Back on the Chain Gang: Ten Personnel Questions Regarding the Sixers This Off-Season

Back on the Chain Gang: Ten Personnel Questions Regarding the Sixers This Off-Season

With the new proposed CBA seemingly poised to pass with overwhelming numbers, it looks like this Friday will finally represent the beginning of what should be the most rapid-fire free agency period in NBA history. While the Sixers haven't been predicted to be one of the big movers and/or shakers in the off-season brouhaha, there are still plenty of questions facing the team that will need to be answered post haste, as they figure out what group of twelve players they're planning on trotting out when the season starts shortly after Christmas. Examples, you ask? Well, let's deal with ten of 'em.

1. Will the Sixers re-sign Thaddeus Young and/or Spencer Hawes?

All signs seem to point to them at least trying to retain both of their restricted free agents—Kate Fagan of Philly.com has all but promised that Thad will be back in a Sixers uni, and it seems highly unlikely that Hawes will find a team significantly more invested in his still largely unproven skills than the dismally size-depleted Liberty Ballers. The one wrinkle in this is the recently reported interest in Young from the Denver Nuggets, who have oodles of cap space (especially if big man Nene departs for lower altitude) and a run-and-gun offense in which Thad would certain thrive. If the Nugs can creep up into the double-digits in their yearly offer to Young, it might price the Sixers out of the discussion (for better or worse), but for now, you have to assume both players well end up back in the Red, White and Blue.

2. Will the Sixers amnesty any of the players on their roster?

One of the most intriguing wrinkles in the soon-to-pass CBA is the added Amnesty Clause, which allows teams the opportunity to waive a player in order to get their contract off their books, still paying the player the majority of their salary but having it not count against their cap space. Sixers fans understandably salivated at such news, thinking it might be an opportunity to get out from under the bloated contract of Elton Brand (2 years / $35 million), but think again: The team was reliant enough on Brand as a leader and consistent post threat last year that management (especially smitten coach Doug Collins) would never consent to his waiving, not to mention that the team is hardly flush enough in cash to afford paying a player tens of millions to play for another squad.

More likely an AC candidate is superfluous swingman Andres Nocioni, but even the nearly $7 million remaining on his contract isn't so toxic that the team can't swallow it for one year. More likely, the team will buy out Noc and allow him to maybe find a contender more in want of his services, while retaining the Amnesty Clause for more urgent use in a later season. (With this team's front office, you can never be too careful.)

3. Is Andre Iguodala still on the trading block?

Iguodala spent much of the pre-draft off-season representing one-half of many rumored trades—to the Clippers for Chris Kaman, to the Warriors for Monta Ellis, etc.—none of which, obviously, ended up coming to fruition. Now that the off-season is officially back on, it wouldn't be impossible to see 'Dre go back on the block, but so far, it's been quiet on the wires regarding the Sixers' most diverse and important player. With the shortened season and a lack of training camp, you have to think that the Sixers aren't going to make too many boat-rocking moves unless an opportunity they can't pass up presents itself, so in all likelihood, 'Dre will be starting the season as a Liberty Baller. Whether he ends it as one as well may end up being a question for a trade deadline column, however.

4. Who's the team looking at in terms of big men?

Well, nobody particularly sexy, so cross high-profile free agents Tyson Chandler, Marc Gasol and the previously-mentioned Nene (all of whom should demand contracts far beyond the team's capabilites) off your wishlists right now. The team is mostly looking at veteran big men who can ably back up the likely returning Hawes and push rookie Nikola Vucevic for rotation minutes without costing too much or demanding too many years in the process. So think Kwame Brown, Erick Dampier, maybe returning European baller Bostjan Nachbar if we're lucky. Of course, there's one name floating around out there familiar to Sixers fans, who might be available to fill that role as well...

5. Holy crap, might the team actually end up bringing back Samuel Dalembert?

Hopefully not—you have to think that one of these contending teams in need of size and defense will overextend for Dalembert, a free agent after spending last season with the Kings, and price the Sixers out of the discussion. Still, Philly's been mentioned as a possible landing spot for the polarizing big man, especially if they end up amnestying Nocioni. So, suffice to say, the sooner the Sixers fill this role with someone who isn't Slammin' Sammy—a guy so frustrating to watch that most Sixers fans will always believe we won the Hawes trade just by getting rid of him—the easier we'll all sleep at night.

6. What else might the team be looking for in free agency?

Well, assuming Young and Hawes are retained, probably not much. The team could maybe use more of a pure point guard to back up Jrue Holiday, but with Lou Williams and Evan Turner capable of splitting the role (and Andre Iguodala assuming some of the responsibilities to begin with), the guy probably wouldn't see much more playing time than Antonio Daniels did at the end of last year. Most of the roster spots are already spoken for anyway, and young'ns like Vucevic and Craig Brackins should hopefully be pushing for the few remaining. Don't expect too much beyond one or two further veteran guys at the minimum, Dairus Songaila-like filler.

7. Is there a chance of Lou Williams getting traded?

A chance, but not a good one. Rumors were floating a week or so back that the team might be shopping Sweet Lou—his contract is hefty for a career backup, and it's hard to see exactly where he fits into the Sixers' long-term plans—but almost as quickly as they appeared, those rumors were shot down, and now it seems probable that just like the rest of the gang, Lou will back in tow for '11-'12.

8. Are the Sixers going to be involved in the sweepstakes for either Chris Paul or Dwight Howard?

I'm not even gonna answer that.

9. Whither Jason Kapono?

J-Kaps is already in the talks with a couple teams closer to contention—the Lakers, the Heat, the Knicks, etc.—to hopefully get one of their remaining roster slots at a veteran's minimum. Hopefully for Kapono, he'll be able to fulfill his role of Guy Who Stands in the Corner and Hits Wide-Open Threes When Asked more ably than he was in Philly, but regardless, he's no longer our problem—JK's days in Philly are almost certainl
y over. Bad news for the Kings, good news for the rest of us.

10. Can the Sixers take advantage of Ed Stefanski now serving as Toronto's VP of Basketball Operations the same way the Phillies have abused Ed Wade in Houston?

Only one way to find out: Call up the Raptors and offer them Brackins, Marreese Speights and Nocioni's expiring for Andrea Bargnani. We don't even necessarily want Bargnani, but it's just dumb enough a deal for the Raptors to make that we'll know for sure if Stefanski will be a Wade-esque resource for us north of the border. And then, the pillaging can begin.

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

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MIAMI -- For struggling pitchers, facing the Phillies has become like a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
 
Another rival pitcher searching for a cure got it Monday night when the Phillies suffered their 23rd loss in the last 29 games. This time it was Miami Marlins right-hander Edinson Volquez. He pitched six shutout innings and allowed just three hits in leading his club to a 4-1 win over the Phillies, who fell to 6-20 in May (see Instant Replay).

Volquez had gone 16 starts between wins.
 
"Every loss stings, I don’t care who's pitching," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're just in a rut. We've got to battle our way out of it. We have to show up tomorrow and get after it. We've got to get more than three or four hits in the game."
 
The Phillies had just four hits in the game. It was the fifth time in the last nine games that they've had four or fewer hits. Only one of the hits was for extra bases and one of the singles was an infield hit.
 
"Once again, we need more offense," Mackanin said.
 
Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson completed a difficult month of May by allowing six hits, including a two-run homer, and four runs over six innings.
 
Hellickson surrendered a two-run homer to Derek Dietrich with two outs in the sixth and that was basically the ball game. Dietrich hit a high changeup. Back in April, that pitch would have been at the knees. But Hellickson has misplaced the pitch command that he needs to succeed.
 
Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. In May, however, he went 1-3 with a 7.04 ERA in six starts. He was tagged for 35 hits, including nine homers, in 30 2/3 innings.
 
"Command in general," said Hellickson, describing his problem this month. "The biggest thing is not getting strike one, falling behind too much. I'm not getting the quick easy outs I was getting early in the season. I'm trying to get ahead, just missing."
 
Volquez signed a two-year, $22 million deal with the Marlins over the winter, but it wasn't until this game that he delivered his first win. He entered the game 0-7 with a 4.82 ERA in nine starts.
 
The win was Volquez's first since Aug. 25, 2016, when he was a member of the Kansas City Royals.

Volquez isn't the first struggling pitcher to shine against the Phils recently. Eight days earlier, Pittsburgh's Chad Kuhl took a 6.69 ERA into a start against the Phils and pitched five shutout innings. In the series against Colorado, the Phillies were dominated by a pair of rookies. In the only game they won (in a late rally), they were held to one run over six innings by Tyler Anderson, who had entered that game with an ERA of 6.00. On Friday night, Cincinnati Reds right-hander Tim Adleman pitched eight shutout innings against the Phils and gave up just one hit in the best start of his life. He had come into that game with an ERA of 6.19.
 
So Volquez had to be heartened when he saw the Phillies on the schedule.
 
They are the get-well team for pitchers in need of a pick-me-up.
 
It's actually kind of sad.
 
With Odubel Herrera locked in the throes of the worst slump of his life and on the bench and Maikel Franco mired in a 2 for 21 slump and hitting .209, Mackanin is trying to push things a little. He gave Aaron Altherr the green light to steal with one out and runners on the corners in a one-run game in the sixth inning. Altherr was out at second on a close play and Tommy Joseph struck out to leave the runner at third.
 
The Marlins salted the game away in the bottom of the inning on Dietrich's homer.
 
"With our offense, I have to take chances," Mackanin said. "I can't sit around and wait for three hits in a row. We haven't been doing that."
 
The Phils have the worst record in the majors at 17-32.
 
They have lost eight of their last 10 and scored just 15 runs in the losses.
 
"It sucks," catcher Cameron Rupp said. "There's really no other way to put it. It's frustrating. But the only people that are going to help us are ourselves. Nobody's going to go out there and play for us, swing the bats, pitch, play defense. That's on us and we have to do a better job all around.
 
"We all want to be successful and get the job done. We just haven't been hitting the ball. There's no other way to put it. But the good thing about baseball is we play every day so we turn the page and come back tomorrow and try to get it done."

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins rarely tested the hottest goaltender in the playoffs in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against Nashville.

They beat Pekka Rinne anyway.

Rookie Jake Guentzel fired the puck past Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a back-and-forth 5-3 victory on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Matt Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in Final history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37 minutes at one point without a shot.

"I think at the end of the day we're up 1-0," Bonino said. "We had a good first, we had a terrible second and we were terrible in the third. I don't think it's Xs and Os. We've got to work harder, compete a little harder, but we got some timely goals."

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions, trying to become the first repeat winner since Detroit in 1998.

All the guys from "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

"The impact of that moment and then the chain of events that happened after that with the penalty kills I think changed the course of the game," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said.

The decision gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge. Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead, they rallied and took over the game.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second and Nashville kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history -- and the first such period by any team in a Final game since the NHL began tracking shots on goal in 1958.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

"We didn't do a great job of (shooting), but we made them count," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "But it was a good finish there to get that one from Jake."