Reviewing the Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers Off-Season with Michael Levin

Reviewing the Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers Off-Season with Michael Levin

We've been spending the off-season counting down the ten biggest questions facing the Sixers as they transition from the Doug Collins era into a rather uncertain future. Now that we're done the roll-out, we figured it was time to call on our old friend Michael Levin, of the excellent Sixers blog Liberty Ballers, and get his take on these most important of matters before the draft and free agency period actually commence. Read through our wrap-up chat below, and as always, head over to LBs for some fantastic daily Sixer discussion.

The 700 Level: So I'm basically gonna run through the ten questions I talked about regarding the Sixers off-season, and you start talking about them and I might ask you follow-ups from there. So #10: In general terms, where are we going as a team? Are we rebuilding? Trying to contend? Is there a goal in mind for next season?

Michael Levin, Liberty Ballers: We're absolutely rebuilding. If [new GM] Sam Hinkie (ALL HAIL SAM HINKIE) can pull off something that manages to move all the excess fat on the team, turning into a contender for his system (a la the Harden trade), then he'll do that. But the Sixers don't have nearly the assets Houston did and they're in much worse shape. Rebuilding is the name of the game.

I think it's similar to Chip Kelly and the Eagles. Both guys are known for being much smarter than everybody else, but it's unlikely they're going to jump right in and turn things around from the start. It's more likely for Chip because football is only 16 games and he does have a lot of talent to work with already. The Sixers are far more screwed up.

Would you have thought that if they hadn't brought on Hinkie? Were his hiring and Collins' firing the signals that they'd be going in that direction?

Absolutely. I love that you're calling it Collins' firing, which it probably was -- gently, at least. Josh Harris seemed to just get REAL all of a sudden and was like "Eff this noise, let's clean house" and really commit to the long-term success of a franchise from the bottom up. Hinkie's the best sign that Josh is patient and has his priorities in order.

#9. Should Thaddeus Young be untouchable in trade talks?

No. Definitely not. The opposite of that. Thad is a lovely player who has improved every year. He can certainly help a contending team -- I'd love him on the Spurs or Thunder -- but there's just no reason for him to be on the Sixers. Right now, he's their best and maybe only asset. They pretty much have to move him at some point this year or next.

So is there anybody untouchable on the team besides Jrue? Would you even include Jrue in the right deal?

Yes, 100% I would trade Jrue. The Sixers, roster-wise, are in the desert. Wandering aimlessly and endlessly. And Sam Hinkie is Moses. They have to make sacrifices because at this point, nobody matters enough for the wheels to come off the right trade. This will be a shakeup of BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS. I'm really excited that I got to follow through on that metaphor.

#8. Is Spencer Hawes good enough to be our starting center of the future?

Hahahahahahaahahahahahahahahah. Next question.

#7. Are any of our mid-level (read: not Bynum) free agents worth attempting to re-sign? Wright, Young, Wilkins, Ivey, etc.?

The only one I'd say yes to is Dorell. He fits the system Hinkie came from almost perfectly. Pretty athletic, ridiculous jumper, not a defensive liability, high efficiency guy. The Sixers are still so far from contending so I wouldn't sweat it if he left, but something like 3/13 would be nice. Everybody else can walk -- nay, run -- all they want.

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Can they replace the Swagness through the draft or Free Agency, though? That's gonna be a glaring need on our roster going into next season if not.

Sam Hinkie has more SWAG in his little finger than the rest of the team has in their entire bodies.

#6. What players that might be available on other rosters are worth trying to trade for? Give me some names you've been considering, then I'll throw some of mine at you for commentary.

I think there's a market to trade Evan for an undervalued young asset, an expiring, and a pick. Something like the Suns, [a package of] Kendall Marshall/expiring/pick. Maybe something in Boston after this whole thing clears - Courtney Lee/pick. Indiana could use the bench help.

So you're more looking to deal down for picks than to potentiall package our own assets for core pieces.

I don't think anybody wants Evan enough to make that happen. But Thad, maybe. I think there's a trade with OKC to be had. Something involving their young assets--either Jeremy Lamb or Perry Jones or both.

So let me throw some names at you--say whatever is in your heart. [Hornets guard] Eric Gordon?

I'd take a chance, yeah.

Could we get him for a low enough price to be worth it?

Nope. Hahah.

Omer Asik, Thomas Robinson, or any other possibly extraneous assets in the Houston Dwight Howard recruitment plan.

T-Rob absolutely. I like Asik, but I don't think he's the guy for the Sixers just yet. Houston was closer when they signed him than the Sixers are now. I'd do anything to get T-Rob though.

[Jazz big men] Derrick Favors or Enes Kanter.

Both, sure. Utah's not moving them though. I'd look at Alec Burks from them.

#5. What free agents should we go after? Have your eye on anyone, big or small?

Certainly no one big. Unless you can get an asset who thinks himself overvalued, but turns out there's no home for him in FA with a fat contract -- Josh Smith -- and Hinkie can get him on the cheapish for two years. Sam just needs more assets to play with. He'll try to dig into the bargain bin and get the discarded pieces and turn them into something. Sort of like the Pat Gillick moves with Werth and Victorino and Romero back when.

[Warriors Forward] Brandon Rush is a name I keep thinking about. Coming off injury, super efficient player, kind of forgotten...I think he could be had for cheap and turn into a useful guy. I'd like [Blazers point guard] Eric Maynor, just as a backup that can still grow a bit...think he's got plenty of room as well. [Mavericks] forward Anthony Morrow fits the Poor Man's Rush bill. [Pistons guard] Kim English I love. If it weren't for the trouble with the law, [Celtics guard] Terrence Williams. Quincy Miller, who barely played on the Nugs this year. Love him so much...These names aren't like, super exciting to the average fan. But that's what they should expect. Brandan Wright, possibly.

I was just about to mention Wright. His PER is off the charts, still young and can be had for weirdly cheap.

Yeah he's sort of like Greg Smith from Houston. I don't think either guy is better than 15 minutes per game, but there's value in an efficient 15. You know I'd still take a chance on [Thunder center Hasheem] Thabeet. Just for funsies.

What about Tyler Hansbrough? Good PER, gets to the line, rebounds. All stuff the Sixers need.

Ha. No thanks. Too much midrange. I love guys that get to the line. But he's got no ceiling, really. I don't think he's a guy the Sixers could flip to pull something else.

One more name, and a slightly more costly one: [Grizzlies combo guard] Jerryd Bayless.

OMG I can't believe I forgot to say Bayless. I love Bayless. These are all guys that are just major crushes for me. He's the fastest player in the world. If you can turn him into one half of Prime Baron Davis, then it's over.

So would you spend $25 mil over four years for him?

No, probably not. But I'd send him a muffin basket and tell him how much I care.

#4. What the hell are we gonna do with Evan Turner?

They're going to try to trade him. I don't know what they'll be able to get. But they'll certainly be trying.

He doesn't fit in Hinkie's system. He's just getting in the way. But despite what people who just look at counting stats would call "a career year," his value is still pretty low around the league. You'd have to find the 3-4 teams who don't believe in analytics to take him on.

Do you think they'll be rid of him before opening night, or will they need to wait until the deadline?

I honestly have no idea when they'll trade him. I don't think other teams value him enough. Right now, they'll be over-fetishizing the guys they draft and not wanting to add Evan's [qualifying offer] after this season. But once the season happens and things turn sour, maybe somebody would be more likely to take the chance.

Is there any point in holding out hope that maybe This Is The Year for Evan? Does Dom Brown's fourth-year breakout hold any kind of lesson that maybe additional patience is still needed with the Extraterrestrial?

No.

Sigh.

It kills me. Dom always had the talent and the ability. Evan's game just does not succeed at the NBA level. He's not athletic enough. Not long enough. Not smart enough. Not a good enough shooter. Show's over.

Any point in trotting him out there to luck his way into his inevitable one hot month, then trading him at the peak of his value?

Worth a shot, I think. But I'd rather move him before the season so they have all the time to start fresh with the new regime.

#3. Who are we drafting this year?

No one [with the 11th pick], I don't think. Hinkie will move around a lot.

But we can't deal the pick outright, correct?

Right, we'd have to have a first rounder this year. Maybe it's because I did it in the SBNBA Mock [Draft], but I think he'll find his way to move up and take [UNLV forward] Anthony Bennett.

OK, so tell me your / Hinkie's plan for getting Bennett, and why he/we should.

Packaging [the 11th and 35th picks] to move up to 7 seems like the easiest move. Bennett's got the most upside out of anybody in this draft. He can do everything. (Well, not defense yet. But I think he can do that too eventually)
You get Bennett, move Thad to OKC for Jeremy Lamb and filler. Move Evan or Spencer for another pick, expirings. Go into next year with Jrue/Lamb/Dorell/Bennett and whoever you get with the other pick. It's a restart, but it's one where you have some pieces to actually build around.

Assuming Hinkie doesn't deal and/or Bennett is unavailable, who else do you have your eye on?

I really hate being at 11. I'd trade up or trade down. I wouldn't stay there.

ANSWER THE QUESTION MIKE.

Hahaha. I don't think [UCLA fowrard] Shabazz [Muhammad] is a Hinkie guy. [Indiana big Cody] Zeller probably is, but that's not much upside on a team that needs it. [Syracuse point Michael Carter-Williams] would be a wild card. I like [Russian forward] Sergey Karasev a lot.

So I think it's safe to say you're looking Best Player Possible rather than Best Fit. You think Hinkie will operating likewise?

Oh man so much yes. You can't think of the Sixers as a team. They're not. They're an inheritance. Sam Hinkie was handed this old house. There's a lot of crap in it. You can't say: "Well I need a headboard because I don't have one of those" because you don't have a good bed or, like, plumbing. They need everything. Drafting for Best Player Available is the only strategy. Nothing else matters.

I'm going to enjoy reminding you of this conversation when our big off-season move is a blockbuster trade for Carlos Boozer.

Oh god please kill me.

#2. Who's coaching next year?

Coaching-wise... I can't find myself really caring about it yet. So much more important things to handle first.

Well, is there a model / archetype of coach you think would fit the team in a long-term sense?

Well, it'd be awesome if they could get a young assistant that runs Hinkie's system and can really grow with this team, but coaches are SO expendable that to have them coach a bad team for a few years may be a death sentence. I hope they go with Chris Finch -- Houston assistant -- and give him plenty of rope and plenty of time. But we'll see.
I trust Hinkie and Harris, implicitly. They'll do what's best.

And I take it you'd stay away from big-name, big-money coaches like George Karl, Lionel Hollins, etc.?

Yeah there's no real reason for that yet. It's a rebuild. You want to start from the ground up.

What about Brian Shaw? He's sort of a middle ground there.

It's so hard to know what an assistant coach actually values on a team. I'm happy they've talked to him. Other than that, I don't really know anything. Coaches are overrated and what we know about coaches is overrated. I'd be okay with Shaw or really any assistant Sam can tell what to do. Or, hopefully, a coach who buys into what Sam wants to do. I'd avoid an Art Howe situation if we can.

All right, suppose we've waited long enough. #1. What about Andrew Bynum?

I think they're going to do their homework on him, really weigh the pros and cons, offer him a reasonable contract, and get out-bid by another team. And I think they'll be okay with that.

What, in your mind, is a reasonable contract, and what do you think he'll get offered?

I think someone will max him out. I think the Sixers will offer 2/20 or so. It's all speculation from me. Maybe there would be options that vest based on how many games he plays.

And you'd be OK with him going, still having played zero games for the Sixers and getting nothing in return?

If by "OK" you mean "having spent many hours looking at myself in the mirror and weeping," then yes. I'm OK. It's sunk cost. They took a risk. It didn't work. I loved the trade and I still love it.

Was there any point along the line that this could have been avoided or corrected? Not making the trade in the first place, or trying to flip him at the deadline, or somehow handling his rehab differently? Or is this just what it is?

Nope. The rehab was all a PR thing, or at least the issues with it were. Not much you could've done differently to a guy whose body is breaking down. I'd make that trade every day of the week. And flipping him at the deadline I don't think was realistic.

If by some miracle, the Sixers do end up with a healthy-ish Bynum on their roster next season, do they try to push for the playoffs? Or is it still a strict rebuild?

I hate myself for saying "If Bynum is healthy" but yeah, that's a playoff team.

So most of your previous answers in this conversation were under the presumption that Bynum would not be under contract next season.

All of them, yeah. Ultimately, I think they'll cut their losses and move on.

OK, that's the lot of 'em. Anything we missed? Anything you want to add about this most fateful of upcoming off-seasons?

I'm excited about the Sixers' direction for the first time ever. Bynum was one move. Hinkie is a movement. Things are going to get good. Really good. I can't wait.

And of course, by things getting really good, you mean that they'll be deep in the lottery the next two seasons.

Yep. But then afterwards....oh man. Get your t-shirts now. Hinkie Forever.

Best of MLB: Mets win in 10th on Yoenis Cespedes' walk-off HR

Best of MLB: Mets win in 10th on Yoenis Cespedes' walk-off HR

NEW YORK -- Yoenis Cespedes homered with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the New York Mets a 2-1 victory over the Miami Marlins in the first game of a pivotal series between National League playoff contenders Monday night.

Jose Reyes dashed home to score the tying run in the eighth on a dangerous collision at the plate, and the Mets pulled even with Miami for second place in the NL East. With its seventh victory in nine games, New York remained 2 1/2 games behind St. Louis for the league's second wild card.

It was an exhilarating win for the Mets, who appeared to be at a major disadvantage on the mound in the opener of a four-game set. New York was shut out for six innings by Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, but Mets starter Rafael Montero also put up zeros in his first major league start since April 2015 (see full recap).

Martinez's 13 K's, throwing error give Cards win
MILWAUKEE -- Stephen Piscotty scored on a throwing error in the ninth inning after Carlos Martinez struck out a career-high 13, leading the St. Louis Cardinals over the Milwaukee Brewers 6-5 on Monday night.

With two on and nobody out in the ninth, Yadier Molina dropped down a bunt. Reliever Tyler Thornburg (5-5) threw to third base for a force out, but Jonathan Villar's throw to first was wild, allowing Piscotty to score.

After Martinez held Milwaukee to one run over six innings, the Brewers scored four runs in the seventh to take a 5-3 lead. St. Louis tied it in the eighth on a two-run homer by Randal Grichuk off Corey Knebel.

Seung Hwan Oh pitched a perfect ninth for his 14th save. Miguel Socolovich (1-0) pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings to pick up his first win.

Jedd Gyorko and Kolten Wong each hit solo home runs for the Cardinals (see full recap).

Royals keep rolling, take down Yankees
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Dillon Gee kept the Royals' momentum going with six sharp innings, Alcides Escobar hit a three-run homer and Kansas City beat the New York Yankees 8-5 on Monday night to open their three-game set.

Gee (6-7) allowed only four hits and a run in the latest impressive start by the Royals' staff, helping the reigning World Series champions win for the 18th time in 22 games.

Lorenzo Cain, Kendrys Morales and Alex Gordon drove in runs off Michael Pineda (6-11) during a five-hit salvo in the first inning. Pineda then retired 15 straight before getting into a two-on, no-outs jam in the seventh that led to Escobar's homer off reliever Blake Parker.

Starlin Castro drove in two runs for the Yankees, the second in a four-run eighth inning that forced Kansas City manager Ned Yost to summon fill-in closer Kelvin Herrera (see full recap).

Jake Thompson tweaks delivery, offers ray of light on a dark night for Phillies

Jake Thompson tweaks delivery, offers ray of light on a dark night for Phillies

BOX SCORE

On the surface, this was not a very positive night at the ballpark for the Phillies. They had just four hits and lost, 4-0, to the Washington Nationals in front of the smallest crowd of the season – 16,056, announced – at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay).
 
But lest we forget, this is a rebuilding season and in a rebuilding season the final score isn’t always paramount. So on an otherwise dark Monday night there was a ray of light for the Phillies.
 
Jake Thompson had the kind of start those who traded for him a year ago and those who watched him pitch this season in Triple A said he was capable of having.
 
“It was great to see,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “That’s just what he needed. He needed a real positive outing. I think this will do wonders for him down the road.”
 
Thompson held the NL East-leading Nationals to two runs over seven innings, his longest of five outings in the majors.
 
“He looked like the pitcher that was advertised,” Mackanin said.
 
Thompson’s first four outings in the majors were poor. He was tagged for 22 hits and 21 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He walked 13 and struck out 13. Those results were starkly different than his last 11 starts in Triple A. He 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.
 
After watching Thompson for four starts, pitching coach Bob McClure decided to suggest some delivery changes to the 22-year-old right-hander.
 
Players are often receptive to making adjustments when they are struggling. Thompson incorporated the changes McClure suggested and found success Monday night.
 
“We just tried to simplify his delivery so he could make better quality pitches,” McClure said.
 
In his old delivery, Thompson started off facing home plate. He pulled his arms over his head, turned and lifted his front leg before delivering the ball. McClure eliminated many of the moving parts. No more lifting the arms above the head. No more body turn. Thompson started his delivery with his body already turned, like a modified stretch. He simply lifted his leg, let his body go down the slope and fired. The new delivery slowed everything down for him. He looked poised, especially after the first couple of innings, and started attacking hitters with first-pitch strikes like a confident pitcher does.
 
Considering he only worked on the new delivery in two short bullpen sessions Saturday and Sunday in New York, Thompson was a pretty quick study.
 
“It was huge,” he said of the new delivery. “Just on the physical side of things, I’m in a better position to make pitches. I took away some moving parts to make it easier on myself.”
 
Thompson allowed seven hits, walked one and struck out three. All three strikeouts came in his final inning of work. He struck out leadoff man Trea Turner with two men on base with a slider to end the inning.
 
That’s another adjustment McClure made. He had Thompson stop throwing his curveball and focus on his fastball, slider, cutter and changeup.
 
Both of the runs that Thompson allowed came in the first inning on a solo homer by Jayson Werth and an RBI single by Anthony Rondon. After that, Thompson recorded six straight shutout innings. His teammates didn’t support him offensively. Washington right-hander Tanner Roark pitched seven shutout innings. He is 3-0 and has allowed just two runs in 28 innings in four starts against the Phils this season.
 
Thompson needed a start like this for a couple of reasons. First, if he had been pounded again, Phillies officials might have had to consider taking him out of the rotation just so his confidence didn’t get ruined.
 
And second, with Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin out with injuries, the team needed to know something was going right for one of the young pitchers being groomed for the future. Vince Velasquez, another young arm, had three poor outings before pitching well in New York on Sunday.
 
“This will help his confidence a lot,” McClure said.
 
McClure then offered a little glimpse into Thompson’s competitive character.
 
“He seemed pissed that he wasn't pitching well,” McClure said. “But he wasn't deflated. We felt like we should keep starting him because he didn't seem beaten. He seems like a tough kid mentally. We felt like once he started making better quality pitches, he'd get better results.”
 
It happened Monday, a ray of light on an otherwise dark night.

Instant Replay: Nationals 4, Phillies 0

Instant Replay: Nationals 4, Phillies 0

BOX SCORE

The Phillies were beaten, 4-0, by the Washington Nationals on Monday night, but wins and losses don’t matter as much as development in a rebuilding season, so there was a bright spot: Rookie right-hander Jake Thompson finally broke through with a good start in holding the Nats to two runs over seven innings.
 
The Phillies’ offense was not good. It produced just four hits on the night.
 
Washington got all the offense it needed when Jayson Werth, the second batter of the game, homered off Thompson in the first inning.

The Nats lead the NL East at 76-55. The Phils are 60-71.
 
The crowd of 16,056 was the smallest of the season at Citizens Bank Park.
 
Starting pitching report
Thompson had struggled in four starts — 9.78 ERA — since arriving from Triple A and there were questions whether he’d even make this start. But he put together a nice outing. After giving up two runs in the first inning, he pitched six straight scoreless innings, finishing his outing with three strikeouts, the last of which came on his 111th pitch when he froze Trea Turner with a breaking ball with two men on base. Thompson allowed seven hits — four in the first three innings — and walked one.
 
Washington right-hander Tanner Roark pitched seven shutout innings to improve to 14-7. He held the Phils to four hits and a walk and struck out five.

Roark is 3-0 with a 0.64 ERA (two earned runs in 28 innings) in four starts against the Phillies this season. The Nats are 15-4 in his last 19 starts.

Bullpen report
Frank Herrmann gave up two runs in the ninth.
 
At the plate
Odubel Herrera had two of the Phillies’ four hits.
 
Werth’s homer in the top of the first was his 19th. Anthony Rendon drove in a run with a two-out single in that inning. Clint Robinson and Turner had RBI singles in the ninth to push the Nats’ lead to 4-0.
 
ICYMI
Herrera is staying in center field for the remainder of the season, Pete Mackanin said (see story).
 
Up next
The series continues on Tuesday night. Jerad Eickhoff (9-12, 3.87) pitches against Washington right-hander Max Scherzer (14-7, 2.92).