It’s been a long time since the prospects of Philadelphia's four major pro franchises looked so good.
You might not know it by the level of public dissatisfaction surrounding them.
Here’s a suggestion: Savor the success.
Why not embrace hope? Sure, each team faces challenges, and that includes the Eagles.
So the Phillies don’t have a closer, the Flyers don’t have a goalie or centerman depth, and the Sixers don’t have a point guard who can shoot.
Appreciate the prosperity.
As we enter what appears to be a Golden Era of Philly sports, it just seems as if many Philadelphians have, at this moment, selected measured misery over civic pride. Every significant sports franchise either sits on top of its league or has a decent chance to do so within a year or two. A year ago, that comment would have been preposterous.
Yes, the Flyers got bounced in the first round and they were overmatched. By rights, they never should have been there. Yes, the Sixers quickly lost in the second round, but they shouldn’t have sniffed the second round for another year or two. So Hector Neris blew a couple of saves. He’s Hector bleeping Neris.
The Eagles are Super Bowl champions for the first time in 52 tries. Villanova, playing a pure brand of basketball, rules the college game for the second time in three years, and is well-situated to make a run at a third. And yet there remains a level of frustration that feels outsized; perhaps even contrived.
Maybe this feeling is misplaced. Perhaps this analysis is off-target. Maybe that’s because the two winter franchises just held end-of-season news conferences that felt like funerals. Maybe it’s because, on Friday, Neris blew his second save in four opportunities for a team that is six games over .500, and he got booed as if he’s a future Hall of Famer stealing money. There’s a reason why Neris, at age 28, will make only $582,500 this season.
Sadly, it seems as if we’ve been so conditioned to accept nothing but the summit that we refuse to enjoy the climb.
The Phillies haven’t shown long-term promise like this in May since 2012 (2016 was always a mirage). Neither have the Flyers. It’s been 17 years since the Sixers had this sort of chance to win it all.
But the conversation seems to focus on whether the Phillies can add a big bat, and whether the Flyers can wait for their talented youth to flower before their veterans wither, and whether the Sixers can sign LeBron. All three teams might, in fact, become contenders without unspecified, lavish improvements that could cripple them long-term. You know, as the Eagles did.
Outpacing expectations: There seems to be little attention paid to what the teams and their players already have done, and might yet still do, independent of enhancements. Every team is outpacing expectations from a year ago.
The Eagles had lost seven of their last 10 games and no one knew whether they had the right coach, general manager or, frankly, whether they had the right quarterback. Now we know: Doug Pederson is a genius, Howie Roseman and his lieutenants are magnificent, and Carson Wentz and Nick Foles both can win it all. Somehow, after 51 years with no Super Bowl-caliber quarterback, the Eagles now have two.
The Flyers had missed the playoffs, Claude Giroux’s career was stalled, and the young players were almost completely unknown. Now the Flyers have made the playoffs, coach Dave Hakstol moved Giroux from center to wing and revitalized his career, Shayne Gostisbehere scored more points than any Flyers defenseman in 24 years and Ivan Provorov grew to be the team’s quiet leader. As the team rebuilds, it’s hard to find much fault with GM Ron Hextall and Hakstol. Nevertheless, locals will spend the summer doing just that.
The Phillies were 10 games under .500, Maikel Franco was hitting .208 and Aaron Nola was hurt (again). Now, Rhys Hoskins runs the show, Nola is an ace, and nobody minds how far Odubel Herrera flips his bat, as long as he’s flipping it often. You might mock Matt Klentak as he builds the team through analytics and sports science, and you might frown upon rookie manager Gabe Kapler’s hyper-shifts, but if the Phillies reach the postseason you’ll be bathing in coconut oil.
The 76ers: And finally — and most intriguingly — there are the Sixers. No one knew whether Joel Embiid could last a full season or whether Ben Simmons was worth the hype. No one knew whether Bryan Colangelo could build a real NBA team, and no one knew, after four seasons of piloting Tank-a-Palooza, whether Brett Brown could coach one.
Now we know that Embiid not only can last, he can dominate. Simmons was better than the hype. Colangelo added JJ Redick, Amir Johnson, Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli, and by March Brown had them so synchronized, that they won 20 of 21 games before they reached the Eastern Conference semifinals. They won those games with Embiid hurt for Games 9 through 18, which included the first two playoff games against the Heat. They won them while incorporating rookie Markelle Fultz, the No. 1 overall pick, who missed 68 games with a shoulder injury — then played in the last 10 games of the season and posted a triple-double in the regular-season finale.
Sure, Embiid needs to get into better shape, Simmons needs a jumper, Brown needs to adjust faster, Colangelo needs to be in the LeBron Sweepstakes and Fultz maybe needs a shrink.
Getting better: No team is perfect. Philly’s teams all got better, and they did so before your eyes.
The Sixers lost nine out of 10 games in one stretch in December and they still improved by 24 games. The Flyers lost 10 in a row early in their season and they still finished 10 points better than last season.
The Phillies have won seven of 10 games and stand at 23 win after a win Sunday against the Mets. Sunday was May 13. It took them until June 22 to win their 23rd game last year.
The city has two current champions. The other three major pro teams are all trending up more sharply than anyone dreamed. There is no evidence that any of them will regress.
Why not enjoy it?