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.

Union-Crew 5 things: Still in good position, Jim Curtin's club looks to rebound

Union-Crew 5 things: Still in good position, Jim Curtin's club looks to rebound

Union at Crew
7:30 p.m. on TCN

Despite being dominated by Toronto FC on Saturday, the Union (9-9-7) managed to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, thanks to a handful of fortunate results around the league. But if the club wants to better its odds for the postseason, it needs to take care of business at Mapfre Stadium on Wednesday night against the Columbus Crew (4-8-11).

Here are five things to know for the matchup:

1. Playoff push
It hasn’t been a convincing few weeks for the Union. Although the club still sits fourth in the Eastern Conference despite one win in its last six games, it needs points to stay afloat. That quest begins on Wednesday against the Crew.

“The focus is getting points,” Union defender Richie Marquez said. “For us, home or away, we need three points because we need to solidify that playoff spot.”

As of now the Union are in snug playoff position with 34 points — one ahead of the Montreal Impact and six in front of D.C. United and Orlando City for the sixth and final playoff spot. On the plus side, the club is one point behind the New York Red Bulls with a game in hand.

“It’s a push to get into the playoffs and try to see how high we can end up in the table,” Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. “It’s important we don’t look too much at the standings because anything can happen in this league. It’s all really tight. It’s important we go to Columbus with the right mentality and come back to Philly with three points.”

2. Coming off a loss
Speaking of the playoff push, the Union’s dream of being a top-two seed in the East took a major hit on Saturday in a 3-1 bashing by Toronto FC. The loss put Toronto up six and New York City FC up seven on the Union. 

Worst of all, it crushed all Union momentum coming out of a 4-0 win over the New England Revolution a week prior. Still, the club maintains its confidence heading into Wednesday.

“I feel good about this team and the players we have,” Bedoya said. “The goals we gave up were too easy. We have talent on this team, but there’s little things we have to fix. Once we get those right, we’ll be tough to break down.” 

As Jim Curtin explained, the short turnaround from Saturday actually works in the Union’s favor. 

“We were smart with how we managed the past two days in terms of getting the guys massages, taking care of their bodies, eating right and getting enough sleep,” he said. “They’ll be ready to go, they’re itching to get the bad taste out of their mouth after the Toronto game.”

3. Win-starved Crew
With the help of Ethan Finlay and Federico Higuain, the Crew took down the floundering Revolution over the weekend. But that’s nothing to celebrate over. It was just the club’s fourth win of the season and second since May 28. 

The Crew are currently closer to having the lowest point total in MLS than a playoff spot.

“It’s been tough,” Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said. “It’s a team that I believe in deeply but it’s natural that confidence dips when you don’t get the results. It’s about believing in our playing style and fine-tuning things, approving in some areas. I think we did that in the last game.” 

Though the Crew attempt to climb out of the basement on Wednesday, they know what they are up against. The Union took the first season meeting against the Crew, 2-1, and the second, 3-2. 

“They added Bedoya, who is a quality player,” Berhalter said. “Other than that, it’s similar to what they’ve been doing all year with [C.J.] Sapong and talented players behind him. Bedoya makes a good difference there, but they are a solid group and they’ll play with intensity. From our side, we’ll have to be smart how we approach the game.”

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: Facing the Crew twice this season, the Union have five goals. Chris Pontius has three of them. The Union forward scored the brace on March 12, then buried another on June 1. 

Crew: MLS rookie Ola Kamara leads the Crew with 10 goals, including one against the Union on June 1. Since May 28, the forward has 10 goals and one assist in 12 games.

5. This and that
• Facing the Crew has always been tough for the Union. Including two wins this season, the Union are 6-10-1 against the Crew all-time.

• The Union have only suffered back-to-back losses twice this season, and both times it happened in the club’s last 10 games.

• Of Kamara’s 10 goals this season, six have come at home. 

• The first-ever meeting between the Union and Crew happened on Aug. 5, 2010, and was a 2-1 loss for the Union. Sebastien Le Toux scored a penalty kick but Steven Lenhart buried the brace.

How Jim Schwartz changed Stephen Tulloch's career

How Jim Schwartz changed Stephen Tulloch's career

Stephen Tulloch hasn’t just had a successful NFL career under Jim Schwartz. He’s had a successful career because of Jim Schwartz.

“I have a lot of love and respect for Coach Schwartz,” Tulloch said following his first practice with the Eagles (see story).

On Tuesday, the Eagles’ newest linebacker credited Schwartz for the Titans’ drafting him with the 116th overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft. He said Schwartz pushed for him, “when nobody else really wanted to go after” him.

“I’ll leave you with this story,” Tulloch began.

“So in 2006, I go to the NFL combine. I measure in at 5-10 and some change, whatever I was. It was the second day of the draft and [the Titans] were about to draft a guy from another school, so Coach Schwartz goes into [Jeff] Fisher’s office and makes a little tape of my highlights from college, and (former Titans linebackers coach) Dave McGinnis at the time. He changed Coach Fisher’s mind and Floyd Reese at the time was the general manager. I was the 116th pick in the [2006] draft. That was it. I came to Tennessee and the rest was history.”

So, who was the player the Titans almost drafted?

“I’m not gonna put it out there,” he said. “It was another guy and I’m fortunate enough to get drafted and still be here in the league.”

The decision worked out well for the Titans. Eventually, Tulloch became a starter and played five total years in Tennessee before moving on to Detroit. 

As for the other linebackers in the 2006 draft, well, Tulloch was one of 15 linebackers taken in the fourth round or later in 2006. To date, Tulloch has started 111 games. The other 14 have started a combined 138.

The other two linebackers taken in the fourth round in 2006 were Leon Williams to the Browns and Jamar Williams to the Bears. Leon Williams (pick No. 110) last played in 2012 and started just 12 NFL games, while Jamar Williams (pick No. 120) played five years and has just three career starts to his name.

Tulloch is still going strong. And he owes a lot to Jim Schwartz.

“I always thank him for the opportunity I had in Tennessee,” Tulloch said.

Jake Thompson left searching for answers after latest rough start

Jake Thompson left searching for answers after latest rough start

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — On the whole, the Phillies have made steady progress in their rebuild this season.

Cameron Rupp has improved. Maikel Franco has had a nice year. Odubel Herrera, even with his recent inconsistency, has had more ups than downs. Cesar Hernandez has been on a good roll. Freddy Galvis has 36 extra-base hits, and Tommy Joseph has opened eyes with his power. In the bullpen, Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos have shown that they just might be future studs.
 
For a good chunk of the season, the young starting pitching has shown promise, as well.
 
But lately, that corner of the team has taken some hits. Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin were both ruled out for the remainder of the season last week with elbow and knee injuries, respectively, and hard-throwing Vince Velasquez has been tagged for 19 earned runs in 16 1/3 innings over his last three starts.
 
Jake Thompson’s first four major-league starts haven’t exactly inspired confidence, either. The 22-year-old right-hander was hit hard in a 9-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay). He gave up eight hits, including five for extra bases, and seven runs as his ERA swelled to 9.78. Only Mike Maddux (9.98) in 1986 had a higher ERA for the Phillies in his first four big-league starts.
 
“I’m not used to this,” Thompson said after the defeat. “I feel certain that I’m a lot better than my performance has indicated.”
 
Few pitchers come to the big leagues and dazzle right away. There is a learning curve and occasionally growing pains. But no one expected Thompson to have this much trouble out of the chute, not after what he did in his final 11 starts at Triple A Lehigh Valley.
 
Thompson went 8-0 in those 11 starts and recorded a 1.21 ERA while allowing just 10 earned runs in 74 1/3 innings. He gave up just 52 hits and 18 walks over that span while striking out 42.
 
In four starts with the big club, he has given up 22 hits and 21 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He has walked 13 and struck out 13.
 
He was advertised as a control and command pitcher. He has yet to show that in the majors.
 
“A lot of it has to do with his age and, I think, the fact he’s in the big leagues for the first time trying to make a good impression,” manager Peter Mackanin said. “He probably feels like he needs to make perfect pitches every time. All he’s got to do is keep the ball down. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff. He relies on command and control and he hasn’t shown that. I attribute a lot of that to his youth and inexperience.”
 
So does Rupp, the catcher.
 
“How many guys do you see come to the big leagues at 22 years old and just flat out dominate every time they go out?” Rupp said. “Not very many. He's young. It was his first time in Triple A this year and he pitched really well and now he's got a chance in the big leagues. I'm sure he feels like there's pressure. When you come up and you pitch so well all year and then you finally get your opportunity, you want to impress. It puts a lot on you. And as a kid, you've got to be able to control it and it's tough. It's hard.

“Nobody wants to see anybody fail. It's hard to go through. It's something that's going to make him better when he does finally figure it out."
 
Two of the walks Thompson gave up Tuesday night became runs. He gave up back-to-back homers to Jose Abreu and Justin Morneau in the fifth inning as the White Sox turned it into a rout.
 
“Just too many pitches up in the strike zone,” Mackanin said. “Everything he threw was thigh high, waist high. He couldn’t get the ball down. It’s as simple as that.”
 
Thompson concurred with his manager.
 
“The issue is pretty evident,” he said. “I'm not throwing strikes and when I am throwing strikes, they're not good strikes. It’s a frustrating thing because it's a relatively easy thing to do. I don't really have the answer right now to fix it.”
 
The game moves fast at the big-league level and confidence can become bruised quickly. Thompson said his confidence was unshaken. Still, Phillies officials have to be careful that this difficult baptism to the majors does not snowball and become something that adversely impacts Thompson's growth.
 
“It’s something that you’re concerned about and I’m concerned about,” Mackanin said.
 
Concerned enough that Thompson might not make his next start?
 
Mackanin said he expected Thompson to stay in the rotation, but added that he would speak with general manager Matt Klentak on the topic.
 
“I don’t want to see him keep getting beat up and keep struggling like this,” Mackanin said. “We’ll talk about it and see what Matt wants to do.”