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.

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Bryce Harper (knee) sits for Nats

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Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Bryce Harper (knee) sits for Nats

Bryce Harper is out of the Nationals' lineup Tuesday night after being hit in the knee by a Jeremy Hellickson pitch on Memorial Day.

Big break for the Phils considering Harper has hit .346 against them with three doubles, 11 home runs, 23 RBIs and 21 walks in his last 104 plate appearances against them.

It's an equally big break for Aaron Nola, against whom Harper is 6 for 10 with two homers (see game notes).

For the Phillies, Ryan Howard gets the start at first base against another right-hander, Washington's Joe Ross. Phillies fans are clamoring for more playing time for Tommy Joseph, but starting Howard against Ross does make some sense given how much better lefties have been against him (.295 BA) than righties (.209). Ross throws a ton of sinkers and sliders which make it tough on same-handed hitters.

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Cameron Rupp, C
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Tyler Goeddel, LF
7. David Lough, RF
8. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
9. Aaron Nola, P

And for the Nationals:

1. Ben Revere, CF
2. Jayson Werth, RF
3. Daniel Murphy, 2B
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
5. Clint Robinson, LF
6. Anthony Rendon, 3B
7. Wilson Ramos, C
8. Danny Espinosa, SS
9. Joe Ross, P

The Ryan Howard saga is hard to watch

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The Ryan Howard saga is hard to watch

It's difficult to feel sorry for a professional athlete who will have earned nearly $200 million in salary before his playing career ends at 37 years old. It's hard, but Ryan Howard is doing an outstanding job of making me feel bad anyway.

The statistics speak for themselves. As the calendar rolls over to June, Howard is batting .157 with more than twice as many strikeouts (52) as base hits (22). Debate rages as to whether the Phillies should hang on to the three-time All-Star for locker-room morale -- perhaps also in the desperate hopes they can still trade him -- or if they should just put The Big Piece out of his misery with an outright release.

There's no satisfying answer here. All I can say is I wish for it to be over.

Howard's decline has been one of the saddest to watch in recent Philly sports memory. From 2005 through 2011, he was the heart of the Phillies' order, belting 284 home runs and driving in 859 runs in six-and-a-half seasons, during the most successful run in franchise history. In 2016, Howard's bat can barely catch up to the ball, let alone knock it out of the infield.

Largely through no fault of his own. Howard has never been the same since rupturing his Achilles on the final at bat of the 2011 season. Sure, there were signs he was slowing down or that the rest of the league was catching up to him even then, averaging 32 homers between the '10-'11 seasons compared to 49.5 over '06-'09 -- but he was still hitting the ball at that point.

Since the injury, Howard's power hasn't necessarily dipped dramatically. It's his ability to hit the ball, period. From '04 to '11, he was a .275 hitter. After the injury, he's batting .226. This season has been especially trying, with the month of May bordering on the historic.

Of course, it's not news Howard's career was derailed by injuries. It's no secret he's been particularly awful this season. It's just harder than ever to watch.

Just how ineffective has Howard been in 2016? In retrospect, maybe the numbers don't quite do the struggle justice. Obviously, he isn't hitting, and he's striking out as frequently as ever. What's new this year is the percentage of fly balls that don't even make it out of the infield -- 12 percent, which is twice as high as any season in 13 Major League seasons.

What does it mean exactly? Howard's swing is so jacked right now that even when he does make contact, even when he doesn't hit a ball into the defensive shift, one in 10 times is essentially a harmless pop-up.

To his credit, Howard also has eight home runs this season, some of which have been big at bats or game-winners. He's also been hailed as a positive influence and leader in the clubhouse, an example this young group of Phillies can certainly benefit from.

Nor do I believe Howard really needs anybody to feel bad for him. He's worked hard and accomplished more than most ever will at his profession, and as a result is able to provide for his family and generations beyond. He's built a great legacy both on the baseball diamond, but one that no doubt extends beyond athletic prowess.

Yet none of that changes the fact that Howard's play has deteriorated to the point where he's become a black hole in the Phillies' lineup. It pains me to say that, to use this platform to write it -- just not as much as it pains me to watch it happening.

I'd love nothing more than for Howard to go on a tear and end his final season with the Phillies with head held high. It's the ending a legend like him deserves. Or better yet, improve his production to a level where a contender in the American League would sign Howard and give him one last crack at postseason baseball.

But short of that, I'd love nothing more for it to all be over, to not have to watch one of the great Phillies sluggers flail away every other or third day, or less as it soon may come to. It's not a matter of debate as to when or how that should happen. The sooner, the better.

10 observations from Tuesday's Eagles OTAs

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10 observations from Tuesday's Eagles OTAs

The Eagles wrapped up their Tuesday practice just before 12:30 p.m. under a hot summer-like sun.

Tuesday was the first day of four in the team’s final week of OTAs, which are voluntary. The mandatory minicamp starts next Tuesday and runs through next Thursday.

That’s when we might see Fletcher Cox and Darren Sproles, both of whom have been staying away from the team during the voluntary period. And that’s where we’ll start with today’s 10 observations:

1. With Cox still out, Mike Martin was again working with the first team at defensive tackle next to Bennie Logan, as he was last week. Two weeks ago, Taylor Hart was next to Logan at tackle. Martin was a depth piece in Tennessee and that’s how he’ll fit with the Eagles once Cox comes back.

Martin was also involved in the first little scuffle we’ve seen during these spring practices. Nothing too exciting … just a little shoving with left guard Allen Barbre.

2. Sproles is still out, but Ryan Mathews returned. Mathews missed the last practice opened to the media with an illness but participated Tuesday. The interesting thing was that Mathews didn’t get all the first-team reps. In fact, Kenjon Barner actually opened the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 portions of practice with the first team.

It’s early, but Barner has looked pretty good this spring. It’ll be interesting to see if he fits with the team. He’s ahead of rookie Wendell Smallwood now, but would the team really elect to keep him over a fifth-round pick? Or will the team be OK keeping four running backs again?

Another note: Rueben Randle (gallbladder surgery) is still out.

3. We saw a little trickery from Doug Pederson’s offense on Tuesday against no defense. First, Chase Daniel threw a lateral screen to Josh Huff, who threw down the right to Smallwood. Then, Carson Wentz threw a lateral pass to Nelson Agholor and then Wentz ran a route down the left sideline, but Agholor overthrew him.

Maybe the trick plays are just way to keep practice lighter, but it might also mean the offense is moving along nicely and installing more and more of the playbook. It’s a good sign.

4. Wentz was up and down on Tuesday, but his best completion came on a deep pass down the right sideline to wideout Xavier Rush (who is a candidate for best name on the team). Rush wrestled the ball away from corner C.J. Smith, who should know Wentz pretty well. The two played together at North Dakota State.

Meanwhile, Sam Bradford had a shaky day, throwing several balls that could have been picked off.

5. Again, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks — the two Jim Schwartz guys in the secondary — were working with the first team. On Tuesday, Eric Rowe was the extra corner on the field in the nickel. When Rowe came in, Brooks shifted into the slot. It still looks like Nolan Carroll isn’t yet allowed to practice during team portions.

On the first play of 11 on 11s, Brooks broke up a pass from Bradford that was then picked off by Rodney McLeod and taken the other way. Not a good throw from Bradford, but Brooks was aggressive and jumped it.

6. Down by the goal line during the team period, Malcolm Jenkins made a nice play to get in front of a pass, but couldn’t pick it off. He’s in midseason form. Jenkins had a great year in 2015, but really struggled to intercept balls that he had in his hands.

7. Jordan Hicks didn’t participate in 7 on 7s or 11 on 11s Tuesday. Two weeks ago, he sat out with tightness in his legs, but returned last week. On Tuesday, with Hicks watching, Najee Goode filled in at first-team MIKE, flanked by Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks.

8. Chase Daniel overthrew two balls badly within a few plays during the 11-on-11 drills, but then capped off a drive by dropping a ball into the hands of wideout Paul Turner in the back of the end zone. Decent day for Daniel.

9. The Eagles ran some scout team looks for the first time (that we’ve seen) on Tuesday. Daniel ran the scout team, which makes sense. Normally, it would be the third-string quarterback, but Wentz probably has plenty on his plate. Not sure whom the offense was mimicking, but the two pinnies were Nos. 88 and 82. Perhaps the Cowboys?

10. At one point on Tuesday, the offense started to use a tempo offense, giving everyone in attendance flashbacks to Chip. Well, not exactly. The up-tempo didn’t last long and it did produce the ugliest Wentz pass since he’s been with the team.

We are seeing plenty of interesting looks from the Eagles. At times they’ve been using formations with three tight ends. And they even showed some designed quarterback runs on Tuesday. The progression and complexity of this offense is starting to be revealed by these practices, and it’s something to keep an eye on.

Stupid Observation of the Day: Punter Donnie Jones has begun to wear a pretty sweet white and blue bucket hat at practice when he’s not wearing his helmet. Only a punter could get away with this. Here, you can see him in the background from last week.