. The last few seasons, for whatever reason, has seen a relative departure from that methodology. Despite rampant rumors over the past few seasons, the Flyers have held on to their young players and are starting to see the dividends of their patience. Much of the team’s current core is in their early to mid-20s and there is talent on the levels below the NHL that is a significant upgrade talent-wise to where it was even three years ago. One of their most promising prospects will be playing on his future home-ice in the NCAA National Championship game and, in the same building a few months from now, the Flyers will host the NHL Draft. For a team that has already clinched a playoff berth, it might seem trivial to be focusing on the future. That being said, some of these young players might not give us much of a chance to watch them develop, as they are progressing at a stellar rate.
Then, there are the 76ers. The team who will book-end a potential franchise overhaul with back-to-back drafts has had to trudge through a regular season that saw them threaten the most undesirable record in the NBA. Yet, after all the losses and all of the preaching of patience and following the process, it is almost time for the Sixers front office to enter one of the most important offseasons in the franchise’s history. The second the final horn sounds on Wednesday night against the Heat, the focus will shift to the May 20th lottery and what the fates have in store for a franchise that has essentially come out and said that their plan is contingent on drafting a star-caliber player this summer. Almost every potential selection has declared for the draft, save for Duke’s Jabari Parker who is expected to announce in the coming days. Consensus is that the 76ers fancy Canadian product Andrew Wiggins to build their 2014 offseason around. Regardless of how the ping-pong balls fall, the Sixers will be in position to inject some very strong young talent to a roster in desperate need of it. From there, the clock will start ticking for a team that has kept a fanbase patient with promise of a brighter future.