Dear Sixers: Pick Up The Phone, Call Mitch Kupchak, Make This Offer

Dear Sixers: Pick Up The Phone, Call Mitch Kupchak, Make This Offer

Sixers CEO Adam Aron has previously offered me -- well, all of us -- the opportunity to play fantasy general manager for his basketball team. Today, I'm accepting his invitation.

Pau Gasol.

Andre Iguodala.

The Sixers have every reason to call. And the Lakers have every reason to listen.

Background
Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is openly shopping Gasol in an effort to reshape his roster following the second round beating delivered by the Thunder. You may also remember that Gasol was nearly traded to the Rockets immediately before last season, and would now be in Houston if not for the controversial rejection of a three-way deal that would have sent Chris Paul to Los Angeles -- the other Los Angeles.

Of course, moving the remaining two years of Gasol's contract, worth $38 million, is also a motivation for a Laker front office with well-documented tax concerns. That said, unless they're going to work out a multi-team deal with some wonderful trade exceptions and a whole lot of moving parts, they're going to have to take a fair portion of his salary back, per league rules.

Andre Iguodala fits the Lakers. His name has been brought up in discussions describing potential deals for Gasol, but it's never seemed like anything more than a "this guy's name is bantered around quite a bit, his salary matches close enough to work, and he fills a legitimate need for L.A." kind of suggestion. Then again, why does there need to be anything more?

I'll repeat: His salary matches close enough to work, and he fills a legitimate need for L.A. Then there's what Gasol brings to the Sixers. Let's take this apart in sections.

The Terms
A straight up Iggy-Pau swap wouldn't have worked previously. Last year, the deal would have pushed the Sixers over the Luxury Tax and the salaries would have fallen $500,000 outside the 125 percent + $100,000 threshold that needs to be satisfied once a team heads beyond the cap . If the deal was going to happen, the Sixers would have had to send something extra, like the $1.6 million they were paying Nik Vucevic during his rookie year. This decision, both financially and on the floor, made sense. More on it in just a second.

But once these contracts rollover to their 2012-13 values, they get close enough to work on their own. Gasol receives an only $285,000 raise while Iggy's contract escalates about $1.2 million. It's a gap larger than $500k, which means it works.

That said, if Vucevic isn't included in the deal, the Sixers have a logjam under the basket and the Lakers get a lot shorter. His contract clears a bit of extra salary for the Sixers, prevents the logjam, and provides the Lakers with height in return and a team option to terminate after just one year. His addition is obviously a negotiating point and there are other options. (Note: Just as a matter of full disclosure, and as reader Stu points out, Gasol does have a 15% trade kicker if he were to be swapped, bumping his salary to around $22 million per as a Sixer. The kicker does not impact the salaries matched in the deal, however).

Why It Makes Sense for Los Angeles
Starting with the Lakers, they desperately need a primary defender to take shift responsibilities away from an aging Kobe Bryant. If Los Angeles is going to maximize what's left of Kobe's career, they're going to need someone to lessen his burden on his own side of the timeline. Iguodala is an elite defender, one of the five best at guarding the perimeter in the league and is in serious consideration for an Olympic bid because of it. For 82 nights a year, plus the playoffs, he can cover the other team's best player, assuming his knees allow him to, though potential injury is part of literally any scenario. Worst case, he and Bean split it even at 41.

Moreover, the Thunder have clearly emerged as the new power in the Western Conference. The Lakers will, more likely than not, have to go through OKC if they're getting back to the Finals in pursuit of Kobe's sixth ring and their 17th NBA title. Bryant isn't going to get a pass on playing D for the rest of his career, nor, with the way he's wired, would he want one; so when it comes time to match up with Durant, Westbrook and Harden on D, they will be better prepared than they are now.

Speaking of what they have now, they get an immediate upgrade at the small forward spot by replacing Ron Artest. Quick stats from last season:

    Artest: 26.9 MPG, 3.4 Reb, 2.2 Ast, 7.7 Pts
    Iguodala: 35.6 MPG, 6.1 Reb, 5.5 Ast, 12.4 Pts

Of course, if this hypothetical deal were to go through, the Lakers would need to come up with a solution for the remaining two years and $15 million on Artest's contract. How they handle that is their business.

As for the benefits of Vucevic, in return for the departing Gasol, the Lakers get back a 7-foot big, who can back up center Andrew Bynum, a guy with a litany of injury issues, and some usable height at the 4, should they opt to use him in that capacity. Of course, he was also a first round pick in 2011, so we'll finish with the word "upside."

Oh, and they save $4 million over the next two seasons assuming Iggy plays both years. If he goes early termination in the summer of 2013 (unlikely, but you never know), they save a boatload. Actually, go read that link about their tax situation. It's horrifying.

Why It Makes Sense for Philly
Gasol immediately becomes one of the five best bigs in the Eastern Conference and makes the Sixers very long and very versatile. A backcourt of Holiday and Turner (plus additions) is paired with any combination of Young, Turner and Harkless at the 3 and Young, Gasol, Moultrie, Allen and possibly Vucevic between the 4 and 5 (I'm leaving Elton Brand out of his equation for an obvious reason, which we'll get to). Moreover, Gasol fits this team both in transition and in the half-court. Not only can he run the floor, but he creates passing and scoring options out of the post.

The Sixers will need to fill out the rest, particularly in the backcourt, with or without Gasol, but this trade would suddenly make Elton Brand and his contract even more interesting. The Sixers could keep Brand if they wish, so long as their additions don't force them to the tax, and have great depth under the basket, or trade him or amnesty him.

The trade or amnesty options are the fun parts. Truth be told, I'm not trading for Pau Gasol just to stop there.

Look at the teams you consider title contenders around the NBA. Now look at your Sixers. I love this team and loved watching them give the Celtics everything they had, but they're not a serious threat with this roster and we all know it. To win a championship, they need a serious paradigm shift and Gasol gives them that shift. For two seasons, Pau Gasol gives the Sixers a window to change their immediate future, because Gasol makes Philadelphia, almost overnight, a destination.

There are two roads through the Eastern Conference, one is through Miami and the other through Chicago. On the next tier down, Boston is on the decline, Indiana the incline, New York the always possible incline and Atlanta constantly middling. The Sixers, even if they prove to hang with the Celtics, Pacers, Knicks and Hawks, are not, at current, in the same league (almost literally with the way the NBA is structured between top and bottom) with the Heat and Bulls.

A trade for Gasol and the options presented by Brand's contract help to change that. By himself, absent any other moves, Gasol makes the Sixers more competitive in the East. But with someone else, a real someone else,
a real someone else now affordable given the $18 million they would have to spend or send, and a real someone else who might now consider Philadelphia an actual option to compete with Miami and Chicago, the Sixers won't be picking in the very middle of the first round any more, where they've been stuck for years, adding complementary pieces that fractionally improve a roster at an exponential disadvantage. And the downside? Assuming they aren't able to attract that extra someone, Gasol is off the books in another two years and the Sixers have another $$22 million to play with in 2014.

This franchise needs to make a bold move to escape mediocrity.

Pick up the phone. Call Mitch Kupchak. If he says no, you offered. If he says yes, then at worst, at absolute worst, the Sixers become relevant again in the National Basketball Association.

And, if he makes a counter-offer, well, now at least we're talking.

I'm sold.

MLB Notes: Braves place Erick Aybar on 15-day DL

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The Associated Press

MLB Notes: Braves place Erick Aybar on 15-day DL

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves have placed shortstop Erick Aybar on the 15-day disabled list with a bruised right foot.

Aybar left Friday night's game in the fifth, one inning after he was hit by a pitch from Miami's Adam Conley. The Braves said Friday night that X-rays were negative.

Aybar, acquired as part of the offseason deal that sent shortstop Andrelton Simmons to the Los Angeles Angels, is hitting .182.

Daniel Castro is starting at shortstop in Saturday's game against the Marlins.

In a corresponding move, the Braves recalled right-hander Aaron Blair from Triple-A Gwinnett to start Saturday's game.

Royals: RHP Chris Young activated off DL
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Royals have activated right-hander Chris Young from the disabled list before Saturday's game against the Chicago White Sox.

Young, who had been out since May 9 with a right forearm strain, was placed in the bullpen after beginning the season in the rotation. He was 1-5 with a 6.68 ERA in seven starts, allowing 13 home runs and walking 11 in 32 1/3 innings.

The 37-year-old Young earned the victory in the first game of the 2015 World Series, working three scoreless innings in relief as the Royals beat the New York Mets 5-4 in 14 innings.

Kansas City optioned left-hander Brian Flynn, who was 1-0 with a 4.91 ERA in five relief appearances, to Triple-A Omaha.

Indians: Brantley unsure when he'll return
CLEVELAND -- Indians outfielder Michael Brantley has no timetable for his return from the shoulder injury that has sidelined him for the second time this season.

Brantley spoke to reporters Saturday for the first time since being placed on the 15-day disabled list on May 14. He began the season on the DL following surgery for a torn right labrum in November. Brantley hit .231 with seven RBIs in 11 games before being shut down again.

Brantley, who received an anti-inflammatory shot in the shoulder two weeks ago, doesn't think he returned from the surgery too soon. He has been hitting off a tee but isn't sure when he will begin taking swings in the batting cage.

Brantley finished third in the AL Most Valuable Player voting in 2014 when he hit .327 with 20 homers and 97 RBIs. He batted .310 with 15 homers and 84 RBIs last season.

End to End: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

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End to End: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

Each week, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone, all producers/reporters for CSNPhilly.com.

The question: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

Dougherty
Scott Laughton will be given every opportunity to prove himself, and if there is any single player under contract on this Flyers roster with the most to prove, it's Laughton.

Laughton, the 20th overall pick in 2012, is coming off his first full season with the Flyers and he left much to be desired. He struggled to stay in the top nine and found himself a healthy scratch for seven games during the most crucial stretch of the season.

What concerns me about Laughton is Dave Hakstol struggled to find a position for him. Laughton is a natural center and the original thought process was he would play center in the NHL, which he still very well may. But Laughton ended up playing some wing this season, too. It was similar to what the Flyers were doing with Brayden Schenn in 2014-15.

Still, Laughton, who turns 22 on Monday, failed to show much at either position. He finished with seven goals and 21 points in 71 games. He found his way into the lineup for three games in the playoffs because of Sean Couturier's shoulder injury and showed little before suffering a scary injury that left him motionless on the ice for a few minutes.

We've said it before — Laughton will have every chance to earn his spot on the opening night roster in training camp. The Flyers won't give up on him after one disappointing season, but Laughton has to come to camp in shape and with an edge we haven't seen yet.

Looking into our crystal ball, the orange and black could have one or two more forwards from outside the organization in camp come September and Travis Konecny will be hungry to crack the lineup. Laughton is going to have competition for his spot on the roster.

And he has to prove to Hakstol, general manager Ron Hextall and the Flyers he deserves it.

Hall
There will be no shortage of pressure for Jakub Voracek next season.
 
Not much went his way this past season, the first after signing an eight-year, $66 million extension following his career year in 2014-15.
 
He started slow. He changed positions. He got hurt and then played through it.
 
It all culminated in a taxing and disappointing season.
 
So, if anyone, Voracek has the most to prove in 2016-17. He’ll want to show that his career season was no fluke, that he can produce near that clip and is worth the hefty deal doled out by the Flyers.
 
Voracek’s health/production will be one of the hottest storylines to start the season.

Paone
No player on the Flyers’ roster has more to prove next season than Voracek.
 
Remember how great he was in 2014-15 when he finished fourth in the NHL with 81 points after leading the league for much of the year in that category, was named an All-Star for the first time in his career and earned a massive eight-year, $66 million extension shortly thereafter?
 
Those contract numbers are important because what Voracek has to prove this season lies in those numbers. His play last season wasn’t necessarily befitting of someone with that type of contract.
 
Voracek put up solid numbers last season with 11 goals and 44 assists in 73 games, but he just didn’t have the same effectiveness that he did in the prior season. If you recall, it took him 17 games to net his first goal of the season, an overtime winner in Carolina on Nov. 14. His ineffectiveness caused Dave Hakstol to move Voracek up and down the lineup and even send him over to the opposite wing, a position Voracek had rarely ever played before.
 
It just so happens that contract extension kicks in this season.
 
The soon-to-be 27-year-old forward holds himself to incredibly high standards. He’ll be out to prove to himself this season was an anomaly and make sure people know he’s a star worthy of those contract numbers.

Today's Lineup: Ryan Howard still starting against a righty

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Today's Lineup: Ryan Howard still starting against a righty

One day after a rain-soaked 6-2 loss to the MLB-best Cubs, the Phillies look to steal a game against Chicago's fifth starter Kyle Hendricks Saturday afternoon (see game notes).

And with a right-hander on the bump for the Cubs, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has decided to give Ryan Howard the start at first base instead of Tommy Joseph.

This has been the subject of debate in Philadelphia. What to do with first base? Mackanin has used a platoon at first all season long, first with Darin Ruf and now with Joseph.

But with Howard's struggles at the plate continuing, many have called for more playing time for the 24-year-old Joseph, even against righties. Both played in Detroit.

Now it appears the platoon may continue. For at least one more day. Howard gets the call for Game 2 of a three-game set Saturday at Wrigley Field against Hendricks.

Howard is sporting a .159 average in 132 at-bats with .224 on-base percentage and is hitting .172 in May. Additionally, the lefty is hitting .162 against righties this season.

Still, Howard is tied for the Phillies' lead with eight homers. He's not making much contact and the case against playing him may be stronger, but he still has some pop.

Chicago is scheduled to start another righty Sunday in John Lackey. Joseph, who's hitting .290 with two home runs and four RBIs, might find his way into the lineup then.

Joseph faced four straight righties before Friday's game in Chicago. Against Atlanta last Sunday, he went 0 for 4, but in Detroit, Joseph was 4 for 11 with a homer and three RBIs.

What the Phillies do with Howard-Joseph at first base will continue to be a storyline until the situation is resolved. At least for Saturday, the discussion lives on.

In other lineup notes, Mackanin has given leftfielder Tyler Goeddel the day off, giving David Lough the start in left and batting him seventh. Cameron Rupp is back behind the plate, catching Jerad Eickhoff.

Here are today's full lineups:

Phillies
1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
7. David Lough, LF
8. Jered Eickhoff, P
9. Peter Bourjos, RF

Cubs
1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Jayson Heyward, RF
3. Kris Bryant, 3B
4. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
5. Ben Zobrist, 2B
6. Jorge Soler, LF
7. Miguel Montero, C
8. Addison Russell, SS
9. Matt Hendricks, P