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.

Several reasons behind Brandon Graham's seemingly sudden emergence

Several reasons behind Brandon Graham's seemingly sudden emergence

With three sacks in three games, Brandon Graham is off to the fastest start of his career by far, already almost halfway to his career high of 6½. Naturally, the Eagles' defensive end is excited about the production, but not nearly as excited as he was with the defense as a whole after a 34-3 romp over the Steelers on Sunday.

"For us, I was just happy we stayed together, we played together and the outcome was good," Graham said postgame. "Hats off to Pittsburgh because we did a lot of planning for them. We respect them a lot.

"I am just happy to get this win and I am happy in the style we did it."

Graham was one of four Eagles players to bring down Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, marking the first time the seventh-year veteran has recorded at least one sack in three consecutive games. In fact, prior to this season, Graham had never posted a sack in Week 1.

For once, the numbers are taking care of themselves for Graham — although that's not what he's focused on.

"Since I've been here, I've never gotten a sack in the first game, and I've never been consistent," Graham said. "I'm just trying to be the leader, go out there, get W's and be relentless."

There are plenty of explanations for Graham's seemingly sudden emergence.

This is only his second season as a full-time player in the NFL after injuries, then depth conspired to keep the 2010 first-round pick on the bench early in his career. Perhaps all he needed was an opportunity. The switch back to a 4-3 defense and wide-nine front no doubt helped rejuvenate Graham's career as well, allowing him to move from outside linebacker back to his natural position at defensive end and focus on rushing the passer.

With Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith all rotating in at end, Graham is also being kept fresh. Last season, the Eagles lacked the quality reserves to provide many breathers for Barwin and Graham on the outside.

"It's a great feeling because there's no pressure to hurry up and get back out," Graham said. "I feel like everybody is just as good and there's no drop-off when we come out of there.

"It's definitely going to help us later on in the year. It's been helping now."

There are all sorts of schematic reasons why Graham could finally be on his way to a breakout season. This will be his first full season as a starter at D-end in a 4-3, it's the first time since 2012 he's in a wide-nine and the defense no longer has to be worried about being exhausted by Chip Kelly's offense's uptempo approach.

Graham was also blessed with a new addition to his family during the offseason — a baby girl. The 28-year-old admits that changed his perspective as well, making him want to work even harder toward achieving his goals.

"Just the preparation and then the work this offseason, I took it up to another level," Graham said. "I guess because I had a daughter this offseason, everything is kind of viewed a different way for me.

"I know we have a good defense — that helps out a lot, too. I couldn't ask for a better defense right now."

Clearly, those goals are not individually motivated. Graham wants to be part of something great, and with a dominant performance against the Steelers in Week 3, the Eagles and their defense passed a huge test.

"I feel like we improved," Graham said. "We got a lot better. We stopped a good team, a great team, a well-coached team. Our hats off to them because they made us work this week."

Few people were expecting the Eagles to handle a trendy Super Bowl pick the way they did, and Graham actually prefers it that way.

"I hope we still get overlooked because it feels so good when people are talking the way they did," Graham said. "It added a little fuel. We watched a little bit of the TV (Sunday) morning, and they were just saying how [the Steelers] were going to dog us.

"I'm just happy that we came out and did what we were supposed to do, and I hope we stay the underdog because, for us, nobody gave us a chance and we stayed together. If we stay together in here, that's all that matters."

Through three games, the Eagles lead the NFL in fewest points surrendered with a paltry 27 and rank fourth in yards allowed. They're also tied for third with 10 sacks and tied for seventh with six takeaways.

If the defense stays together the way Graham says they have, how far does he think the Eagles go this season?

"I don't know," Graham said. "If we keep playing like that, there is no ceiling."

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Flyers Notes: Promising performances from young defensemen

Flyers Notes: Promising performances from young defensemen

The most impressive thing about the Flyers' 4-0 preseason win over the Islanders on Tuesday night was the play of the their young defense and the outstanding work by the penalty kill.

Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers each gave a strong accounting of themselves while veteran Andrew MacDonald proved why experience helps with some terrific PK work during an extended five-on-three Islanders power play in the third period.

“Overall, they did a good job,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I look at some of the opportunities we gave up, especially in the second period, we gave up three or four Grade A opportunities that Mase (goalie Steve Mason) was great on, but I put those on our forwards.

“We’re still not into regular-season form on our play without the puck. I thought as a whole, the group of defensemen did a good job and the young guys in there were good tonight.”

Sanheim had strong plays the entire game from the point and picked up two assists (see highlights). He gets the puck quickly on net and joins the play up front.

“It took me a little bit, even in this game,” Sanheim said. “As I play more, I started to jump up more and you start to see my game more. It’s something I want to bring to this next level.”

Provorov logged 21:43 of ice time following nearly 29 minutes at New Jersey. He had 5:17 on the PK. Some of his clears weren’t deep or hard enough, at times, possibly because of fatigue.

He also took a bad boarding hit on Joshua Ho-Sang in the third period that set up an Isles five-on-three power play. It became extended because of a trip call to Myers but MacDonald did yeoman’s work on the extended PK.

Provorov quarterbacks the first-unit man advantage for now until Shayne Gostisbehere joins the crowd. He had some very skillful passes. The Russian can find the seam up the ice on the breakout quickly and had a no-look, hard pass to Nick Cousins in the second period for a quality one-timer on net.

Expect Provorov to handle the second-unit power play during the season, should he make the roster.

The goals
Although the Flyers, using a better NHL lineup, were lacking for offensive chances early against the Isles' "B" squad, they found their way in the final four minutes of the opening period.

First, Dale Weise had one of those pinball goals as a bouncing puck hit a couple of players in the slot, including goalie Chris Gibson, to make it 1-0 during four-on-four play.

That was the Flyers' first goal of preseason in three games. A little more than a minute later, Wayne Simmonds scored off a rebound just as a Flyers power play ended. Simmonds had two goals in the game, including a wrister from the left circle to open the final period.

Smallish (5-foot-7) — but bullish — centerman Andy Miele, a former Hobey Baker Award winner as college hockey’s top player (Miami-Ohio), made it 3-0, out-battling Thomas Hickey for the rebound of Michael Raffl’s shot.

The shield
Simmonds is wearing a visor for the first time. It’s an experiment for now.

“Everyone is all over me about it,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. It wasn’t too bad tonight. The only thing is trying to track pucks in the sky when you are getting the glare from the lights. A little bit of an adjustment."

He said neither his mother nor girlfriend had pushed him as hard to wear the shield as someone else: “Ron Hextall,” he said flatly. “He gave me a call.”

Because of his tenacious play in the slot where sticks are high and pucks are deflected, a shield makes sense.

“Yeah, I think so, being that front guy and doing work on the PK,” he said. “Getting sticks in lanes like that, the game is really fast and pucks get deflected.

“Sometime you don’t know where they’re going and can’t react to that. Obviously, the shield is good for that."

He added he would wear the shield in a fight, too.

“Every time I fight and someone has a shield on, I’m at a disadvantage so I guess this evens it up,” he said.

Loose pucks
Weise did a nice job sticking up for teammates late during a melee after a Ben Holmstrom crosscheck to linemate Nick Cousins. “It was a bad crosscheck and you’re defending your teammates,” he said. “The ref was in the way and I kind of went overtop him. That’s what I’m about. Guys take liberties on my linemates, I’ll stand up for them.” … Matt Read had just 6:54 ice time through two periods. Fourth-liner Boyd Gordon had more ice time there — 9:39 — but Read finished with 13:55 to Gordon’s 13:41. More than half of Gordon’s ice time was on the penalty kill. … Goalie Steve Mason faced some point-blank chances among the first 17 shots he faced and finished with 23-save shutout.