The Sixers have learned a great deal about themselves in their exciting run through two rounds of the playoffs, but now comes the real test. Can they grow from the soon-to-be-completed season and take the next big steps leading to a championship?
I know, I know. It's not over. A team that has defied logic so many times might do it one more time and jolt the Celtics in Game 6. But reality can't be denied forever. The Celtics are better in so many ways, failure is inevitable. The current playoff series may be an exercise in futility, but it has revealed a great deal about the team and its future. For example:
Philadelphia can still be a terrific basketball city.
Did anyone think it was possible to sell out the arena and bring back the electric atmosphere of a decade ago? No, not one person, and that includes the eternal optimist, Adam Aron. The new CEO said on my WIP radio show that he expected it to take "three or four years" to create what the Sixers had in Game 4.
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When Andre Iguodala launched the improbable three-pointer that sealed the comeback win -- from 18 points behind -- the explosion rivaled the greatest in recent Philadelphia sports history. Basketball is back, at least until the Sixers give us a reason for it not to be.
Andre Iguodala has major value.
The most amazing part of the Sixers' revival has been Iguodala's clutch play. Not only did he single-handedly win Game 6 against Chicago with his heroic end-to-end dash, but he also stepped up in the final big moments of Game 4 against Boston. After eight seasons of frustration, Iguodala has matured.
And that's why he should leave. He will never be appreciated here, but a contender will look at his undeniable defensive skills and new-found endgame, and they will be eager to absorb his big contract and send along some good young talent. There will never be a better time to unload Iguodala.
The owners are capable, and they care.
The blasé Ed Snider/Comcast era is mercifully over, replaced by a consortium of New York investors who are committed to winning. This is the most encouraging of all developments in 2011-12 because it bodes well for the immediate future. The new guys are smart, accessible and are determined to be as successful in basketball as they have been as businessmen.
Are they bold enough to make sweeping changes after such a successful debut? Will they break up the chemistry-free Jrue Holiday-Evan Turner backcourt? Do they understand the need to build a real champion, and not to waste time by basking in a one-year playoff phenomenon?
Hey, at least questions like these are finally worth asking again. After a decade of decline, there is hope. Real, honest-to-goodness hope. Hallelujah.
Carlos Ruiz is among the best defensive catchers in the game. He is having a career year at the plate. And he is invisible. What does a sports hero have to do to get noticed around here?
With the booming bats of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard out indefinitely, the quietest Phillie has answered the distress signal. Not only has Ruiz moved into the big RBI spot in the lineup, he leads the team in average and is among the top producers in home runs and RBIs.
Want to hear a funny story about Ruiz? Good luck. He has been playing here for seven years, and there are none. From the 2008 championship team, we have lady-killer Pat Burrell, Hollywood Cole Hamels and Mr. Cool, Jimmy Rollins. All Ruiz has done is get the big hits, make the big plays and win the big games. Let's not forget that Ruiz won Game 3 of the 2008 World Series with a clutch hit in the ninth inning. The Phils never lost again.
Ruiz is the embodiment of quiet efficiency, and that's why fans just nod and appreciate him. A spectacular teammate, a spectacular leader, a spectacular contributor to a thrilling era.
How this puzzling season will end is anybody's guess, but there's one thing you can rely on. No one will be more important to their success.
New sheriff in town
Something very strange is happening behind the scenes at the Eagles. The public face of management is no longer president Joe Banner. Now his protégé, the more affable and upbeat Howie Roseman, deals with public responsibilities.
Meanwhile, coach Andy Reid has re-claimed his seat at the negotiating table, nudging Banner aside. These developments lead to an obvious question: What has happened to Joe Banner?
According to Drew Rosenhuis, Reid's presence during the talks on a five-year extension for LeSean McCoy was the key. Extensions for Todd Herremans, Trent Cole and DeSean Jackson all have Reid's fingerprints smeared on the contracts. Clearly, owner Jeff Lurie is giving Reid the power to determine his own fate.
Roseman, who smiles more than a Miss America contestant, is an even more intruiging proxy for Banner. He has absolutely no track record for success, and yet he is the new voice of the front office. Is he an upgrade over Banner as spokesman? Oscar the Grouch would be an upgrade over Banner.
But where does this leave Banner, who is most responsible for the team's reputation as one of the best-run franchises in sports and the person who made Lurie a billionaire? The best guess is that Banner is still there, pushing his agenda with less noise, but no less force.
What has happened to Banner? He's in there somewhere. Any executive who makes his boss a billionaire never really fades away.
- Angelo Cataldi is the host of 94 WIP's Morning Show, which airs weekdays 5:30 to 10 a.m.
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