Contemplating "Plan B": What Do We Do If Bynum Never Plays and Then Leaves?

Contemplating "Plan B": What Do We Do If Bynum Never Plays and Then Leaves?

There's been a whole lot of talk about "Plan A" lately—the term Sixers
GM Tony DiLeo has used when discussing the Sixers' efforts to re-sign
Andrew Bynum in the off-season. Though DiLeo and team CEO Adam Aron have
backed off their commitment to "Plan A" a little given the increasingly
dire state of Bynum's injury and recovery progress, it still appears to
be their preferred course of action. This is fair, and if their doctors
(hopefully better ones than the last time around) give him the OK, even
after all we've gone through with Bynum this year, it still makes sense
that we'd try to bring him back—possibly on a max contract, possibly
for multiple years.


But rather than argue that, for this column, let's say that the team
decides not to go after Bynum. Let's say that they do a cost-benefit
analysis and deicde that the risk is just too high for the amount it'll
take to sign him, that the chances are just too low he'll be healthy and
productive for enough of a period of whatever contract he'd command to
make it worth putting all our chips in on him. And much as I still hope
we can make it work with Bynum (and think we should try), I don't
believe we should give him $100 million for five years if the chances
are minimal that he's gonna be fully healthy and productive for even one
of them. If we gotta walk away, then we gotta walk away.


But if walking away is the answer, then that will just lead to a
whole lot of further questions for the Liberty Ballers. With Bynum
officially out of the team's plans, the Sixers will still have a decent
amount of cap space, a couple very good trade assets, a handful of
players about to come off contract, and a gaping hole at center. It's an
intriguing mix, and there are a number of directions the Sixers can go
with it—none as satisfying as the Sixers maxing out Bynum, him regaining
his All-Star form and leading the Sixers to several championships with
everyone staying happy forever, but all with at least the slightest bit
of potential. Let's go over what they are, with our personal preference
at article's end.


Plan B1: Try to plug the hole at center with a big-name free agent. If
their incumbent big-name center isn't a viable option, perhaps the
Sixers will pursue another. Unfortunately, there's only a couple real
difference-makers besides Bynum available at this position, and the
biggest one (Dwight Howard) isn't terribly likely to consider a
sub-.500, mid-market team like the Sixers as a potential landing spot.
The only real All-Star (or borderline All-Star) caliber talent available
here is Jazz center Al Jefferson, a very productive post scorer (though
an occasional liability on defense) who the Sixers could conceivably
land with the $12 million or so the team will have in cap space, though
it's possible he'll command more on the open market.


Jefferson would give the Sixers their best, most consistent big-man
scorer in decades, though at at age 28 and with relatively unremarkable
athleticism, his ceiling is far lower than Bynum's. He would help the
team's floor balance significantly, but not make such a difference as to
catapult the Sixers into instant contention. But with Jefferson, plus
another year's development from our young core and a relatively high
pick in the draft to add to the rotation, it's possible the team could
push to the lower-middle region of the post-season picture in the East,
an understandably attractive idea to Sixers brass after the unmitigated
disaster of this season.


Plan B2: Draft a center, go after a difference-maker on the perimeter in free agency.
A cheaper and possibly higher-upside play for the Sixers than going
after a center on the open market would be to take one in the draft,
with their first-round pick likely to end in the #6-10 range. There
should be a number of interesting big men available in that
range—possibly not Nerlens Noel, who'll likely go top five, but possibly
Maryland big man Alex Len, a legit seven-footer with shot-blocking
skill and impressive mobility (though a bit of a raw game offensively),
as well as Indiana's Cody Zeller, a one-time number-one pick contender
whose stock has fallen some due to unremarkable play and positional
concerns up front. Neither is likely to be a star for the Sixers from
Day One, but either—particularly Len—could be a good long-term play for
Philly.


Meanwhile, worrying about the center position in the draft allows
the Sixers to try to fill holes elsewhere on the court in free agency.
There's not a ton of top perimeter talent on the market this summer, but
a reliable shooter like JJ Redick or OJ Mayo could give the team a
dimension they've been badly missing since Jason Rcihardson's injury,
and another young-ish player to augment the team's growing core. Again,
as with Jefferson, nobody here is likely to make the Sixers a contender,
but respectability is certainly not out of the question here.


Plan B3: Package assets for a big man in a trade. This is
pretty speculative,of course, but the Sixers will not be without trade
assets this off-season—they'll have Evan Turner on the last year of his
rookie deal, Thaddeus Young locked up for three remaining years on a
very reasonable contract, and the draft pick they'll get for their
tanking efforts, as well as the expiring deals of Spencer Hawes and
Kwame Brown. They could certainly attempt to package a handful of these
assets to try to pry loose a big man already on another team—like,
y'know, what they did to get the Funny-Looking Kid With the big Hair the
off-season prior. Maybe they can get LaMarcus Aldridge from the
Blazers? Maybe the Cavs would part with Anderson Varejao? Maybe the Jazz
would part with one of their young giants in a deal for perimeter
talent?


Of course, such deals are rare in the NBA—the Sixers were "lucky
enough" to pull one off last summer, but two in a row could be tough—and
they already gave up so many assets in the Bynum deal that the team may
be gunshy about attempting another one so quickly. But if the Sixers
don't like what they see from the free-agnet crop and are determined to
add an impact player this off-season by hook or by crook, trade might be
a more productive way to do so.


Plan B4: Try to work a sign-and-trade with Bynum to return assets.
As the team employing him on the verge of free agency, the Sixers still
have the advantage of being able to offer Bynum more money than anybody
else. So if he decides that he really wants to go to Dallas or Houston
or wherever, we can try to work out a sign-and-trade deal that results
in Bynum wearing a different uniform, but gives us some combination of
players, draft picks and trade exceptions for our effort. This could be
especially beneficial for an asset-rich team like the Rockets, who might
be willing to part with their now-redundant center Omer Asik in an
S&T, and/or possibly their troubled big man Royce White,  a solid
low-cost, high-upside play for the talent-strapped Sixers.


To an extent, this is something of a pipe dream—S&Ts rarely
result in the signing team getting even close to equal value for the
free agent, and usually just end up with teams getting low draft picks,
cap filler, and massive trade exceptions. Still, it's better than
nothing, and anything the Sixers could get in return for Bynum might
help assisting the rebuilding process. We'll need all the help we can
get at that point, certainly.


Plan B5: Stay put, liquidate all non-essential assets and try again next off-season.
As is often the case in the NBA, the best move to make this off-season
might be to not make one at all. The Sixers could, in theory, hold on to
their draft pick, play out the string with Turner and Hawes, try to
unload J-Rich's contract (and if need be, Thad's as well) stay flexible
with their cap space and spend another season as a likely lottery team.
At the end of it all, they'd have another (likely high) draft pick to
work with, they'd have another year's worth of on-and-off-court evidence
to decide whether or not Evan Turner is worth extending, and they'd
potentially have enough cap space to be a big player in the 2014 free
agent class, which is already being tabbed as potentially being on the
level of the famous 2010 class (and really will be if one or more of the
Heat's Big Three decide to opt out).


Staying patient another year in the NBA is always a tough sell,
especially to a fanbase coming off a disappointment as massive as this
year's Sixers campaign, and for a team CEO as desperately eager to do
right as Adam Aron. But in the NBA, if you're not gonna be contending,
you need to stay flexible, so that when a difference-maker becomes
available, you have the assets and cap space available to land him. (It
worked once for the Sixers, even if it ended up not really working at
all.)


Personally, I think Plans B2 and B5 are our best courses of action,
with B4 being a tantalizing idea if the circumstances work out just so. I
definitely don't want to tie up our cap space in a low-upside, Al
Jefferson-type play, but if the Sixers can add a mid-level shooter to
better the team in the short-term while leaving them flexible in the
long-term as we groom our center of the future, that seems like a decent
best-of-both-worlds option for the Sixers.


But of course, these are all still lousy alternatives to what we
thought we were getting when we traded three players and a draft pick
for Andrew Bynum last August. If there's any decent-ish chance of
getting some kind of production out of Bynum moving forward, I'd still
like to see if that trade can be redeemed. But if it's not...well, at
least we have options. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence would
probably find a way to stay upbeat about it, anyway.

Penn State season preview: Is James Franklin on the hot seat?

Penn State season preview: Is James Franklin on the hot seat?

It should come as no surprise that one scalding take heading into this college football season is that Penn State coach James Franklin is on the hot seat.

It’s understandable if you consider the fact that the Langhorne native has finished 7-6 each of his first two seasons, or that he is a combined 0-6 against Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan, the three teams he absolutely must beat to succeed in the rugged Big Ten East.

(Also to be taken into account is that the Lions lost to Maryland two years ago for the first time since 1961, and to Temple last year for the first time since 1941.)

Take a step back, though. Consider that he is still dealing with the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal — that, specifically, the draconian NCAA sanctions left him with a threadbare roster when he arrived from Vanderbilt.

Consider further that his own athletic director, Sandy Barbour, has his back, and that he is entering just the third year of a six-year contract.

Hot seat? Well, maybe a little toasty, but nothing more.

For the record, Franklin declined to play along when asked Tuesday afternoon about any noise pertaining to his job. He said during the Big Ten coaches’ conference call that he was concerned only with the task at hand — Saturday’s season opener against Kent State in Beaver Stadium and the day-to-day machinations of his team.

“Focus on that, not anything else,” he said. “Not any other conversations or anything else going on. Focus on the things we can control.”

He has said on other occasions that he considers this Year One of his program, since he finally has a full complement of 85 scholarship players (or thereabouts) at his disposal. He and his staff have consistently brought in top-notch recruits, something best reflected at the skill positions.

The Lions, however, are painfully young (12 players with senior eligibility) and have a new quarterback (redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley), questions along both lines and little depth on linebacker. They are also facing a tough schedule, especially early. September includes visits to Pitt and Michigan sandwiched around a home meeting with Temple, and later they not only face the Buckeyes and Spartans but an always-respectable Iowa club.

So if they tank — if, say, they go 4-8 (not an impossibility) — then it is safe to say that Franklin might be in jeopardy. If they again piddle along in the middle of the pack, which seems more likely, he will almost certainly get another year.

McSorley, a smallish run-pass threat (at 6 feet, 201 pounds), would appear to be a better fit for Franklin’s preferred offensive mode than the departed Christian Hackenberg, a classic dropback type — particularly since new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, formerly the head coach at Fordham, has brought his no-huddle spread attack to Happy Valley.

McSorley spelled an injured Hackenberg midway through last season’s TaxSlayer Bowl loss to Georgia, going 14 for 27 for 142 yards and two touchdowns, and he certainly has a pedigree. He was a rare four-year starter at Briar Woods High School in Virginia, leading his team to four consecutive state finals and winning the first three of those.

“Trace just has that gene inside him that just makes him a competitor, and just a winner,” said Wake Forest tight end Cam Serigne, once McSorley’s high school teammate.

That is literally true. McSorley’s dad, Rick, played football at Richmond, and a paternal uncle, Jeff, played at Marshall. But McSorley has seemingly taken that DNA and run with it.

In his very first high school game he led his team, minus its top two running backs, on a game-winning 88-yard drive in the final minutes. And in his career he won 55 of 60 games.

“He was kind of smart beyond his years,” Briar Woods coach Charlie Pierce said. “I’ve been coaching for 27 years and a head coach for 17 years at a couple different high schools, and I’ve only experienced a couple players that had a football acumen like Trace. Trace had the best, by far, at an early age.”

Now he will be entrusted with a unit that promises to be heavy on run-pass options.

“I think that’s going to be one of the best things of our offense,” McSorley said, “because the defense can in one sense never be right.”

He has a guy who can run in sophomore Saquon Barkley (a school freshman-record 1,076 yards last year) and a bunch of guys who can catch, headed by Chris Godwin (69-1,101-5 TDs) and DaeSean Hamilton (45-580-6 TDs).

But the line remains a question, and only one projected starter — right tackle Andrew Nelson — will open in the same position he filled a year ago. (The new left guard is Ryan Bates, a redshirt freshman from Archbishop Wood.)

The defensive line, which lost three NFL players in Austin Johnson (Titans), Anthony Zettel (Lions) and Carl Nassib (Browns), is likewise unsettled. Only end Garrett Sickels returns.

Linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White, a Philadelphia native, was lost for the season with a knee injury sustained in the 2015 opener against Temple. The fifth-year senior is back and will man the weak side, after playing the middle last year.

Jason Cabinda slid over from the weak side to fill the breach when Wartman-White was injured, and led the team with 100 tackles. He’s also back. So too is Brandon Bell (Mays Landing, N.J./Oakcrest High) on the strong side. He made 65 tackles last year despite “playing with two bad wheels” and “a shoulder that kept popping out,” according to Brent Pry, who was promoted to defensive coordinator after Bob Shoop left for Tennessee.

The secondary is likewise well-fortified, and includes cornerback John Reid, a sophomore from St. Joe’s Prep.

Bottom line: There are too many questions surrounding the Lions to believe they can challenge Ohio State and Michigan atop the division, and (perhaps) enough to drop them below the .500 mark for the first time since 2004. Split the difference, then. Figure that they remain a middle-of-the-road club, and that Franklin’s seat doesn’t become too hot to the touch.

Not yet, anyway.

Freelance writer Gordie Jones is a regular contributor to CSNPhilly.com.

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Adam Morgan, Phils vie to avoid sweep

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Adam Morgan, Phils vie to avoid sweep

Phillies (60-72) vs. Nationals (77-55)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

For the second time in less than a week, the Phillies try to avoid a sweep by winning the final game of a series against a division opponent. Adam Morgan will try to overcome the Phillies struggles as well as his own while the Nationals toss out veteran lefty Gio Gonzalez. 

Here are five things to know for Wednesday night.

1. Close to quality
For just the fifth time this year, Morgan put together a quality start for the Phillies on Aug. 19 against the Cardinals. In his follow up start against the Mets on Friday, he came quite close to another one.

If it wasn't obvious from his 1-8 record and his 6.50 ERA, Morgan has been pretty absymal this season. He's shown glimpses of his talent, such as his strong start vs. the Cards or his seven innings of one-run ball on May 10 in Atlanta. Yet for the most part, his outings have been filled with hits and home runs.

Back to Friday. He had gotten through the Mets lineup with just two runs in five innings, keeping the Phillies in the game while Bartolo Colon held them at bay. But a grand slam ended his night and gave him an ugly six-run, eight-hit line in five innings of play. While he tied a career-high with eight strikeouts, he allowed three home runs. That simply won't get it down.

In his final start of the month, he needs to put together a strong outing to prove that he's worthy of a rotation spot even after rosters expand in September. If he keeps allowing more runs than innings pitched, it'd be tough to keep handing him the ball.

2. Lefty in decline
In the first two games of the series, the Phillies saw two starters that they will see plenty of in the future: Tanner Roark and Max Scherzer. Now they face a man who headed their rotations of the past.

Gonzalez was traded to the Nationals in 2012 for his age-26 season after becoming an All Star for the first time. Not only did he come up with another All Star appearance in 2012, he won a league-high 21 games and finished third in the Cy Young vote.

However, that was pretty clearly Gonzalez's peak. His ERA has declined every season since 2012 and he no longer strikes out more than a batter an inning. When he was truly at his best, he was able to keep the ball in the ballpark at a very solid rate (0.4 home runs per nine innings in 2012). He was able to match that mark in 2015, but he's given up his most home runs per nine innings (1.0) since his rookie season in 2009. 

The bad news for the Phillies is that Gonzalez has a solid track record against the Phillies. He's 8-6 in 18 starts against them with a 2.82 ERA. He strikes out almost exactly a batter an inning in those games while not walking as many batters as he usually does. He's even better at Citizens Bank with a 2.52 ERA in 11 starts. 

Despite giving up just two earned runs over 13 ⅓ innings against the Phillies in April, he did not earn a win in his two starts. In fact, he lost his second start against them while the Nationals lost both games. 

3. Outperforming expectations
The Phillies are nowhere close to their 14-10 start, but that was to be expected. Very few thought the Phils could begin the season on such a strong run, which lasted into mid-May. 

Right now, they have a 60-72 record. However, their pythagorean record (which uses their runs scored and runs allowed to project what their record should be) is 51-81, nine games worse. 

Meanwhile, the Nationals are 77-55, comfortably in first place in the NL East. But their pythagorean record is 81-51, four games better than their current pace. 

There are plenty of reasons why teams can outperform or underperform compared to their pythagorean record. A team that outperforms can have a series of blowout wins that inflate their runs scored despite a 10-run outburst only contributes to one win. Teams that underperform tend to have lot of success in close games (or have suffered a few blowout losses), yet they also usually regress and start playing more towards their projected record.

The easiest way to explain why the Phillies and Nationals would have the out or underperformed is their bullpens. The Phils have had a strong backend of their bullpen with Jeanmar Gomez and Hector Neris, who have been able to close out many close Phillies wins. Meanwhile, the Nationals had Jonathan Papelbon closing for them. Papelbon had a poor enough season to be designated for assignment after blowing a few games this summer. 

The other reasons are the ones listed above: the Nationals offense has produced some big outbursts thanks to hitters like Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper and the Phillies have had some blowout losses (that Mets series last week was a great example). 

However, the main takeaway from this may be the surplus wins that the Phillies have produced thanks to their bullpen. Without Neris or Gomez, the team would not be where they are because close leads wouldn't have been as safe as they've been. 

4. Players to watch
Phillies: With the news that Ryan Howard will be getting less playing time, Tommy Joseph is the man who will benefit. He takes on a lefty tonight, although he hasn't faced Gonzalez before because he was not in the majors in April.

Nationals: Despite going 0 for 4 on Tuesday, former Phillie Jayson Werth has been on a tear this month. He's hit seven home runs, including one on Monday. He also has a .346 average against lefties.

5. This and that
• The Phillies are 1-7 against the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park this year. That includes a sweep by the Nationals from May 30-June 1, the first sweep by the Nationals at CBP since Sept. 20-22, 2011 (a four-game series).

• Freddy Galvis has the most at-bats of any current Phillie against Gonzalez. He's 8 for 31 with a home run, two doubles and a walk. Currently in Triple A, Darin Ruf is 10 for 28 against Gonzalez with three homers and eight walks. 

• Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa is 2 for 6 against Morgan with two home runs. Nats catcher Wilson Ramos is 3 for 5 with a home run and five RBI. 

• The Phillies are 12-13 in August despite have allowed 150 runs and scored just 111. The Nationals are 16-11 this month. 

Undrafted CB C.J. Smith still has 'a lot of room for improvement'

Undrafted CB C.J. Smith still has 'a lot of room for improvement'

Covering Colts receivers T.Y. Hilton or Donte Moncrief is a daunting task for just about every cornerback in the NFL, let alone an undrafted rookie. That's precisely what the Eagles were asking of C.J. Smith on Saturday when they plugged the North Dakota State product into the game with the first-string defense.

And the results weren't bad. Hilton and Moncrief made some catches, but each time, Smith was right there to challenge them, wrap them up and get them to the ground. No busted coverages. No missed tackles. No backing down.

"I think I did all right, but I think I have a lot of things to improve on," Smith said of his performance Saturday. "The game was a little faster than when I played in the preseason before, so I definitely think I have a lot of room for improvement."

All right would be a fair assessment. Smith wound up finishing with a team-high seven tackles, which is not a great stat for a corner because it usually means passes were being completed. Although once again, consider his background and the opponent. This 23-year-old hasn't even been practicing with the first-team defense, then one day all of a sudden Andrew Luck is throwing in his direction.

"Coaches gave me a little heads up," Smith said. "They didn't give me too many reps in practice with the ones, but I think they just wanted to see if I could handle being out there, thrown in the fire in my situation."

Nobody could've blamed him if he was nervous, if he would've made a mistake or got beat.

"A little nerve-racking at first, but things started to settle in," Smith said of facing a dangerous Colts passing attack. "My teammates had my back, so that was the biggest thing. And then the coaches said everything translates from practice to the game, you just have to trust it."

Seeing Smith out there with the first-team defense was something of a surprise. There's already a logjam at cornerback, where Nolan Carroll, Leodis McKelvin, Ron Brooks, Eric Rowe and Jalen Mills are jockeying for position. Smith getting a shot might mean the Eagles are considering keeping six corners, or that one of the others could be on the move.

The 5-foot-11, 189-pound defensive back impressed throughout training camp as well as in the Eagles' preseason opener, where he recorded three pass breakups and an interception. Smith also notes he played a lot of man coverage in college, a skillset he believes is attractive to this coaching staff.

Perhaps Smith getting a shot with the ones shouldn't have been a surprise based on the summer he's had. He's starting to build the case he shouldn't have gone overlooked in the draft either.

"I was hurt going into my senior year with a pretty bad knee injury, so I had to overcome that," Smith said of going undrafted. "And then I still think playing at the FCS level, it's tough to overcome that too."

Smith will have at least one more opportunity to show the Eagles what he can bring to the table Thursday when the preseason schedule wraps up against the Jets. Now that he's gone up against Pro Bowl-caliber talent, he should really shine in a game typically reserved for backups and fringe NFL talents.

Maybe that's expecting too much, but Smith probably won't mind.

"You try to expect a lot of yourself," Smith said. "I'm just taking things day by day, trying to get better every day, trying to control the things I can control."