So 2020 is about to end, and as Amity chief of police Martin Brody said upon learning that The Orca was heading into shallow water, thank Christ.
That the year was lousy, from start to finish, is a truth that everyone holds, or should hold, to be self-evident. Let’s dispense, then, with reviewing what happened in 2020 and get to what might happen in 2021 — with respect to the sports scene around here, that is.
A few thoughts …
Lurie’s pattern and Pederson’s future
There’s a difference, of course, between what an NFL franchise should do and what an NFL franchise will do, and that difference is why making any guesses or projections about Doug Pederson’s status and future as the Eagles’ head coach is so difficult.
Since delivering a soliloquy on the pandemic and social justice back in August, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has not spoken publicly about the team. There has been reporting, from solid and reliable sources, that Lurie has displayed more dismay at the Eagles’ ugly and underwhelming season than he has in ugly and underwhelming seasons past. But any speculation about what changes he might or might not make has, so far, been just that: speculation, based on how he has handled similar situations.
The question, really, is whether Lurie will act as he has previously or will break from the pattern of his past — and there is a pattern. Whenever the Eagles’ quarterback situation has been thrown into upheaval, the coaches who work for Lurie tend to have short leashes. They get about three years or so. Andy Reid was the exception. He got 10½ years with Donovan McNabb as his starter, because there was no genuine challenger to McNabb and no genuine confusion about who the starter was or should be. Once the Eagles traded McNabb, Lurie fired Reid after three years of Michael Vick, Kevin Kolb, and general unsettledness at the position. Then Lurie fired Chip Kelly after less than three years of Vick, Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, and Sam Bradford.
Lurie and the Eagles thought they had stabilized everything by drafting Carson Wentz and signing him to a contract extension last year. But that extension might turn out to be the heaviest albatross in the NFL if the Eagles can’t or won’t trade Wentz and if Lurie has determined that he needs to change head coaches to salvage his investment. Remember: Pederson had 12 games this season to get Wentz right, and he couldn’t, and no one knows if Lurie has just started the clock on Wentz’s rehabilitation or if, in his mind, it has already expired.
But remember this, too: In 2016, Lurie praised Pederson’s “emotional intelligence” and cited it as a primary reason that he hired him. Pederson has met the burden of that billing, and it is a quality that isn’t easy to find, and not every play-calling guru who happens to be the trendy coaching candidate of the moment possesses it. Me, I’d keep Pederson and Wentz, and I’d aim higher, at Howie Roseman and the player-personnel department, for the major changes that the Eagles need. But I don’t write the checks.
What’s the bigger fear, Ben or The Beard?
Before Game 6 of the 2019 Eastern Conference semifinals, I asked Ben Simmons’ father, Dave, about his son’s reluctance to shoot the basketball.
“Offensively, that will come with experience,” Dave Simmons said. “When you get a chance to do those things, you learn. You get better at them. Hopefully, he’ll be given more opportunities in his career to do those, and I’m sure he’ll just take off. It’s all about experience.”
That quote is 19 months old, and for an indication of how the expansion of Ben’s offensive game is going, even his newest teammates are still encouraging him to take more shots. Does that mean Simmons isn’t a marvelous defensive player and terrific passer? No. But it does mean that it’s fair to wonder whether he’ll ever add that necessary component to his otherwise-excellent array of skills, and if the Sixers have to make him the centerpiece of a trade to acquire James Harden, it would be understandable if they did.
Just bear in mind: If such a trade were to happen, the Sixers would go from a team with a player who refused to make himself the focal point of their offense to a team with a player who would pretty much have to be the focal point of their offense. That’s as stark and significant a change as any NBA team could make, and as great as Harden is, his iso/dribble around/re-iso style of play would test Joel Embiid’s patience and ego as much and as quickly as it did Chris Paul’s and Russell Westbrook’s. The Sixers can go get Harden, but it had better be worth it, and it had better be worth it fast.
Two random predictions/assertions for 2021
Over his last 23 games for the Phillies, since ditching the throw-fastballs-at-the-letters mandate he got from Gabe Kapler and Chris Young and returning to his sinker-heavy approach, Zach Eflin has a 7-4 record, a 3.23 earned-run average, and 107 strikeouts in 109⅔ innings. He’s not yet 27. He can be more than just a No. 3 starter for the Phillies. And will be.
Despite the presences of Alain Vigneault, Carter Hart, and Ivan Provorov, any suggestion that the Flyers can or will win the Stanley Cup this season has to presume that they will find or add a high-scoring forward. Perhaps Joel Farabee or, in a couple of longer shots, Oskar Lindblom or Nolan Patrick develops into that player. More likely, general manager Chuck Fletcher will have to acquire one.