Don't Write Off Andrew Bynum Just Yet

Don't Write Off Andrew Bynum Just Yet

Yeah, the news is pretty bad. With Saturday's revelation from GM Tony DiLeo that all timetables for Andrew Bynum's return—to the 76ers, to basketball activity, to a quasi-normal hair level—have been put on hold, it appears that most of our worst fears about Bynum have been confirmed (or at the very least, validated). Nothing is certain yet, but it's seeming more and more probable that all of the following are the case:

1. Andrew Bynum will very likely not play a single minute for the Philadelphia 76ers this regular season.

2. If the team makes the playoffs, Bynum will very likely not play with them in the post-season.

3. In the off-season, Bynum will very likely still land a high, possibly max-level contract in free agency, which the Sixers will have to decide whether to match and/or exceed without having seen him play in a year (and never for the 76ers).

4. If the Sixers do sign Bynum to a deal in the off-season, he'll very likely still be recovering from injury (or from the eventual season-ending surgery he might have later this year) and will not be ready opening day or for some time into the season.

5. If the Sixers do re-sign Bynum and he eventually does return to the lineup, there's no guarantee he will ever be fully healthy (or fully at the level he was playing at eight months ago), and he will very likely continue to miss significant chunks of playing time for the remainder of his career.


Yeah, it's like that. Yet even with all that said—and it's a whole lot to say, for sure—I'm still going to try to tell you why it's too early to close the book on Andrew Bynum as a Philadelphia 76er, and why the team very likely will and/or should pursue re-signing him in the off-season, despite all the countless risks and red flags.

First and foremost, forget about this season. It was never about this season. Now, that's a tough thing to swallow for those of us who have stuck through the team through the half-decade of post-Iverson mediocrity—four low-seed post-season appearances in five years, only one (injury-assisted) playoff series win—and were thinking that with Bynum's arrival, something was finally going to be different this year. The fanbase—what's left of it at this point—is fed up with all the averageness, and to be asked to be patient for another year isn't what anybody wants to hear.

But the goal in landing Bynum wasn't to compete for a championship in 2011-12. The goal was to grow a core that could eventually contend over the course of Bynum's five-year deal, after he hopefully re-signed with us in the off-season. With Bynum, Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young locked up (and Evan Turner likely to follow), the Sixers hoped to have a consistent team in place that would have several years of playing together while each player was still in their basketball prime—Bynum would just be turning 26 at the start of the '13-'14 season, and he'd be the oldest of the quartet—and with some growing together, and a couple nice complementary pieces, could be a real threat in the Eastern Conference for at least three or four seasons.

So regardless of what happens this year—whether Bynum never plays a minute, whether the Sixers felt they were dealt damaged goods by L.A., whether they're still miffed at him for going bowling without written permission—none of it should matter a lick when it comes to re-signing him in the off-season. The only important thing is what they think Bynum will be capable of moving forward, and if they think he'll still be able to be healthy and productive, then they shouldn't hold any of this season's travails against him.

Of course, that's a big, big if. It's possible that the myriad injuries Bynum has suffered through this season will all eventually heal and not re-appear, but given that the injuries came outside of game action (and given Andrew's prior history with leg injuries, causing him to miss over 15 games in all but two of his seven NBA seasons before this one), not too many betting men would wager on that happening. More likely, leg issues will plague him for his entire career in some form or another.

But if the Sixers check Bynum out in the off-season—and hopefully do a more thorough job than they did the last off-season—and conclude that there's no specific reason to believe he'll never be healthy again, then I think they'll still probably be better off rolling the dice with him again. Even if Bynum's seven years in LA were injury-plagued, he was around enough to help the Lakers win a pair of championships, and establish himself as the league's second-best seven-plus-footer. If he could give the Sixers an average of 55 healthy games a year for five years, and be around to play in four of the post-seasons, I think we still take that in a heartbeat.

Because here's the thing: The Sixers aren't getting another Andrew Bynum anytime soon. It was practically a miracle that they got him in the first place (even if it doesn't feel particularly miraculous at the moment), and to expect another All-Star caliber center still in his best years to become available to the Sixers in the next five years is decidedly impractical.

There's only three ways to get a player like Bynum (or any other player, for that matter)—by trading for him, drafting him, or picking him up in free agency. Even if a Bynum-level big somehow emerged on the trade market, the Sixers no longer have the assets to trade for one, having given up their last two first-round draftees to get Drew the first time around, and dealing a couple future first-rounders in the off-season as well. Unless Arnett Moultrie grows into the second coming of Serge Ibaka, or unless the team is willing to part with Evan Turner, the team won't have either the draft picks or the cheap, young players to package with a Spencer Hawes or Jason Richardson to make a blockbuster deal work. Drafting another Andrew Bynum isn't impossible, but it's going to be hard to do as long as the team keeps picking just inside or outseide oft he lottery, as they're likely to do with this set of players—and I don't see the team committing to tanking for one as long as Doug Collins is the coach, certainly.

That leaves one remaining avenue: Free agency. Could the Sixers get a big of Bynum's caliber on the open market? They could make a run at Al Jefferson or Josh Smith in the off-season, but neither fit the team's needs as well as a healthy Bynum, and both might require clearing some cap space (as well as declining to re-sign the likes of Dorell Wright and/or Nick Young) to do so. And regardless of who they target, with the CBA rules the way they are and with Philadelphia not a particularly attractive market to prospective free agents, the Sixers will always be fighting against the tide to land a big fish in free agency—as opposed to with Andrew Bynum, where Philly should have the inside track in re-signing him by being able to offer him more money than anybody else.

And if a Bynum-caliber player doesn't become available to the Sixers in the next few years, then what? We can use our cap space to plug little holes in the lineup—a backup point guard here, a defensive wing there—but as just about anybody inside or outside the NBA will tell you, only 15-20 players in the league really matter. Only those 15 or so players make bad teams good and make good teams great, and without at least one of those guys, you can only scrap your way to so many wins on grit and toughness and teamwork. Star power almost always wins in the end, and if all the Sixers do is solidify their team around their current core, the best they can hope for is to be the Atlanta Hawks of the last five years, winning about 50 games every year and getting demolished in the second round.

And here's the other thing—the Sixers are really close to being really good. Jrue Holiday appears to have taken the next step and then some, cementing his status as a top-flight point guard in the Eastern Conference and likely elbowing his way into All-Star contention with last night's dominant 33-point, 13-assist performance against the Suns. Right behind him is Evan Turner, leading the Sixers in rebounding from the wing, improving his efficiency as a scorer and playmaker, and seeming to find a way to contribute every game, even when his shot is off. If both those guys continue on their current development paths, it's not hard to see them emerging as the second and third-best players on a contending team a year or two down the line.

Surrounding them, the rest of the team appears to have fallen into place as well. Jason Richardson is the best deep threat the Sixers have had since Kyle Korver, if not longer. Thaddeus Young basically is who he is at this point, a solid, undersized power forward who'll chip in with scoring and rebounding every night but rarely dominate, but if he's your fourth or fifth best player, you're doing OK. Spencer Hawes is overpaid, but for a backup center, you could certainly do a lot worse. Lavoy Allen and Dorell Wright are quality rotation guys, and Nick Young is...well, he's Nick Young. There's a real team here, one that can be good (and very possibly even better than good) for a long time.

But it all revolves around Andrew Bynum. He's the missing piece, the guy who makes everybody else's role on the team make sense. With him we're a complete unit, without him we're undersized and out-rebounded and perpetually one scorer short. With him on the sideline, someone on the team is always getting overexposed—whether it be Kwame or Spencer getting too many minutes, Jrue or Evan taking too many shots, or Thaddeus or Lavoy getting beaten for too many rebounds. This team needs Andrew Bynum, or someone like him, to be great—and for better or worse, there aren't too many players like Andrew Bynum out there for the taking in the NBA.

So the team might have to take a chance. Hell, it might have to take a really, really big chance. I'm not advising they threw caution to the wind, mind you—if Bynum's legs are just done, never to recover, then get their medical team to ascertain that information and send him merrily on his way. But if they take a look at him next off-season and see another calculated risk...I'd hope they think long and hard about taking it, even if the odds are decent it blows up in their faces. For a franchise that has been slightly above-average for so long, I think the chance of being great is worth more than the certainty of being decent.

Of course, maybe this is all premature. Maybe Bynum recovery goes better than planned, he helps lead the Sixers on a deep playoff run, and all agree that an extension in the off-season is for the best. But if you're skeptical of that, and you probably should be, I hope you're not totally writing him off as a sunk cost just yet. We need him too bad, and worked too hard to get him, to just let him get away that easily. And if the Sixers do let Bynum walk, and fail to get another big of his equal in the off-season, I hope it triggers a full-on rebuild. At that point, I'll probably be in favor of any move that allows us to escape another seventh or eighth seed.

Provorov, Schenn shine in Flyers' last scrimmage before preseason

Provorov, Schenn shine in Flyers' last scrimmage before preseason

VOORHEES, N.J. – Five games.

That’s what the Flyers are facing this coming week, which is why coach Dave Hakstol had his players involved in a full scrimmage Sunday morning at Skate Zone.

“I like it better than practicing,” offered Michael Raffl. “A little more action. A little physical and it gets you in game shape. I enjoyed it.”

The Flyers have two split-squad games on Monday – one in New Jersey against the Devils and other in Brookyln against the Islanders.

The scrimmage was up-tempo. So much so, Raffl and defenseman Will O’Neill were involved in a dangerous collision in the left corner that could have been disastrous with both players getting up slowly, but uninjured, on a puck chase.

“I don’t know, I was coming in hard,” Raffl said. “At first, I thought about playing the body and then I didn’t want to. So I was mixed in-between trying to slow down and there was a lot of contact as I fell into the boards. I felt fine afterwards.”

Raffl hit his neck awkwardly and was lucky to be uninjured. O’Neill took the hit.

“I went into the wall and knew he was coming and tried to be strong on my feet,” said O’Neill, a free agent signed over the summer. “Contact play in a bad area. Tough part of the ice.”

Hakstol held his breath there.

“It could have turned out differently,” he said. “It was kinda awkward play. You’re always happy to see him pop up and come out for another shift right after that.”

Raffl’s gray team won the scrimmage, 2-1, with rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov setting up a play that resulted in Brayden Schenn’s game-winning goal from Wayne Simmonds.

“Good tempo, competitiveness … kind like the first few days where tempo and work levels were good,” Hakstol said of the scrimmage. “It tends to be a little scrambly in those first scrimmages.”

Jordan Weal centered the top line with Schenn on the left. Hakstol has Schenn on the left right now to get him used to playing there again. Once Claude Giroux returns from the World Cup of Hockey, the top line of Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds will be reunited.

“I made the play up there to Simmer and a nice pass by Provy to me and then Simmer back door to Schenn,” Weal said of the game-winning goal. “It felt good ... I’ve played just one game in nine months.

“I’m just trying to get a feel for being on the right side of pucks. It’s not going to come in the first game.”

Weal was impressed with Provorov.

“He’s a really good player,” he said. “You can see it in his skating, his passing. He’s got a lot of confidence. He tore up the WHL and that’s a great league. It’s going to be exciting to see him moving forward.”

Hakstol rated Provorov as “solid and efficient” in the scrimmage.

Loose pucks
Steve Mason worked with Carter Hart in goal … Alex Lyon and Anthony Stolarz worked for the black team. Mason didn’t give up a goal. “We have eight exhibitions on the schedule and I will get into three or four of those,” he said. “By the time those wrap up, I’ll be where I want to be. Right now, I am feeling great which is a good start.” … Hakstol said Mason won’t play on Monday … Rookie forward Travis Konecny sat the scrimmage out (maintenance day). He said he was given a day off, but Konecny was receiving treatment by the medical staff on Saturday. “I see the trainer every day, I’m fine,” he said. Konecny should play in one of the split-squad games on Monday … Greg Carey had the other goal for the gray squad; Nicolas (cq) Aube-Kubel had the lone goal for the black squad … The defense rotated for both teams. Provorov was with Philippe Myers much of the game … Jakub Voracek practiced on his own. He won’t see action in the first three games and neither will Shayne Gostisbehere because of the World Cup, Hakstol said ... The scrimmage consisted of  two, 25-minute periods with a running clock. Sounds like the Public League, no?

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

NEW YORK -- Alec Asher’s two-seamer was nearly perfect against the Mets on Saturday night — even if the pitching line was attached to his name was decidedly less so.

The rookie exited after five innings with four unearned runs attached to his name — two Phillies’ throwing errors on playable ground balls will do that — but lowered his ERA to 1.66 in a 10-8 victory that was far, far closer than it needed to be.

Lost in the shuffle of the Phillies bullpen’s attempt at self-immolation was just how effective Asher’s newly-developed two-seam fastball was in the early innings against the Mets’ full lineup. The relatively slow pitch — it was sitting around 90 MPH Saturday — generated six popouts during his perfect first trip through the batting order.

“Being able to throw a pitch that’s not straight works wonders,” Asher said. “Last year, I didn’t really have success throwing the four-seam, so just adding that little bit of movement misses barrels, [generates] mishits and gave me a lot of ground balls and weak contact, which is all I can ask for.”

Opponents are batting just .182 off Asher’s two-seamer in his four starts this year, according to data from Fangraphs.com, a complete 180 from his disastrous September call-up in 2015.

In his first major league starts, Asher struggled to establish a mound presence with a four-seamer that nearly touched 95 MPH. Opponents batted .250 and got seven extra-base hits off the four seamer as Asher finished 2015 with an ugly 9.31 ERA.

The Phillies challenged Asher to generative more movement on the pitch and he returned in Spring Training with an entirely new repertoire.

So far, the effort has paid off.

“It’s outstanding. It’s been a real good pitch for him and his changeup,” manager Pete Mackanin said of Asher’s two-seamer. “He didn’t have either pitch last year, and for him to come up with it over the course of the winter and throw those pitches so effectively is huge.”

Asher relied on the changeup to escape the fifth inning — the only high-stress situation he faced all evening.

With four runs already in, a fifth runner poised on third base and a Citi Field crowd beside itself in hopes of a miracle comeback, Asher got pinch-hitter James Loney to top a low changeup out of the zone down the first base line that Tommy Joseph stopped with a dive.

“[I wanted] just to slow the game down and take it pitch by pitch,” Asher said.

Even if Saturday wound up being perhaps a bit more frantic than he would have liked to be, Asher has developed a formula for future success as he prepares for his final start of the season next Friday — also against the Mets — and 2017.

“Just establishing the fastball, commanding both sides of the plate and changing speeds,” he said.

His two-run single in the first inning on Saturday night — his first two career RBIs and, ultimately, the winning margin — was a bonus.

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