7 silly predictions based on the Sixers' schedule

7 silly predictions based on the Sixers' schedule

It's officially the "off" part of the NBA off-season, which means that in a total absence of genuine Philadelphia 76ers basketball activity, we must turn to the league's schedule-makers to keep the summer's momentum going. Luckily, they've mostly obliged: News percolated through Sixers Twitter yesterday that the Liberty Ballers would be participating in a staggering 23 nationally televised games this season (14 ESPN/TNT, 9 NBA TV); pretty good when you consider that they only won five games more than that all last year. 

That's cool, but it's not enough: With the preseason still nearly two months away, we need to be able to suss out more about the season to come by staring at the slate of empty canvases they'll be painting on this year. So, in that spirit, let's take a shot at answering seven questions concerning the Philadelphia 76ers in their first season with quasi-legit expectations since Year 2 of Doug Collins, just based on a glimpse of their work calendar for the next 82 games. We'll instantly disregard the seriousness of these predictions as soon as they're proven wrong, but spend till next offseason gloating about the ones that were proved even vaguely right.

1. When will the Sixers win their first game of the season?

Upon first glimpse of the Sixers' early schedule, you'll notice that there aren't a lot of gimmes to be found: At Washington, home to Boston, at Toronto, at Detroit, home to Houston. Even if you think the Sixers will mostly be good this year, with a lineup built around rookies, dudes returning from injury and both, you'd have to trust the process like Nick Young trusts his pull-up jumper to think they'll come storming out of the gate. A rough October once again seems all but destined for the Ballers, and the first W will come as a huge sigh of relief whenever it arrives. 

The most obvious bet would probably be at Detroit, against a team who spent most of last year falling apart in front of a fanbase that hasn't given a damn since they traded Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson. Still, I'll go a little further on a limb and say they get it north of the border against Toronto in game three, in a feel-good win that doubles as a feel-terrible loss for a Raps team that may struggle a little to find its identity at season's outset. You can already see the controversy as Drake shows up on Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons' Instagrams after the game, can't you? 

2. What will be the Sixers' first close loss that proves the young guys don't know how to win yet?

Oh, you thought we were done with this storyline this season, did you? Nahhhhhhh, until you're officially Old and Winning, you're still the kids too dumb not to lose, and any slim-margined L in which you coulda won but didn't will be blamed on some combination of the coach, the immature team leadership and the lack of old heads on the bench. (Yes, even with JJ Redick, Amir Johnson and the ghost of Andrew Bogut all in tow.) 

So when'll it happen for the first time this season? Let's say Nov. 7 at Utah, a team whose well-established defensive-minded discipline and lack of offensive firepower seems custom-made to win games in frustrating fashion. Not hard to picture a scoreless final 2:30 built around a handful of Embiid turnovers and Fultz bricks, followed by a bunch of post-game columns lamenting the Sixers' lack of "their own Joe Johnson," birthing one if not several future Retweet Armageddons in the process. 

3. What's the first game that Embiid will dominate in hilarious fashion?

This should quickly become the season where Embiid starts to rival Draymond Green and Giannis Antetokounmpo as King of the Funny-Good Stat Line -- games where his brilliance shines through despite himself, where he goes 4 for 15 but still scores 30, or has a triple-double with 12 turnovers. I'll say the first truly great one comes on Nov. 25 against Orlando against our old friend Nik Vucevic, where JoJo goes for 44 points and at least six blocks but grabs only four rebounds and is limited to 28 minutes due to foul trouble. Plausible, no? Just about every box score combo will be for King Process this season. 

4. What's the first game where JJ Redick goes absolutely nuts?

Regardless of how his first and potentially only season for the Sixers goes on the whole, I think we can all agree that there will be, at an absolute minimum, one game this season where Jonathan Clay Redick hits seven triples in a half while JoJo does a one-man Electric Slide on the Sixers bench. Best to go with history on this one and say Dec. 19 against the Sacramento Kings, with Buddy Hield playing the role of Nik Stauskas to JJ's Klay Thompson. Maybe Nik'll even get off the bench to put the Sauce on 'em in the fourth quarter once Redick's cooled off a smidge. 

5. When does the Sixers' first major win streak come?

If you thought last year's 10-5 month of January was fun -- and boy howdy, was it ever -- just wait until the Sixers rip off eight straight once they really get humming this season. Let's look at late January to early February this year, where the Sixers can take advantage of a home-leaning, East-heavy stretch to build a little forward progress and go about two weeks without losing -- before the Heat get revenge on Dario & Co. for ending their 14-game heater last season with a Valentine's Day Massacre in Philly at the end of our homestand. 

6. What game does Joel Embiid tweak something, insist he's OK, go back in and end up missing the next eight weeks with some kind of vaguely termed ligament inflammation? 


(Actual) 6. What game does Markelle look like he's finally getting his swag under him?

I do expect Fultz to go through some Evan Turner-like growing pains as he learns to adjust to the size and speed of the NBA game and figure out which of his junk legit works against pro-level competition, and which should be saved for end-of-shot-clock desperation alone. But I also expect Fultz to have some very un-ET-like breakout games partway through the Sixers' schedule, a couple nonstop highlight reels of gorgeous jumpers and did-he-just-did that moves to the basket that get Kevin Durant going extra ballistic on Twitter. 

Against Boston or L.A. would be a little too poetic, so let's say it comes against Phoenix: On New Year's Eve when only the truest of Process Phaithful are even tuned in, and they end up rewarded with memories sweeter than any combination of mistletoe and Kenny G could ever provide.

7. When do the Sixers clinch a playoff spot?

April 6, at home against a largely resting Cavaliers squad. Win No. 41, on the way to 43-39 and the sixth seed. Don't be afraid to catch feels.

The Andrew Bynum Trade: The Big Bang of The Process turns 5


The Andrew Bynum Trade: The Big Bang of The Process turns 5

When the official book of The Process is written, its first chapter will begin on August 10, 2012. 

That's the date when the Sixers unexpectedly wormed their way into the biggest trade of the '12 offseason, a four-way deal with the Lakers, Magic and Nuggets that saw Philly deal their best player (Andre Iguodala) and a handful of not-quite-blue-chip assets (Nikola Vucevic, Mo Harkless, a protected future first) for the guy who was supposed to usher in the next era of Philadelphia 76ers basketball: talented, enigmatic Lakers big Andrew Bynum. 

The consequences were drastic, and in none of the ways we wanted: Bynum got injured and stayed injured, never playing a healthy game in Philadelphia, while Iguodala thrived in Denver and then Golden State, Vucevic stuffed stat sheets in Orlando, and Sixers coach Doug Collins gradually lost his mind as Bynum festered on (and/or nowhere near) the Sixers' bench. If you can remember one thing that happened on the court for those Sixers that season (with the possible exception of Nick Young's infamous falling-out-of-bounds heave), kudos -- more likely, your memory of '12-'13 is an amalgam of bizarre hairdos and even stranger press conferences

But of course, we all remember what happened next: Collins left, and caretaker GM Tony DiLeo was replaced with our Once and Always Dark Lord, Sam Hinkie. After the Bynum trade stripped our team of rebuilding assets, Hinkie was charged with restocking the cabinet, an order he carried out with extreme prejudice: Young All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday was swapped for Nerlens Noel and another draft pick -- which Hinkie then used to get back the pick Collins dealt to Orlando -- and within a couple years, the Sixers had one of the league's best collections of rebuilding pieces, despite having gotten no tangible return from the Bynum deal but a couple sporadically healthy months of late-career Jason Richardson. 

There's an argument to be made that it's still the best trade the Sixers have made this decade. 

As long ago as late 2013, I wrote about how the Bynum deal was actually a good thing for the Sixers. It was the necessary boom-or-bust moment for a team whose fans had long tired of seasons hovering a couple games above or below .500, and who were ready to swing for the upper deck even if it meant possibly whiffing in cartoonish fashion. "What the Sixers basically did two summers ago was trade Andre Iguodala, Nik Vucevic, Moe Harkless and a pick for the opportunity to hit the rest button on their franchise," I theorized. "It hurts to lose future assets like Vucevic and Harkless--we could certainly use both in a year or two's time--but all in all, it seems like a small price to pay for finally getting the franchise on the right track."

Nearly four years later, that last part feels even truer. The NBA of the seasons since has proven increasingly inhospitable to its middle class: either you're legitimately competing with LeBron and the Warriors, or you may as well blow it all up. Building around Iguodala, Holiday, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young probably wasn't a viable option back then, and it definitely wouldn't have been in a couple years' time as the team took a big leap in salary but not in potential. Without the Bynum trade, The Sixers might have turned into a cautionary tale by now. Instead, they're playing in the Christmas kick-off game this year.

Though it feels like a discussion far beyond moot at this point, it's also probably worth recalling how in the summer of 2012, Andrew Bynum was a 24-year-old big man coming off a career season (19 and 12 on 56% shooting) in which he'd played 60 of 66 possible games. He was the kind of guy you bet the farm on -- especially when you don't have the crops to develop one yourself. Of course, you have to wonder why our medical staff didn't notice (care?) about the red flags that would manifest with Bynum before even his first practice and quicklky resulted in his knees turning to Laffy Taffy, but in theory, the logic was sound. 

And that's what it's all about right? Though Sam Hinkie never really shared his thoughts on the Bynum trade -- he called it a "failure" shortly after his hiring, but that was more about the then-free-agent Bynum and his prospects of being re-signed by the Sixers, which, chortle -- it's hard to imagine he wouldn't have at least admired the deal's intent. Sixers fans got angry last month when an article on The Ringer mis-attributed the swap to Hinkie's regime, but the confusion is somewhat understandable: The Bynum trade was essentially proto-Process, both in its big-picutre sense of purpose, and (ultimately, sadly, frustratingly) in its borderline-catastrophic outcome. 

It's actually not hard to find parallels in the Bynum deal with a non-Sixers blockbuster pulled off this summer: Paul George going from Indiana to OKC, in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Imagine Paul George, an expiring deal with no built-in loyalty to OKC, gets hurt this season. Or imagine he simply doesn't gel brilliantly with Russell Westbrook, the team underwhelms and he leaves without hesitation in the offseason, with Westbrook following shortly after. Then the trade was a tragedy, right? 

Well, no. The Thunder gave up a lot in the deal, but they also come out about even money-wise, and if George bombs and leaves -- with Westbrook likely not far behind -- it puts them in a position to tear down immediately, and start their maybe-always-inevitable hard rebuild for the future. The Sixers gave up a little more than OKC did, and George is generally a lower-risk guy, but the skeletons of the deals are similar. But the Thunder won't get roasted if theirs falls apart: We're a lot smarter about them as a public now than we were five years ago -- it only took a couple hours for the NBA media to start cap-doffing to OKC GM Sam Presti for the parachute he'd packed himself while trying to pull off such a seemingly dangerous trade stunt. 

As the Sixers go into the 2017-'18 season with the actual team we tried to pretend we had in '12-'13 -- a core of (seemingly) well-fitting, elite prospects, who should grow into a legitimate Eastern Conference power, possibly as soon as this year -- it's hard to feel much but gratitude towards the Bynum trade. Back then, it felt like the end of the world, and it was -- but really, we never much liked that world to begin with. The NBA world we're living in now has already been infinitely more rewarding, and we haven't even started winning yet. Trust the 'fro-cess.

How in the world did Phillies reliever Steve Bedrosian win the '87 Cy Young?


How in the world did Phillies reliever Steve Bedrosian win the '87 Cy Young?

Since the award's conception in 1967, four Phillies hurlers have won the NL Cy Young: Two of them are incredibly obvious and two of them are absurdly not. Any fan who's ever stepped foot inside the Citizens Bank Park gift shop could probably guess Steve Carlton (72, 77, 80, 82) and Roy Halladay (2010), arguably the two best Phillies pitchers of the last 50 years, as the first two. But the next two are not Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Curt Schilling, Jim Bunning, Rick Wise or even Brad Lidge. They are, instead: John Denny in '83, and Steve "Bedrock" Bedrosian in 1987. 

Denny's presence on this esteemed list is surprising but explicable. In his first season with the Phillies after coming over from the Indians, Denny was dominant, going 19-6 with a 2.37 ERA, throwing seven complete games and letting up a staggeringly low nine homers in over 240 innings of work on the season. What's more, he helped lead an aging Phillies squad -- the "Wheeze Kids," you may recall -- to 90 wins and the NL pennant. His K/BB numbers weren't phenomenal, and arm issues robbed him of the chance to ever repeat his dream season, but his profile as a Cy Young winner in '83 was nevertheless a relatively complete one. 

Bedrosian, on the other hand, is both unexpected and not easily understood. Glancing at his stat line from '87, one is given the impression of a highly productive reliever that stops just short of being elite -- a 2.83 ERA with 74 Ks and 28 BBs in 89 innings, and more homers (11) than Denny gave up in '83 with nearly thrice the workload. His calling card on the season was his number of saves: 40, a career high and best in the NL that year, though hardly a record-setting number -- Dennis Eckersley had 45 for the A's the season before. He was hardly the secret sauce to any particular Cinderella Phillies season, either: The team finished 80-82 that year, easily missing the playoffs. 

And yet when the BBWAA convened in 1987 to elect the league's best pitcher that season, it was Bedrosian that they concluded upon. Not that such stats existed at the time, but the reliever's 2.1 WAR that season ranks him the lowest among all winners of the award. So what gives? 

Well, first you have to put it in historical context and remember that award voters were really, really impressed with closers in the 1980s. More strictly regimented reliever usage in the late '70s into the '80s (and the emergence of star closers like Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage) led to closers being used more explicitly in save situations, and racking up gaudy numbers and increased renown that people had never seen before from the role. Consequently, six relievers won the Cy Young in the 13 years between 1977 and 1989, compared to just two in the 28 seasons since. Two of them -- Fingers and Willie Hernandez -- won the MVP, too.

Still, of those six winners, Bedrosian's stats from his winning season are easily the least superficially impressive (aside from the number of saves, anyway) and he did it for a team that finished under .500. And if it was a so-close-so-many-times sort of lifetime achievement award, strange dude to honor: Bedrosian never received another Cy Young vote in any other year before or since. There had to be another explanation. 

Indeed, there was: The competition that year suuuuuuuuuuucked. Bedrosian (57 Cy Young vote points) narrowly edged out the award's 2nd and 3rd place finishers, Rick Sutcliffe of the Chicago Cubs (55 points) and Rick Reuschel of the Pirates and Giants (54), but those guys' profiles were hardly overwhelming: Sutcliffe went 18-10 with a 3.69 ERA and over 100 walks, and Reuschel had an ERA over 4 with the Giants after getting traded mid-season and only 13 Ws on the year, back when that number still really mattered to voters. 

Other potential candidates were similarly unconvincing with their Win-Loss records: Orel Hershiser went 16-16 and Nolan Ryan (who actually led the league in Ks and ERA) went 8-16 for the disappointing Astros. Dwight Gooden missed about 10 games. Bob Welch -- who actually might've had the best resume of all these guys with his 15-9 record, 3.22 ERA and over 250 IP, and definitely the best WAR (7.1) -- was likely overshadowed by presumed staff ace Hershiser. (An L.A. Times article from the time on Bedrosian's win was entirely framed around Hershiser being snubbed, with Welch barely even mentioned as a footnote.) 

Indeed, it seems narrative simply favored Bedrosian at the time. 40 saves was a nice round number, and Steve also had earned the distinction that season of being the first reliever to ever earn saves in 13 consecutive appearances -- not exactly a DiMaggio-like streak, but enough of a hook to hang a Cy Young campaign on. And though the Phillies ended up finishing well outside of the money in the NL that year, they were actually in the race until early September, before a 1-8 stretch essentially doomed the season -- still, close enough for Bedrosian to emerge as an early candidate. Then, of course, there was the super-cool nickname: Bedrock, presumably at least partly inspired by the closer's fabled reliability. Streak + narrative + nickname... plenty of award pushes have been built on less. 

30 years later, Bedrosian may stand as the worst Cy Young winner in the award's history, and he's since been eclipsed in Philly reliever lore (for reasons both good and bad) by Mitch Williams, Brad Lidge, Jonathan Papelbon and maybe a couple others. Nonetheless, he's in the record books for all-time, a rare glittering prize during one of the most ignominious stretches of modern Phillies baseball, and for that, he'll always be remembered -- even as just the answer to a trivia question -- which is better than can be said for most of the late-'80s Phaithful. (Dude, nobody knows who Von Hayes is.)

[baseball card courtesy]