It’s an existential conversation: if you had a time machine, would you go back in time or forward into the future?
How many people hear the words “time machine” and think of all the ruthless 1930s dictators they could go back to assassinate, or all the sporting events they could wager on having already witnessed the outcomes?
Some people don’t even want to fix the past; rather, they just want to be part of something memorable — to travel back in time not to change history, but to witness it.
That makes more sense. It’s unlikely a Flyers fan could travel to 1997 and do enough to impact the result of the Stanley Cup Final, but going back to buy a ticket to Game 6 in 1975 feels more plausible. Convincing Larry Brown to take Dirk Nowitzki or Paul Pierce over Larry Hughes seems impossible, but traveling into the future to see what this Process-based Sixers lineup turns into would be far more fulfilling, wouldn’t it?
And that’s where we go now; five years into the sports future of Philly’s five pro teams. We’ve come up with a potential best and worst-case scenario for each team, and — with the help of some local experts — attempt to come up with the most plausible future for each team.
So, Philly sports fans: Where do you want to be in five years? Let’s find out.
Pie-in-the Sky: It’s the summer of 2021 and the Eagles are beaming heading into training camp off their second Super Bowl victory in three seasons! It turns out, Doug Pederson was more than just Andy Reid’s protege, he was the offensive Belichick to Reid’s Parcells. Carson Wentz, now is entering his fifth season after making the Pro Bowl the last two years, is the highest rated quarterback in football. The Healthy Andrew Luck, he’s been tabbed by national media. The savior, he’s called in Philly.
Truthfully, it’s the defense that has led the Eagles to glory under Pederson. Fletcher Cox and Jordan Hicks have led a unit that has fans reliving the old Buddy Ryan days…only with a few more playoff wins. Howie Roseman has expertly worked the draft to set the Eagles up for another five year run, too. How do you spell dynasty? E-A-G-L-E-S.
The Sky is Falling: There was a reason Jeffrey Lurie fired Andy Reid after 14 seasons (and no championships) and while it was clearly a mistake to trade in the minivan for a racecar, at least things were interesting under Chip Kelly.
Doug Pederson brought the Eagles offense back to the minivan era. The uncertainty at quarterback hasn’t helped.
Fans were okay with Carson Wentz sitting the first year, but when he didn’t win the starting job out of camp in his sophomore season, the whole city started to worry, and with good reason. Five years in, he’s an okay quarterback, but he’s not the star the fans were promised when the Eagles traded up to get him at No. 2 of the ‘16 Draft. We should have known it then: stars don’t sit in the NFL, and the longer Wentz sat in Pederson’s system, the more obvious it was that he’d never be the franchise guy we had hoped.
From 2007 to 2015, the year before Wentz was drafted, 23 quarterbacks had been taken in the first round of the NFL Draft and just five started fewer than half the games in their rookie seasons. JaMarcus Russell. Brady Quinn. Tim Tebow. Jake Locker. Johnny Manziel. Adding Wentz to that list hurt, and five years later the Eagles are still feeling the pain.
The Five-Year Plan Expert Opinion: Jimmy Kempski – @jimmykempski – Philly Voice
The Eagles’ short term plan seems to be to that they will roll with Sam Bradford in 2016, before Bradford gives way to number two overall pick Carson Wentz in 2017. They probably won’t be very good in 2016 or 2017, as the current roster does not lack for significant holes and the maturation of Wentz should take some time.
Physically, Wentz has all the tools you want in a franchise quarterback — size, athleticism, plus arm strength, a quick release, and touch when necessary. Mentally, he’s equally impressive. He scored a 40 on the Wonderlic (a tremendous score), he had a 4.0 GPA at NDSU, and is thought to be a highly competitive player. If there are causes for concern, it would be his accuracy (a small concern there), as well as his experience (only 612 career pass attempts) and his level of competition in college.
This offseason, the Eagles signed a bunch of their own young players to lucrative, long term deals. They hope those players will be their core group around which they can build. But ultimately the Eagles will go as Wentz goes. If the kid can play, the Eagles can be contenders every year like they were in old Andy Reid days. If he stinks, it’ll set the franchise back, heads will roll, and they’ll start over again.
I believe Wentz is the real deal, and think the Eagles’ long term focused plan this offseason was the right course of action to get the team where it needs to be in 2018 and beyond.
Pie-in-the Sky: It sure feels fun not worrying about the NBA Draft Lottery.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver finally abolished the lottery after owners became fed up that the Celtics and Lakers just wouldn’t stop tanking, but the Sixers haven’t had a pick in the top 15 since Ben Simmons’ second year. Immediately Simmons became a star in Philly and, teamed with Joel Embiid down low, the Sixers reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 20 years in 2020.
Now that LeBron James has formally retired after winning his sixth title in his 11th-consecutive trip to the NBA Finals, the Sixers look like the team to beat in the East. Simmons has been the LeBron-in-waiting for five years and Embiid is Hakeem Olajuwon with a better jump shot.
The roster hasn’t been perfect during the Bryan Colangelo era, but smart moves have built the Sixers into a legit NBA contender now, and for years to come.
The Sky is Falling: Why, Bryan, Why?
It took half a decade to put together a competitive basketball team in Philly, but in two years, former GM Bryan Colangelo dismantled everything to chase the eighth spot in the playoffs, and little else.
The Sixers made the playoffs each of the last three seasons, but they haven’t gotten out of the first round, thanks in part to poor roster management and wildly overpaying for players who haven’t panned out. Harrison Barnes is a nice player, but he was never worth what the Sixers paid him. Bringing back Michael Carter-Williams on a max contract? Why?!?!
Colangelo traded Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor for pennies on the dollar and over the last five years they’ve responded by becoming the best low-post defender in the game and an NBA scoring champion, respectively. Those moves look especially misguided given what happened with Embiid. It’s — it’s too difficult to even talk about at this point. What potential…
The Five-Year Plan Expert Opinion: Derek Bodner – @DerekBodnerNBA – Philly Mag
Over the next 5 years the Sixers could realistically end up anywhere from title contenders to stuck in a perpetual rebuild, and neither outcome would be entirely surprising.
Betting on a team to make the jump from also-ran to title contender in the NBA is generally a losing proposition, as the odds are stacked against teams making that climb. The NBA is designed to keep great teams at the top and to make it tough for have-nots to make that jump into relevance. That’s why former general manager Sam Hinkie was as brazen in his rebuild as he was.
Still, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are high level talents that the team just hasn’t had in recent memory, and the sheer number of options to supplement them (the Lakers pick, the Kings pick swap, the Kings future unprotected first rounder) gives them so many cracks at getting it right that it’s much more likely to me that they’re at least relevant in 5 years than having failed completely.
Pie-in-the Sky: The Phillies won again last night, growing their lead in the NL East to six games, on pace to win 103 this season. Led by the electric arms of Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin and Ricardo Pinto, the Phillies have the best rotation in baseball, earning back-to-back Cy Young Awards (Nola and Velasquez) the last two years.
As good as the arms have been, it’s the bats that have the Phils this hot as the 2021 calendar turns to July. Maikel Franco has turned into the best corner infielder in the game and J.P. Crawford is fast becoming the National League’s best player at any position. The outfield of Nick Williams, Mickey Moniak and ageless wonder Peter Bourjos — hitting a league-best .364 in June — have the Phillies looking at a third-straight trip to the postseason, eying that elusive third World Series title.
The Sky is Falling: What do you do when the analytics don’t work?
The Phillies made all the right moves to rebuild the over-priced and under-performing roster of the post-World Series era, but none of the high profile prospects the Phillies brought up have performed to the level they were projected.
Crawford and Williams are solid players, but neither turned into the star the Phillies needed them to be. Maikel Franco has been a just-above-league-average third baseman, and for the money the Phillies paid him after buying out the last two years of his arbitration, that’s not good enough.
The real problem has been the pitching. Aaron Nola never developed into anything better than a third starter, and while Vince Velasquez is a stud, he’s in line for such a huge payday next season the Phillies have to consider trading him at the deadline. And that’s it. The Phillies haven’t brought up a viable arm in three years, thanks in part to all the injuries to top prospects. So many injuries.
Rebuilding is hard, especially when you’re relying on pitchers to stay healthy.
The Expert Opinion: Marshall Harris – @mharrisCSN – CSN Philly
It’s hard to say exactly where the Phillies will be in 5 years, but everything is looking up. They have a nice influx of young controlled pitching (See: Velasquez, Nola, Eickhoff, plus countless others in the minors). More importantly they have money to spend and a gentleman named John Middleton who is ready to spend between now and 2021.
The Phillies may not be having a parade down Broad Street, but there’s no reason to think they won’t be a playoff team on the brink. They’ll home-grow the pitchers and at some point make trades/FA signings to bulk up the offense. It’s a nice, measured approach that should pay dividends.
Pie-in-the Sky: The Flyers did it! After 45 years without a title, the Flyers and their core of young stars finally won the Stanley Cup. Ron Hextall built a team of young talent that has consistently been one of the best teams in the league for the last five years, with little end to that success in sight.
Claude Giroux has been the Flyers captain for the better part of a decade, and his leadership has proven irreplaceable for a team that has been to three Stanley Cup Finals in the last five years, finally winning one this past season. And as the Flyers officially move on from the Giroux era, the 34-year old Philly legend leaves the team in great hands, led by the young stars he brought along — Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Sean Couturier, Samuel Morin and German Rubtsov — for a bright future ahead.
The Sky is Falling: If you could build a time machine, where would you go? Would you go back to 1975 to see the last time the Flyers won the Stanley Cup? The Flyers have lost ten — TEN — Stanley Cup Finals since their last win. Sure, at least they’re competitive, as the young roster the team put together has kept them in the hunt the last five years. But Claude Giroux has consistently disappeared in the playoffs and nobody has been able to step up and fill that void when it matters.
It can’t help to see Pittsburgh win yet another Cup; the fourth of the Sidney Crosby era.
The Expert Opinion: Kurt R. – @BroadStHockey – Broad Street Hockey
Right now the Flyers look like they’ll be pretty well set five years from now. The defense, led by Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov, should be one of the league’s better and more exciting units, all while still being fairly young, and odds are that either Steve Mason is still the man in net, or one of the team’s several young goaltending prospects will have taken the reins.
The big question at this point may be up front. Namely, how do Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds fare as they cross into their 30s, and how many of the team’s numerous forward prospects drafted since Hextall came in turn into quality answers? If the answers to those questions are good ones, this team’s year-2021 projection is “team that should find itself right in the middle of a window of legitimate Cup contention.” If they’re not? It may be “pretty good team that still will probably need some breaks to win a Cup.”
There’s some uncertainty, but in any case, it seems like the long-term floor here is pretty high.
Pie-in-the Sky: Earnie Stewart was the best thing that’s ever happened to soccer in Philadelphia. The newly-installed U.S. Soccer technical director worked magic in his four years in Philadelphia, transforming a mediocre roster of of cheap talent slapped together by his predecessors and turning them into MLS Cup champions.
The Union have never had the best talent in the league, but within a playoff system where anything can happen, the club proved that balance and smart play on the field can lead to success. Three-time MLS Coach of the Year Jim Curtin has been linked to several jobs in Europe, as well as a name on the short list for the U.S. men’s national team job, but he has said he is happy in Philadelphia and hopes to take the Union from the best team in MLS to a destination for top players from around the world.
The Sky is Falling: And people said they wanted pro-rel. Sure, a promotion and relegation system put American soccer in line with other countries around the world, but when it happens to your team, the decision is hard to swallow.
The Union fell back in the standings after Earnie Stewart left to run Premier League stalwarts Bournemouth, and the club hit a low point in 2019 when they were one of three teams relegated, along with LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders.
With no TV contract for the Minor League Soccer (MiSL) slate, Philly soccer fans have, themselves, been relegated to watching a team no better than the pick-up games in Pennypack Park.
The Expert Opinion: Jonathan Tannenwald – @thegoalkeeper – Philly.com
It’s hard to know where MLS as a whole or any of its teams will be in five years given how quickly the league has grown. But I think it’s safe to say that everyone should expect to see players (multiple) on the first team who came through the high school academy structure.
The best case scenario is that MLS remains a competition where teams can win with smarts, not just by spending lots of money as happens in most European leagues.
The worst case scenario is that the big clubs like the Sounders, Galaxy, TFC, New York et al., combined with forthcoming expansion teams with deep pockets in Atlanta, Los Angeles and possibly Miami, just blow the Union and all the other teams that can’t match those resources out of the water.
There’s our best case, worst case and expert scenarios. Will any Philly team have a parade in the next five years? The chances are higher than the last five, that’s for sure.