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It was impossible not to notice Major League Baseball’s salacious lovefest for Derek Jeter at last night’s All Star Game in Minneapolis.From start to finish, the game was less about the superstars compiling both rosters and more about Jeter’s spectacular 18-year career.

That’s all well and good. But, what was easy to miss was the league’s celebration of two baseball legends who passed on this year, Tony Gwynn and Don Zimmer. That’s because the league and the game’s television network, FOX, completely and utterly dropped the ball, failing to recognize these goliaths of greatness at all during the four hour festivity.

Gwynn, who died from cancer at the age of 44 last month, attended 15 Midsummer Classics as a player, one more than Jeter. Recognized as one of the most feared hitters of all time, this gentle giant boasted a career .338 batting average and won eight batting titles. Elected into the Hall-of-Fame in 2007, Gwynn’s celebration was conspicuously absent from the evening. Was it because Gwynn played his entire career in San Diego, a much smaller media market than Jeter’s? Perhaps. Or, was it just further evidence that MLB has no idea what they’re doing when it comes to marketing their product to the masses?

Zimmer is perhaps best known to a younger generation of fans as Pedro Martinez’s punching bag. But, this legendary coach, who brought his contagious personality to 10 different clubhouses as a coach, was an All Star in his own right, attending the annual event as a Cub in 1961. The former Red Sox and Yankees coach passed away last month, as well. The failure of MLB to provide any sort of acknowledgement for Zimmer or Gwynn was inexcusable. zimmer

Was the nonstop infatuation with Jeter over-the-top? Yes, it was. But, it was most definitely deserved. The 40-year old shortstop has spent his entire career emitting class in a world devoid of it. However, the league’s failure to recognize its fallen heroes raises the question as to whether or not we put too much stock in media markets and money.

The last two seasons, we’ve seen Yankee legends ride off into the sunset with one last farewell tour. For Jeter and Mariano Rivera, MLB pulled out all the stops. But, what about for the last non-Yankee Hall-of-Famer to celebrate a season long finale? In 2012, Atlanta Braves 3B Chipper Jones was named to the NL All Star roster as a replacement for the injured Matt Kemp. Did Kansas City (the host of that year’s event) or the league celebrate for Jones the same way they have for Rivera and Jeter? No. Instead, Jones got a minor round of applause and a few gifts from the masses in attendance.

What MLB did for Jeter last night was appropriate. As one of the best of all time, the Yankees’ legend deserved one final hurrah. But, what wasn’t acceptable was the league’s failure to recognize the crowning achievements of those who have fallen. For Gwynn and Zimmer, there will be no more magical moments. For their loved ones, the league had a chance to immortalize their achievements one final time. Like they did with the 1994 player strike, the 1990s steroid saga, and the 2002 All Star Game, MLB once again dropped the ball.

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies

As the All-Star Game approaches, the Philadelphia Phillies’ season inches closer to its tipping point. Gone are the days when Ruben Amaro Jr. was the most active buyer on the market. Instead, the 37-51 Phillies and their GM need to prepare for D-Day. That moment will come on July 31st, when the MLB non-waiver trade deadline expires.

It’s unlikely that the Phillies will part ways with either Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels. The former because of arm trouble that has crippled his value. The latter due in large part to his gargantuan contract, as well as his role as one of the few home grown aces in team history. But, Philadelphia still has plenty of bargaining chips, and they’ll have to utilize them wisely if they hope to avoid the same mistakes that have set them down this path.

Remember Hunter Pence? The former Philadelphia right fielder is heading to another Midsummer Classic this month. He’s also a prime example of how not to operate at the trade deadline. Pence was acquired in July, 2011 in exchange for a collection of celebrated prospects, including RHP Jarred Cosart, 1B Jonathan Singleton, and OF Domingo Santana. All three of those youngsters are currently contributing on a surprisingly successful Houston Astros ballclub. A year after Pence arrived in the City of Brotherly Love, he was unceremoniously shipped to San Francisco for pennies on the dollar.

For a player that has won a World Series and been to an All-Star Game in orange-and-black, Amaro landed nothing of substance. Nate Schierholtz lasted all of two months with the club before being released. He’s now one of the best hitters on a mediocre Chicago Cubs team. Meanwhile, the two prospects that Amaro acquired from the Giants, Tommy Joseph and Seth Rosin, have yet to find success above the AA-level.

For Amaro to avoid another catastrophic fire sale, he’ll need to determine what the team’s philosophy is. Should they be willing to deal their veterans for measly returns so long as it means one less catastrophic contract on the books? This is the method that they took with Pence. Or, should Amaro hold off and wait for the perfect deal, even if it means paying a portion of the future contracts due to players like Jonathan Papelbon and Jimmy Rollins?

From this pundits’ perspective, here are the most likely Phillies to be dealt by the end of this month:

1. RHP Jonathan Papelbon

For a guy who everyone thought was done, “Paps” sure has done well for himself in 2014. The All-Star caliber closer may have lost a few MPH on his heater. But, that doesn’t mean that he can’t still provide top-notch relief at the back end of a bullpen. Having allowed just 1 ER in his last 10 appearances, Papelbon is hot at the right time. His contract ($13 million guaranteed for 2015 with a vesting option at the same price for 2016) might give some contenders pause. But, a team in need of a playoff proven closer should be willing to give the Phillies something of value, especially if Philadelphia eats a chunk of that salary. RHP Kenneth Giles’ emergence also gives the Phillies a young replacement in the likely event that Papelbon is no longer in red pinstripes come August.

2. RHP AJ Burnett

One of Amaro’s prime free agent acquisitions from last winter, Burnett has pitched just about as one would expect the veteran to. At 5-8, 3.92, his classic numbers aren’t beautiful. But, a lack of run support and a brutal bullpen early in April hurt the 37-year old righthander. Burnett has a modified no trade clause, so he’d be able to at least partially dictate where he ended up. But, a playoff proven, power pitcher who can go 7 innings nearly every start is something that contending teams would love to have. Add to that the fact that Burnett is unlikely to cost what an ace like David Price will, and Amaro should have teams lining up for a guy who still has some gas left in the tank.

3. OF Marlon Byrd

Another one of Amaro’s offseason signings, Byrd has had a mostly up-and-down campaign. But, on the surface, his power numbers are intriguing enough that if Philadelphia wanted to get out of the second guaranteed year of his contract, they probably could. It’s unlikely that the Phillies would get much short of salary relief for unloading the veteran. But, his .266-18-52 line coupled with an impressive .814 OPS (.982 vs. LHP) should make him an enticing acquisition for a contending team searching for a right handed power bat.

4. SS Jimmy Rollins

The franchise’s all-time hits leader is very unlikely to be dealt. But, he still makes this list for a couple of reasons. First, there’s a dearth of solid two-way shortstops in the National League right now. Outside of Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki, the NL is a barren wasteland of offensive talent at that position. While Rollins is far from the player that he was from 2005-2009, he still brings Gold Glove quality handiwork to the diamond and a professional approach to the dish. Rollins was apprehensive when asked if he’d waive his 10 and 5 no-trade provision prior to breaking the team’s hits record. But, when asked again after that achievement, the 35-year old appeared much more willing to oblige. His name and reputation would also help sell tickets at his new destination.

5. OF John Mayberry Jr.

I suppose that if the Phillies were ever going to get anything for Mayberry, they already would have. Amaro has had this veteran outfielder on the market for the better part of two years now, with nobody dumb enough to take a nibble on the bait. Let’s face it, Mayberry will never be more than a fourth outfielder at best (and more fittingly a AAAA depth outfielder). He’s no longer young (30-years old) and has never hit for average (career .242 hitter). Even worse, Mayberry is enduring one of the worst slumps of his career right now, as the former Texas Rangers prospect is 3 for his last 24. I could see the Phillies just cutting bait on this guy, but for what?

Don’t count on seeing Ben Revere or Domonic Brown dealt. The latter is at the valley of his value, and trading him now would be a new low for Amaro when it comes to timely decisions. Revere, meanwhile, is still relatively young and playing at an above-average level. Unless the Phillies can get something of significant value for him, I see Big Ben staying put for now. Pitchers like Kyle Kendrick and Antonio Bastardo are also possible candidates to be traded. But, the return on either would be so miniscule, that even mentioning them here seems like a waste of time.

Regardless, a lot is about to change at Citizens Bank Park. A month from now, many of the familiar faces that we grew up cheering for will be playing in other venues. For Ruben Amaro, the semester is almost over and the final exams are fast approaching. It’s time for the Phillies’ GM to prove that he’s the man for the job. If he doesn’t, then it might not be his job to perform for much longer.

Every year, NHL General Managers open their boss’ checkbooks on July 1st only to be let down by their investments months richardslater. In 2013, the Toronto Maple Leafs made the colossal mistake of spending $5.25 million per season for 7-years on grinding forward Dave Clarkson. The former New Jersey Devil rewarded them with a putrid 11 points in 60 games. The Philadelphia Flyers were also victims of a similar crime, spending $4.5 million for 5-years on Vincent Lecavalier. The veteran did tally 20 goals in his first season in orange-and-black. But, injuries, inconsistency, and a lack of fit in Craig Berube’s system will likely doom Paul Holmgren’s final major contract with the club.

But, some of today’s deals made Lecavalier’s look like chump change. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. If this is true, then commissioner Gary Bettman is running an asylum. Below is a list of the top-5 best and bottom-5 worst deals from the opening hours of NHL free agency. All salaries listed are per-year:

The Best

1. Chicago Blackhawks sign C Brad Richards (1 year, $2 million)

Richards is no longer the player that he once was. Nor is he the player that the Rangers believed him to be when they signed him to a 9-year, $60 million contract three years ago. But, the 34-year old is still a productive, top-six center. After being bought out by New York following their Stanley Cup defeat, Richards moved swiftly to sign a team friendly, short-term deal with the Blackhawks. Chicago will likely place Richards on their second line. He’ll instantly add leadership and playmaking ability at a bargain price for a team that was already a contender for the 2014 Stanley Cup.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins sign D Christian Ehrhoff (1 year, $4 million)

Another buyout victim, Ehrhoff was sent packing by the Buffalo Sabres last month after three-years of relatively average play under a 10-year, $40 million deal signed during the same frenzy as Richards’ mammoth contract. The 31-year old is still a millerproductive offensive-defenseman, scoring 6 goals and adding 27 assists for the worst team in hockey a year ago. Pittsburgh needed to find a replacement for the departing Matt Niskanen (more on him later), and they did so without sacrificing future cap space.

3. Vancouver Canucks sign G Ryan Miller (3 years, $6 million)

No, Ryan Miller didn’t boost his stock with a porous performance in St. Louis last spring. But, the former Olympic goalie is still among the top-ten netminders in the NHL. After their brutal debacle a year ago, in which the Canucks traded both Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo, Vancouver needed to find a franchise goalie in the worst of ways. Enter Miller, who still has a few good years left. The difference between Miller and Luongo at this point is minute. But, the disparity in their contracts is large. For a team that many believed to be heading for a dark ages of sorts, the Canucks had a very solid opening day of free agency.

4. New York Rangers sign D Dan Boyle (2 years, $4.5 million)

No one will confuse this iteration of Dan Boyle with the one that was an All-Star for a decade with Tampa Bay and San Jose. But, the Rangers should enjoy a phenomenal power play quarterback and leader in the locker room. The 2004 Stanley Cup champion can still put up points from the blue line, even if his speed and agility have taken a hit with age. At just 2-years and $4.5 million per season, New York could afford to risk signing the 37-year old.

5. Minnesota Wild sign F Thomas Vanek (3 years, $6.5 million)

One of the few impact forwards available on the open market, Vanek had his sights set on Minnesota since the season began. Despite stops in Long Island and Montreal, the 30-year old will best be remembered for his many years anchoring the Buffalo Sabres’ scoring line. Vanek can still score with the best of them, and he’ll make for the perfect compliment on the Wild’s first line across from Zach Parise. Getting him at just 3-years was a real coup for a Wild team that is a goalie away from being a true Stanley Cup contender.

The Worst

1. Washington Capitals sign D Matt Niskanen (7 years, $5.75 million)

Are you kidding me? I think we all knew that Niskanen would be overpaid this offseason. I also think we all now know who will be the first player bought out from this crop of free agent talent. Niskanen enjoyed a career year in Pittsburgh last season, tallying 10 goals and 46 points on an offensively loaded roster. New GM Brian MacLellan is picking up where his predecessor left off, providing fodder for the bloggers by giving out not one, but two (more on that in a moment) brutal contracts to veteran defensemen. Niskanen is only 27, so the length of the deal isn’t that atrocious. But, at $5.75 million per season, this deal promises to turn sour quicker than a Jay-Z concert at a CPAC convention.

2. Washington Capitals sign D Brooks Orpik (5 years, $5.5 million)

Washington had money coming into this offseason. They decided to spend it on two veteran blue liners whose best days are likely behind them. The 33-year old Orpik isn’t exactly a bad player. But, his numbers were quite pedestrian (2 goals, 11 assists) even for a defensive specialist on a loaded Penguins team. The financial terms are about right for today’s age. But, a 5-year deal for a 33-year old entering his 13th NHL season will likely ruin the Capitals in a few seasons. What else is new for one of the worst run franchises in the NHL?

3. Calgary Flames sign D Derek Engelland (3 years, $2.9 million)

Deryk+Engelland+Toronto+Maple+Leafs+v+Pittsburgh+b2pwzfq5vZjlWhat’s with these GM’s signing former Penguins defenders to absurd deals this afternoon? The Flames had tons of money, a product of not being competitive for over half-a-decade. But, signing a borderline 6th defenseman to a long term deal isn’t the right way to spend their riches. It would be one thing if Engelland brought anything to the table besides an ability to knock someone’s teeth out. But, this 32-year old middling blue liner just won the lottery, even if he’ll have to live in Calgary for the next few years to earn the payout.

4. Edmonton Oilers sign F Benoit Pouliot (5 years, $4 million)

It wasn’t too long ago that Pouliot was considered one of the league’s biggest draft busts. Now, he’ll soon be a massive free agent bust as well. Edmonton had a need for gritty forwards, as the majority of their top-9 is comprised of young, talented yet raw projects. Still, giving a player who tallied a mere 36 points in 80 games for New York a 5-year contract is the height of stupidity. I give it two years before Pouliot is right back on the market, a victim of Edmonton’s volatile buyout option in 2016.

5. Florida Panthers sign C Dave Bolland (5 years, $5.5 million)

Bolland is a nice player. The 2010 Stanley Cup champion will routinely tally 40+ points and play a solid, refined two-way game. But, that doesn’t mean he’s worth nearly $30 million on the open market. Florida’s made it a routine to sign former Blackhawks stars to bloated contracts since Dale Tallon left Chicago to become the Panthers’ GM. Whether or not this contract is as bad as it seems remains to be seen. But, it’s pretty darn clear that the Panthers spent this money merely because they had to, as hitting the salary cap floor is as difficult for some teams as staying under the ceiling is for contenders.

hartnellWhen Ron Hextall was named General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, it signaled a seismic shift in the franchise’s future mindset. Gone are the days of rampant overspending for aging veterans. Instead, Hextall has brought with him the mentality that built the Los Angeles Kings into a mini-dynasty. That is, a philosophy of building through the draft and locking up young talent so they can grow into stars with the team.

On Monday afternoon, that shift in philosophy saw its first victim. Scott Hartnell, a mainstay on the Main Line for seven seasons, was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets for former Flyer RJ Umberger and a 4th round draft choice. A charismatic fan-favorite, Hartnell had long been known for his charitable efforts, Sideshow Bob’esque hair style, and a painstaking reputation for bad penalties at the worst of times.

Through it all, the veteran winger had his ups-and-downs. His brutal 2009-10 campaign ushered in a career season two years later, when Hartnell combined with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr to lead the upstart Flyers into the second round of the playoffs. That season, the 32-year old scored a career high 37 goals, thanks in large part to the proficient playmaking skills of his valuable linemates. Still, Hartnell was always one to cater to the Philadelphia faithful. His hilarious, offbeat persona gave fans something to root for, even when the Flyers were struggling to contend in 2013.

But, friendly antics and fan favoritism can only take you so far, as Jeff Carter and Mike Richards learned three years ago. Hartnell’s contract, levied by former GM Paul Holmgren in 2012, will see him earn $4.75 million per season for the next five years. At 32, that doesn’t make him the least bit overpaid. At 37, it certainly could. It was a problem that Hextall had to deal with, especially with the likes of Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, and Jakub Voracek all set to earn raises over the next couple of years.

Hartnell’s less than clutch performances the last few postseasons didn’t help his cause. The man who was so integral to the team’s 2010 Eastern Conference championship had just one goal in his last 29 playoff games. That’s fewer than Dan Carcillo alone had in the Rangers’ opening round playoff victory over Philadelphia in April. With Giroux’s prime years on-the-horizon, Hextall knew that the Flyers had to find a more dynamic winger to put opposite Voracek on the team’s top scoring line. Hartnell’s defensive liabilities, coupled with his penchant for taking penalties, prohibited him from being adequately utilized in a bottom-six role. When Columbus came calling for the red-haired rocket’s services, Hextall had no choice but to listen.

In exchange, the Flyers returned one of their best young prospects from a decade ago in Umberger. The veteran winger was traded in 2008 to the Blue Jackets for a 1st round pick (Luca Sbisa). At that point, Umberger was still a center. He was also coming off of a spectacular postseason run in which the now 32-year old scored 10 goals in 17 games. With Richards, Carter, and Danny Briere already on the roster (and Giroux swiftly moving up the pipeline), Holmgren cut bait on Umberger. The Pittsburgh, PA native played six solid if unspectacular seasons in Ohio, becoming an alternate captain and scoring over 20-goals four times.

umbergerThe last two seasons have been difficult for Umberger, as the youth movement in Columbus took playing time away from the veteran. Still, despite playing on the third line for much of the season, Umberger managed to score 18-goals in 2013-14, just two less than Hartnell managed on the Flyers’ top scoring and powerplay units. It’s the veterans’ moxie, speed, and leadership that endeared him to Hextall, who sacrificed Hartnell to land a potential penalty killer and third line fixture over the next three seasons.

No, the Flyers didn’t save much immediate money on the deal, as Umberger’s $4.25 million contract is merely $500k less than Hartnell’s was per season. They do, however, get a better fit for their current roster, as well as future cap savings once Umberger’s dollars come off the books in 2017.

By dealing a fan favorite for a former Philadelphia phenom, Hextall was able to shift the future dichotomy of a franchise that is approaching 40-years without a drink from Lord Stanley’s Cup. The re-signing of Schenn followed on Monday. What the future holds in store, nobody knows. With the draft just two days away, there’s little doubt that the team’s new GM knows exactly what he’s doing as he tries to turn this crop of almost-weres into potential championship heroes.

New York Yankees v Cleveland IndiansSix years ago, Grady Sizemore was considered one of the best players in baseball. Hailed as a five-tool talent, the former Cleveland Indians’ star could do everything his manager asked of him on the diamond. But, a cavalcade of injuries have taken their toll. A player once believed to be the league’s next great superstar is now nothing more than another career tarnished by time.

Today, the Philadelphia Phillies agreed to a minor league contract with the 31-year old outfielder, who was released by the Boston Red Sox earlier this month. With Boston, Sizemore hit a paltry .216, with an even uglier .612 OPS. The power was gone, as a player who once rocked Cleveland with 33 bombs in 2008 managed just 2 while wearing Red Sox colors. Even worse, his patience, once considered to be among the most refined in the game, has disappeared. Sizemore struck out 41 times in 185 at bats with Boston (with just 19 walks). Those numbers should fit in well with the Phillies’ organization, never considered to be dynamos at reaching base via the walk.

davis_st2275_sptsSizemore will receive the league minimum if he makes the Phillies roster. To do so, he’ll need to show improvement with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, where the veteran will report. If Sizemore doesn’t return his performance to the days of old, the outfielder has an ability to opt out of the contract at the All-Star break.

While Sizemore’s numbers in Boston weren’t very impressive, he did stay healthy. It’s also not as though he’ll have to leap frog the a crop of world-beaters in order to crack the Philadelphia lineup. None of the Phillies’ starting outfielders has an OPS above .778, and 2013 All-Star Domonic Brown has worse numbers in Philly than Sizemore did in Boston. It’s not out of the realm of reality to imagine Sizemore finding playing time by July in red pinstripes.

For the Phillies, the deal makes sense. They’re not on the hook for any real financial obligation (Boston is paying Sizemore $1.25 million for the rest of the season), and they’re already one of the oldest teams in the sport. So, why not add another AARP card to the mantle? If Sizemore cracks the lineup, he’ll at least provide a little bit of depth at a position of need. Still, considering his age, injury history, and lack of recent production; there’s very little reason to get excited about Sizemore.

citizens 2Not too long ago, Philadelphia’s Citizen’s Bank Park was baseball’s mecca. Fans from near and far traveled hundreds of miles not only to see the Phillies play. But, to experience the ambiance of 45,000+ screaming Philadelphians. Now, thanks to years of failed efforts from Ruben Amaro, “the Bank” is a barren wasteland. Gone is the sea of red and missing are the clever fan groups. A once passionate fan base has been left for dead. As the Phillies falter, so too does attendance, and that, my friends, could impact the ball club in many ways in the future.

The team’s impressive sellout streak, which lasted 257 games, is no more. That record ended in 2012. The Phillies currently rank 13th in attendance in Major League Baseball at 30,382 per game. That ranks them behind such powerhouse markets as Denver and Milwaukee. That’s paid attendance, after all, as the cavernous confines of the home town stadium is now painted blue with empty seats on a night-by-night basis. The argument could be made that this is a league wide epidemic, as none of the league’s 30 franchises are averaging a sellout in 2014 (the Los Angeles Dodgers lead the way, selling 98.3% of tickets on average). But, one thing is clear, the allure of Phillies baseball is no more, and the blame goes solely on the shoulders of the team’s general manager.

$25 million a year for Ryan Howard. $26 million per season for Cliff Lee. These are contracts signed by Philadelphia when they were still printing money every evening. Now, as ticket sales look more and more like a Wednesday matinee of Disney on Ice, one has to wonder how the team’s future moves will be influenced by the failure to sell tickets. When attendance falters, so too do concession and merchandise sales. Not too many people are lining up in Ashburn Alley to spend $9.75 on a cheesesteak. Nor are any 8-year old boys asking their fathers to spend $150 on a Domonic Brown jersey. Instead, fans are more content to stay home and watch Ready, Set, Cook reruns than spend their hard earned money on a team that hasn’t earned the right to be watched in years.

citizensWill the team’s lack of financial flexibility, combined with a ridiculous $175 million payroll, cripple their hopes of future contention? One has to believe that the once frugal ownership group, who only started paying players realistic salaries when the fans started paying attention, will revert back to their old ways. Unfortunately for them, the contracts that Amaro levied to the current crop of underachievers are stuck on the books. But, as another wasted season hits the warm summer months, the failures of today’s roster will greatly impact the makeup of future lineups. With Howard, Lee, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, Jonathan Papelbon, and Cole Hamels all locked up long term, the team will likely find it difficult to stretch payroll any larger without a solid commitment from the fanbase. A classic catch-22, the team needs attendance figures to improve the team; but, the fans need an improved team to attend the games. The problem is currently without an answer, as no one knows what the future holds in store for Amaro and Co.

One thing is certain, Citizen’s Bank Park is no longer Philadelphia’s hottest craze. With rising ticket and concession prices and a falling win total, the Phillies are going the way of many past franchises whose management left their fan base for dead. Will anything change in the short term? Not if Amaro is still the team’s GM come 2015. No, things won’t change in Philadelphia unless ownership finally takes a stand. It took them five years to listen to the faithful and fire Ed Wade. Three seasons later, the city was celebrating their first world championship in 25-years. The fans have made their point by not showing up. Let’s see if ownership makes theirs by telling Amaro to act like those same fanatics, and stay home on game day.

nbadraft lottoOn June 26th, the NBA Draft will commence. For many teams, it’s an opportunity to build depth and find the next key bench contributor in their quest to take the championship away from LeBron James and the Miami Heat. For the teams in the lottery, however, the draft is a breeding ground for hope. After a season of despair, these fruitless franchises will put their faith in one of a collection of 20-year old prodigies with aspirations of greatness. History suggests that most will fail, as the likelihood of an NBA Draft bust grows the deeper one picks in round one.

Still, the 2014 draft promises to be one of the best in recent memory, and Skood Sports celebrates the Philadelphia 76ers’ tankapalooza of 2013-14 by doing our first NBA mock draft since 2012. Without further ado, let’s begin the 2014 NBA Mock Draft Lottery.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers – C Joel Embiid, Kansas

After spending nearly the entire year as the consensus #1 overall pick, Kansas F Andrew Wiggins appears likely to fall out of the top spot on draft day. Instead, his collegiate teammate could land in Cleveland. The Cavaliers, who stocked up on veteran help at the trade deadline in hopes of making the playoffs for the first time since 2010, instead find themselves with the first overall pick. This is, of course, thanks to the quirky mechanization of the draft lottery process.

This is Cleveland’s fourth #1 overall pick since 2003 (LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett). Despite the presence of Wiggins and fellow swingman Jabari Parker, Dan Gilbert’s club is likely to take big man Joel Embiid. A combination of the 7-0, 250 lb. behemoth along with the speedy and dynamic Irving will be too much for the Cavaliers to ignore. While Embiid might not be the surest thing in this draft, his upside and size is enough to make franchises drool. The 20-year old former soccer star has only played basketball for three years, and projects as a Hakeem Olajuwon type talent.

2. Milwaukee Bucks – SF Andrew Wiggins, Kansas

I find it hard to believe that Milwaukee, a team without a marketable talent, will pass on Andrew Wiggins. Some believe that Philadelphia will orchestrate a trade to get the man they want. But, if no deal comes, the Bucks would be foolish not to act. Coming into the 2013-14 college basketball season, many predicted Wiggins to be the best prospect since LeBron. An inconsistent freshman season at Kansas has tempered expectations a bit. But, there’s no denying Wiggins’ athletic ability and potential. Will Wiggins come into the league and dominate like some #1 picks do? Probably not. But, when we look back at this draft in ten years, he’ll be the one that Cleveland will most regret not pulling the trigger on.

3. Philadelphia 76ers – SF Jabari Parker, Duke

While he may not have the immense upside of Wiggins or the towering girth of Embiid, Jabari Parker is an excellent consolation prize if the 76ers can’t land the guy that they covet. The most pure scorer in the draft, Parker seems a guarantee to one day average over 23 points-per-game. Defense will forever be his weakness, as the 19-year old doesn’t project the same amount of intensity on that side of the ball. But, his natural scoring ability, tremendous shot for a 6-9, 240 lb. forward, and freakish athleticism will make him a force to be reckoned with. The fact that he’s the most NBA ready of all the top prospects in this draft will help Philadelphia, who would field a very young lineup of Parker, Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, the #10 pick, and Thaddeus Young next season.

4. Orlando Magic – PG/SG Dante Exum, Australia

The least exposed player in the top-five is easily Dante Exum, who played in front of sparse crowds in Australia during his high school days. The 18-year old has the most offensive potential of any guard in this draft, something Orlando could certainly use after grabbing the defensively stout Victor Oladipo in last year’s draft. Exum’s biggest strengths are his size (6-6) and speed. The kid doesn’t have a great shot, and he’s very raw. For an Orlando team that’s in no rush to contend, Exum is a solid pick for the future.

5. Utah Jazz – PF Noah Vonleh, Indiana

A late riser up the draft boards, Vonleh could go as high as #4. Solid in every aspect of the game but spectacular in none, the 6-9, 245 lb. big is considered to have a very high ceiling despite an average career as a Hoosier. His long arms and solid size will make him an adequate defender even at a young age, something Utah has lacked down low. For a big guy, Vonleh is deceptively quick, and his persona as a “gym rat” will only serve to polish a game that already has loads of potential.

6. Boston Celtics – PF Julius Randle, Kentucky

Assuming that they don’t trade for T-Wolves PF Kevin Love, the Boston Celtics will take the best player available at #6. At this point, that BPA is easily Julius Randle. After a solid freshman campaign at Kentucky, Randle showed that he is among the best-of-the-best in this deep draft. The 6-9 forward’s biggest strength is his strength down low and ability to overpower collegiate bigs. Now, whether or not that trait transitions to the NBA is a question. But, many consider Randle to be one of the most NBA ready players because his style of play translates well. For Boston, NBA ready is the name of the game, as the Celtics and their faithful appear unwilling to sit through another miserable campaign like the one that just ended.

7. Los Angeles Lakers – PG Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State

I don’t think that this is the scenario that Los Angeles envisioned when they sat in the lottery room last month. Falling to pick 7, then missing out on the top power forward prospects, leaves the Lakers to take Marcus Smart. This isn’t to say that Smart can’t be a solid player at the next level, and the 20-year old’s leadership qualities will be huge as the Lakers look to rebuild their aging core. But, Smart doesn’t offer the same upside as some of those who preceded him in this mock. He may end up fitting in well in the City of Angels, though, as Smart’s dynamic playmaking ability and passion for determining the outcome of games makes him a solid piece for the future as the Lakers look to rebuild from the rubble.

8. Sacramento Kings – PF Aaron Gordon, Arizona

This athletic, rebounding machine won’t turn 19 until September. For a Kings team that hasn’t made the playoffs since Gordon was 10, finding solutions to their woes is integral. Other than DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento doesn’t have any bigs who they view as a long term solution. With other options like Doug McDermott or Dario Saric available at this pick, the Kings elect instead to grab the best defender and rebounder of the bunch. Gordon is raw. But, his youth and upside make him a solid pick at #8.

9. Charlotte Hornets – SG Nik Stauskas, Michigan

The Charlotte Hornets (boy, does it feel good to say that) took Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller in recent years, so selecting another front-court player seems unreasonable. Enter Stauskas, who remains as the best available scoring option left. The former Wolverine is a pure shooter with NBA range (44% from beyond the arc). His quick release and competitive nature will make him a solid fit in Charlotte, where scoring has always been a challenge.

10. Philadelphia 76ers – PF Doug McDermott, Creighton

This pick would make more sense if Philadelphia were able to land Wiggins, as Parker’s selection already invigorates the 76ers’ pathetic offensive attack. But, snagging Dougie McBuckets at pick 10 would be difficult to deny. The most advanced prospect in the lottery (and the only senior taken in the top-10), McDermott offers an unparallelled offensive game, with a sweet jump shot and the ability to step in and play right away as an offensive role player. On the other hand, the former Blue Jay is not going to be an asset defensively, and he seems like a better fit for a team that is closer to contending than Philadelphia. Still, the 76ers could use all the scoring they can get, and slotting McDermott into a role behind Parker/Thaddeus Young would give Philly a potent punch of depth.

11. Denver Nuggets – SG Gary Harris, Michigan State

Aaron Brooks, Randy Foye, Evan Fournier, and Nate Robinson. That’s the list of guards currently on the Denver Nuggets’ roster. Something tells me that Denver is going to make improving that position a large priority this offseason. Harris, while undersized (6-4), is well rounded in every facet of his game. An unselfish player, the former Spartans’ star is young enough to develop his game at the next level while still being competent enough that he could play significant minutes right away. For a Nuggets team that is one year removed from contention, finding players that can contribute immediately is crucial.

12. Orlando Magic – SF Dario Saric, Croatia

After grabbing diminutive guard Dante Exum earlier, the Orlando Magic boost their size and interior game by landing Dario Saric, a native of Croatia. This SF/PF hybrid presents a matchup challenge for opposing coaches. He’s too quick to be guarded by power forwards and too large to be denied by swingmen. An aggressive rebounder, Saric would fit in quite well on an Orlando team that is willing to wait for success to return to Disney World.

13. Minnesota Timberwolves – SF Rodney Hood, Duke

Another Blue Devil is off the board, as sweet shooting swingman Rodney Hood lands in Minnesota. The T-Wolves aren’t likely to find Kevin Love’s replacement at 13. But, the 6-8 Hood is a valuable asset to poach from the board at this point. His best strength is his scoring ability, as Hood can shoot the lights out of the gym. While the T-Wolves may lose Love, they still have one of the more dynamic playmaking PG in Ricky Rubio. Grabbing him a scoring option from the wing would alleviate some of the pain of losing Love’s 20 points-per-game.

14. Phoenix Suns – SF Kyle Anderson, UCLA

While Anderson’s teammate, Zach LaVine, is probably the best player available; the PG doesn’t really fit a need for Phoenix, who boasts impressive depth in the back-court. Instead, the Suns grab Anderson, whose size (6-9, 230) and ball handling are unparalleled at this point in the draft. Anderson leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to speed and scoring. But, a team with Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, and Gerald Green already possesses enough quickness to contend. After all, the Suns did win 48 games last season.