How'd We Do? Analyzing the Totality of the Sixers' Off-Season Moves

How'd We Do? Analyzing the Totality of the Sixers' Off-Season Moves

Halfway into July, if I had to take an educated guess, I'd say the
Philadelphia 76ers are basically done with their off-season maneuvering.
There's always the chance of the Andre Iguodala trade that we've been
predicting for about two-and-a-half years now, but talks have slowed on
that front, and most of the teams being talked of as possible landing
spots for 'Dre—whether a contending team like the Lakers or a rebuilding
one like the Warriors or Timberwolves—have either locked into their
current roster, and/or already looked elsewhere to fill their small
forward void elsewhere. With the free agent pool drying up and the
Sixers running up on the salary cap, it seems fairly likely that this is
the team the Sixers will take into next year.

So how did the Sixers do in what we here at the Level have been
calling the most pivotal off-season in the franchise's post-AI history?
Well, let's break it down into a series of questions.

Did We Get What We Wanted?

Superficially, the answer here would appear to be yes. If you'd
asked me before the off-season what the three things we needed the most
going into next year, I would have said a perimeter scorer who can
create his own shot, a knockdown three-point shooter, and a proven
interior presence who can anchor a defense. We basically got one of each
of those, in shooting guard Nick Young (17.4 ppg for Washington two
seasons ago), small forward Dorrell Wright (194 threes for the Warriors
two seasons ago) and big man Kwame Brown (starting center for the
Bobcats with decent results
two seasons ago), respectively. Technically speaking, the Sixers
managed to add the two pieces they most needed without needing to give
up anything on the two rosters.


What makes these moves so unsatisfying is that the Sixers basically
nabbed the lowest-cost, lowest-upside versions of the three players they
needed in Young, Wright and Brown. Young can score, but he can't do
anything else, Wright has little value when he's not parked behind the
three-point line, and while Brown has turned into a decent interior
defender and rebounder, he's certainly no Tyson Chandler, and his
offensive game can be charitably described as that of a "Rich Man's Ben
Wallace." Both still add something the team was sorely lacking, but
neither represents any sort of long-term solution for their respective
role. 

What's more, Young and Brown are notoriously low-IQ players with
long, long track records of losing and losing big, with Wright having
little post-season success of his own to speak of. Nick Young's
first-round victory with the Clippers this season was the first time in
any of the 24 combined seasons for the three players that one of them
won a playoff series in which they actually played. If creating a
"winning atmosphere" was one of the primary goals of the team this
off-season, this was an odd way to do it.

So I guess the answer here is yes, we got we wanted. But it turned out we didn't really want it that badly.

Did We Lose Much in the Interim?

No,
not really. Well, that's not totally true—we lost two of the guys that
came to define the team over the last half-decade of Sixers basketball
in overpaid free agent power forward Elton Brand and bench scorer turned
swaggy rapper Lou Williams. But the latter is basically replaced in
role by Nick Young, and while advanced stats still say that Lou was a
far better player than Nick the past few seasons...I'll believe that
when I start yelling at Young on one out of every three possessions as I
eventually was with Sour Patch Lou. And Elton was on his way out soon
anyway—either through a trade deadline deal or walking as a free agent
next summer—so though he was still an effective post defender and
occasional scoring option, you can't bemoan his loss too much.

If anything, you could argue that we should have lost more,
as the decision to retain Spencer Hawes at two years, 13 million was
probably the Sixers' most roundly mocked of the off-season, and
deservedly so—Spencer has still yet to prove that he can be a starter in
this league, and 6.5 a year is an awful lot for a backup. But
ultimately, the Sixers lost little that can't be fairly readily
replaced.

Did We Screw Ourselves For the Future?

Surprisingly,
no. If the Sixers want to claim one victory for the off-season, it's
this: They made absolutely zero moves that we'll be regretting four
years down the line. That, of course, is because the Sixers made no
moves that will imapct the team four years from now—every single thing
they did was for a maximum of two years. No contract signed by a Sixer,
old or new, this off-season, will still be going past the 2014
off-season.

This may not sound like that big of a deal, but it actually is—the
contracts that really end up hamstringing a team are the five-year,
$35-million type you give out to role players who either underperform or
turn out to be not $7-million-a-year important in their role, clogging
up a team's cap space for a half-decade and preventing any kind of big
moves from being made. The fact that Lou Williams and Spencer Hawes were
not given such deals has to be seen as some kind of progress. (Though,
puzzlingly, it seems like Lou was offered one and turned it down.)

Did the Sixers Show Evidence of Having a Long-Term Plan?

Sort
of, although how sound or noble the plan is is certainly up for debate.
It appears that the front office is basically planning on putting the
team on hold for two years, at which point Iguodala comes off the books
and the team has to have officially decided how much to invest in Jrue
Holiday and Evan Turner. In the meantime, they have the short-term
contracts and financial flexibility to either pursue free agents next
off-season or make a blockbuster trade for a big-name guy should the
opportunity for either arise. And they can use these seasons as sort of a
trial period to see who, along with Holiday and Turner, should be
considered a crucial part of the team's future.

It's a plan, anyway—certainly one better than pretending the team
was actually close to contending last post-season, and keeping the
team's core in place while adding pieces to put them "over the top."
(Team CEO Adam Aron basically admitted the team had maxed out as
currently constituted, which is a healthy realization for him to come
to.) It's not all that sexy of a plan, however, and it's not even one
the team followed through with all the way, as they failed to find a
trade for Andre Iguodala and their draft strategy of Young and Athletic
failed to mesh with their free agent strategy of Middle-Aged and Not
Totally Stiff. An inconsistent, unglamorous plan is probably still
better than no plan at all, but how much better is certainly subject for
debate.

Does Our Roster Make More Sense Than it Did At the End of Last Year?

And
this is where the Sixers really failed this off-season. None of their
signings or draft choices were explicitly terrible, none of the players
they cut bait with were particularly tragic losses, but the combination
thereof has left the Sixers with a roster totally lacking in balance. If
you count Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young (and in my opinion, you
should), the Sixers will be entering next season with a grand total of
five small forwards, all of whom will command some sort of consistent
minutes. Meanwhile, the team totally lacks a backup point guard (unless
you count Xavier Silas or Nick Young, which, no) and appears to be
giving serious consideration towards tipping off 2012-13 with a starting
front line of Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown—which, really, shouldn't
happen under any circumstances ever.

Can Coach Doug Collins make sense out of the mess? Probably, but not
without some issues of poor roster equilibrium eventually being
exposed, and not without somebody bitching about role and/or
minutes. You'd like to think that a trade or two is still on the way to
help clear up the mess, but such a trade doesn't seem a particular
priority with the Sixers currently—rather, when they trade, it's for a
guy like Wright that has one very valuable skill, but also already has
four other dudes at the same position in front of him.

Ultimately, you might not be able to call this Sixers off-season a
total failure—the fact that Lou Williams was actually allowed to walk to
Atlanta basically disqualifies it from being labeled as such—but you
certainly wouldn't call it a resounding success, either. It was about
100x more active than the last four off-seasons, but ultimately we're
left in the same place—watching a mediocre team that keeps putting off
the decision of whether to rebuild or try to contend. The Sixers could
still be a fun team next year, but it's gonna be hard to be real excited
about the group Rod Thorn and company—whoever's making decisions for
the team these days—have put together.

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies are still looking for the real Aaron Nola, but they may have found a useful bat Thursday night.

Aaron Altherr had the kind of season debut he’d dreamed about for the four months he was on the disabled list as he helped the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

Altherr was one of three Phillies to hit home runs on a night when the offense awakened after generating just one run the previous two days in Miami. Altherr, who came off the disabled list earlier in the day after missing four months with a wrist injury that required surgery (see story), drove a two-run homer to left in the fifth inning. Earlier in the game, Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph had back-to-back homers to headline a five-run first inning.

Franco leads the team with 19 homers and Joseph, hitting .375 with six homers in his last 17 games, has 14 in just 57 games with the club.

Altherr, who batted fifth behind Franco and Joseph, also had two hard singles in the game.

“He had a really good night in his debut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He provided a spark for us. He added to the offense. So I'm happy for that. It's good to get a win. We scored some runs, finally.”

Altherr was projected to be a starter in the Phillies’ opening day outfield until he suffered the wrist injury in spring training. He spent the last four months in Clearwater, rehabbing and, well, dreaming of a night like this.

“Definitely, especially sitting around thinking about how that first game's going to be being back,” he said. “For it to be like this, it was definitely special and I have to thank the Lord above for getting me back here as fast as He could.

“I was hoping to get a home run in the first game, but I definitely wasn't expecting it. Just hopeful. To have it happen like that was definitely awesome.

“It definitely surprised me a little bit because I hadn't really been driving the ball like I had wanted to down in my rehab stints. I'm just glad to know I've got [the power] in there somewhere.”

The Phillies hit all three of their home runs and scored all their runs against Atlanta right-hander Matt Wisler. He received a ticket to Triple A after the game.

The Phillies batted around against Wisler and scored five runs in the first inning. That was a welcome cushion for Nola, who desperately needed a win after failing to get one in his previous seven starts. The right-hander did manage to earn his first win since June 5, but it wasn’t exactly pretty. He lasted just five innings and threw a whopping 95 pitches as he continued to experience command issues that have been plaguing him in recent weeks.

Nola gave up eight hits and three runs. He walked three and hit a batter. That’s not Aaron Nola’s game. At least it wasn’t in his first 12 starts this season. He recorded a 2.65 ERA over that span and walked just 15 while striking out 85. He has walked 14 in his last eight starts.

“He's not the same guy,” Mackanin said. “He's just struggling with command once again. He's not dotting his fastball like he normally does. His curveball is erratic. He needs to get back on track.

“Sometimes it's harder to pitch when you have a big lead. You know you don't want to blow it. That can affect a pitcher as well. You have to have that mental toughness either way, whether it's a one-run game or an 8-0 game. You don't want to pitch poorly. There's a tendency, well, you have a five-run lead, should I throw more fastballs and challenge? But it was good to see he got a win. I'm happy for that. That should help him. He just needs to get to where he was. He's not there yet.”

Nola described his outing as “fairly OK,” which was probably right on. He got the win, but overall was not sharp. He allowed three runs in the fifth inning.

“I ran into some jams there,” he said. “I left some balls over the plate for them to hit. They took them the other way. The plan was to try to hit the outside part of the plate and they took it away.

“I feel like I have the command for the most part, but there’s some areas I still need to get better at and work to get better at.”

The Phillies used four relievers to close out the game. Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris pitched well. David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez did not. Gomez allowed three base runners and a run, but still managed to get the save. Hernandez allowed a hit and a pair of two-out walks before giving up an RBI double. A number of scouts from teams looking for bullpen help were on hand. Hernandez and Gomez probably did not help their trade value. Four days before the deadline, starter Jeremy Hellickson is still the Phillie most likely to be dealt.

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

CHICAGO -- Chris Sale returned from his jersey-trashing suspension and threw six effective innings, but John Lackey outpitched him and Aroldis Chapman got the final four outs to save the Cubs' 3-1 victory over the White Sox in Chicago's rivalry series Thursday night.

Sale (14-4) was greeted with smiles and hugs from his teammates following a five-day ban for tearing up 1976-style uniforms he didn't want to wear before his previous scheduled start. He had command issues, but worked out of trouble while allowing two runs and six hits.

Lackey (8-7) allowed one run in six innings for his first win since June 8. Chapman, in his second appearance since being acquired from the Yankees, struck out two and consistently hit 102 mph in his first save for his new team.

Kris Bryant, who homered against Sale in the All-Star Game, hit an RBI double off the center field wall in the first inning (see full recap). 

Diaz's homer helps Cardinals beat Marlins and Fernandez, 5-4
MIAMI -- Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three runs against childhood pal Jose Fernandez, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Miami Marlins 5-4 Thursday.

Fernandez gave up five runs in five innings and fell to 26-2 at Marlins Park.

Miami's Dee Gordon, the 2015 NL batting and stolen bases champion, returned from an 80-game suspension for failing a drug test and went 0 for 4. Ichiro Suzuki doubled as a pinch hitter in the seventh for Miami and needs two hits for 3,000.

Diaz and Matt Holliday homered in the third inning against Fernandez (12-5), who had never previously given up more than one homer in a home game. His only other loss at Marlins Park came on opening day this year against Detroit.

Michael Wacha (6-7) allowed three runs in six innings, and three relievers completed an eight-hitter. Seung Hwan Oh pitched around a one-out single in the ninth for his seventh save (see full recap). 

Familia falters again, Rockies rally for 2-1 win over Mets
NEW YORK -- Mets steady closer Jeurys Familia stumbled for a second straight game, allowing two runs in the ninth inning as the Colorado Rockies beat New York 2-1 Thursday for their seventh win in eight games.

Less than 24 hours after Familia's streak of 52 consecutive regular-season saves was snapped, the right-hander entered in the top of the ninth with a 1-0 lead, and couldn't hold it.

Trevor Story had a leadoff single and stole second. After fellow rookie David Dahl walked, Daniel Descalso bunted up the first base line. Mets catcher Rene Rivera watched as the ball spun toward foul territory but it stopped fair, loading the bases with no out.

With one out, Familia (2-3) got pinch-hitter Cristhian Adames to hit a slow grounder to the right side. First baseman James Loney booted the ball and Story scored to make it 1-all. Familia then threw a wild pitch, allowing Dahl to cross the plate with the go-ahead run (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Aaron Nola picked up his first win since June 5 as the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field on Thursday night.

Nola was supported by some strong offense. After scoring just one run in losing the previous two games in Miami, the Phils erupted for five runs in the first inning. They hit three homers in the game.

The Phillies had been winless in Nola’s previous seven starts.

The Phillies are 47-57.

The Braves have the worst record in the majors at 35-67.

Starting pitching report
Despite leaving with a 7-3 lead after five innings, Nola was not particularly sharp. He gave up eight hits (one was a fly ball that was lost in the twilight sky), walked three and hit a batter. He needed 95 pitches to get through the five innings.

Nola is 6-9 with a 4.78 ERA in 20 starts.

Atlanta’s Matt Wisler gave up seven hits and seven runs in five innings. Five of the runs came in the first inning when the Phillies batted around. Wisler allowed two homers, two singles and walked two in the inning.

Bullpen report
David Hernandez was the first Phillies reliever out of the bullpen. He struggled. But Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez combined to close it out.

Gomez allowed two hits, a walk and a run in the ninth, but earned his 27th save.

At the plate
Aaron Altherr, activated off the disabled list earlier in the day (see story), had a big night in his first game of the season with the big club. He hit the ball hard all night and had three hits, including a two-run homer in the fifth.

Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph hit back-to-back homers in the first inning. Franco’s was a three-run shot. He leads the club with 19 homers. Joseph has 14 homers in 57 games.

Adonis Garcia had two hits and two RBIs for the Braves.

Transaction 
Peter Bourjos was placed on the disabled list and Altherr was activated (see story).

Up next
The series continues Friday night. Vince Velasquez (8-2, 3.34) pitches against Atlanta right-hander Tyrell Jenkins (0-2, 6.17).