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.

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

BOX SCORE

The Sixers began the season looking lost without Joel Embiid. Now they are finding ways to win when he is not on the court. 

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion in the second half of Friday’s 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see story). He was sidelined for the decisive 8:50 of the game (see Instant Replay).

The Sixers trailed, 81-78, when he subbed out for the second time because of the injury, and outscored the Trail Blazers, 15-11, from that point on.

So how was this team that battled with inconsistency and reliance on Embiid able to pull out a comeback win punctuated in the final seconds? Ask the Sixers and they’ll give varying answers, a sign they are getting the job done in multiple ways and aren’t relying on just one key to success.

The most glaring difference was the hero of the game. Robert Covington drained two three-pointers in the final 40 seconds. His trey from Dario Saric with 38.2 remaining cut the Trail Blazers' lead to just one, 91-90. With 4.5 to go, he nailed the game-winning three from T.J. McConnell to give the Sixers their eighth victory in 10 games (see feature highlight).

“That’s resilient Cov,” Nerlens Noel said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a good shot or a bad shot; he’ll pull it in your face. That’s the confidence he has and that’s the confidence we need him to have. He steps up and makes two big shots like that, that’s enough said. He won us that game.”

Critics have called out Covington’s up-and-down performance from three all season. (They’ve made their feelings known with loud boos at home games.) Covington shot 5 for 12 behind the arc on the night but his 2 for 3 performance in the fourth was what mattered most. 

“I am a fighter, that’s what I have been my whole life,” he said. “Just because fans are booing me at one point doesn't mean anything. I just keep working. I am not going to let that deteriorate my game. It goes in one ear and out the other.”

Without Embiid in the game, the Sixers had to rely on a total team effort. After he went to the bench, the final points were scored by a combination of Covington, Gerald Henderson, Noel, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and McConnell.

“Ball movement,” head coach Brett Brown said. “We had 25 assists out of 36 made baskets. It’s not like we’re going to give the ball to Damian Lillard (guard for the Blazers). That’s not who we are. Whatever we do, it has to be done by committee, by a group, by a team. It’s even more exposed when Joel isn’t in the game. They did that. Unlikely people ended up with the ball sometimes in unlikely spots. … You have to move the ball. That’s what the team has learned without Joel.” 

Several of the players on the court in critical moments were from the second unit. Since Brown locked in on his rotation, the reserves don’t have a drop-off in confidence from the starters. 

“It’s the mentality,” Covington said. “Everybody has that swagger about us right now because once Joel comes out, the next person steps in and fills that void. It’s a matter of that contagious feeling that trickles into the second unit that’s making us that much more valuable.”

Then there's always defense, the foundation of any solid NBA team and a focal point for the Sixers. Noel saw that as the difference-maker when subbing in and out. The Trail Blazers scored just two points in the final 1:56. 

"The second unit goes there and does a great job guarding the yard, not letting up easy baskets," Noel said. "The offensive side is fluid motion. Guys get shots, pick-and-roll, it opens up open threes for guys, driving lines, pump fakes, it’s a great unity."

Embiid liked what he saw from a distance. He will not travel with the team to their game on Saturday against the Hawks in Atlanta. 

"I’m just happy we’ve been closing out games, and the main thing I’m really happy [about] is they’ve been able to do it without me," he said. "That’s going to give us a lot of confidence when I’m missing back-to-backs. My teammates are going to have more confidence to come in and play the same way."

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Of the nearly 20,000 people in the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, Joel Embiid was seemingly the least concerned when he came down and injured his left knee. 

Fans held their breath and the Sixers looked on anxiously as the standout big man got up in visible discomfort and limped off the court (see highlights). Embiid, however, wasn’t worried. 

“I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way,” he said after the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see Instant Replay). “I’m great. The knee’s fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good.”

Embiid ran off the court on his own, was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and was cleared to return to the game. He aggravated his knee again driving to the basket and this time, the team held him out to be careful.

“The review is that he hyperextended his left knee,” head coach Brett Brown said. “There was a minor tweak again, and for precautionary reasons only, the doctors did not allow him to return. There will be more information given as we know it. But quickly, that's what we know.”

Embiid understood the team’s decision to sideline him for the final 8:50 while the Sixers went on a comeback run (see feature highlight). He still finished the game with an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, five assists and four blocks in only 22 minutes.

“Obviously those guys, the front office, they care about my future, so they just shut it down,” Embiid said. “But I was fine.”

Embiid will not travel to Atlanta for Saturday’s game against the Hawks (pre-scheduled rest). He expects to be available for Tuesday’s home matchup against the Clippers. 

"You know how tough he is," Nerlens Noel said. "If it isn’t anything serious, he’ll be right back. At the end of the game, he was telling me was he was feeling great and there was no pain. He wanted to come back in the game … he’s a trooper. He always gives it his all and always plays hard."

Injuries to any player are worrisome, especially a franchise centerpiece with two years of rehab (foot) behind him. The Sixers have been methodical and cautious with his playing time. Embiid is on a 28-minute restriction and can play in only one game of a back-to-back series. 

The same player who is so closely watched, though, also plays with sky-high energy that doesn’t have a brake pedal. 

“You're concerned,” Brown said of seeing Embiid get injured. “It's clear to all of us that he plays with such reckless abandon. I think that we're all going to be seeing this and feeling this regularly. From flying into stands to stalking somebody in the open court to block a shot to the collision he often is in trying to draw fouls. That's just who he is. 

“I think that as he just plays more basketball and continues to grow, to not necessarily avoid those situations, just to perhaps manage them a little bit more. Right now, he's just a young guy that's just playing that doesn't know what he doesn't know and has a fearless approach underneath all that attitude.”

Fearless is an accurate description considering Embiid's trouble-free reaction to the awkward way his leg bent (he hadn’t seen a replay). 

“I kind of had that in college, too,” he said. “I think I’m flexible, so it’s supposed to happen.”