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.

Temple QB Phillip Walker provides leadership, offensive spark as Owls beat Charlotte

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Temple QB Phillip Walker provides leadership, offensive spark as Owls beat Charlotte

BOX SCORE

Temple quarterback Phillip Walker rolled on the ground in pain after taking a shot late in the first quarter and was immediately forced to the sideline.

With the Owls already trailing and their starting QB’s shoulder dinged up, things certainly weren’t going how the team envisioned opening up its homecoming game at Lincoln Financial Field. 

“It’s a nagging injury that comes and goes,” Walker said.

The pain was able to quickly go away, and then the Owls were able to go off.

Walker returned after a one-play absence to throw a deep touchdown pass and spark 28 unanswered points by Temple during the second quarter of a 48-20 win over Charlotte (see Instant Replay).

The Owls (2-2, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) evened their record with the win before opening up AAC play next week against SMU.

“It was big for us just because we needed to get going offensively,” Walker said of his beautiful 51-yard touchdown pass to Adonis Jennings on the first play of the second quarter. “We knew it would happen. It just takes time. A lot of people come with the same energy every game at the beginning of the game. Just let that energy wear off a little bit. Once you get your opportunity, then you take your shots and make your plays as an offense.”

The Owls’ offense made plenty of plays during that big second quarter. 

A couple of possessions after Walker’s TD pass gave Temple back the lead, the Owls got a gift when Charlotte (1-3, 0-0 Conference USA) quarterback Kevin Olsen and running back Kalif Phillips botched a read-option exchange. The fumble was scooped up by TU defensive lineman Praise Martin-Oguike and returned 20 yards to the 49ers’ 13-yard line. On the very next play, Jahad Thomas scampered around the left side for a touchdown.

Temple’s defense then forced a three-and-out to get the ball right back for Walker, who connected with Brodrick Yancy on a 40-yard score to break the game open.

Ryquell Armstead tacked on a one-yard touchdown plunge right before halftime to give the Owls a 31-7 advantage at the break.

In all, the Owls outscored the 49ers 28-0 and outgained them 176-66 during the period.

“Once we got the turnover, we had another opportunity in the red zone to make something happen and we did,” Walker said. “Give us the ball in the red zone, we have to capitalize off of it and we have to be able to make a play.”

“I thought the turnovers and field position started helping hitting the big play,” Temple head coach Matt Rhule said. “I just think we kind of settled down on offense, got into a rhythm. I think you’re seeing that we’re able to get our quarterback into a rhythm and he’s playing pretty well.”

Temple got contributions from several key players on offense to rack up 507 total yards and 26 first downs in the victory. Thomas and Armstead each had a pair of rushing touchdowns. Eight different players caught passes with five reaching at least 40 yards, including sophomore wideout Yancy, who had four receptions for 70 yards and a score.

However, it all starts with Walker as he continued to build on the momentum he found last week against Penn State. Walker completed 15 of 26 attempts for 268 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

The senior quarterback is starting to hit his stride at the right time with conference play coming up and his teammates are following his lead.

“He likes throwing the ball. The more we catch the ball for him the more it makes him look good, makes others look good and allows us to run the offense the way it can be run,” Yancy said.

“He’s been productive,” Thomas said. “Definitely coming into the season he was talking about his completion percentage. He’s a senior now. He feels more comfortable just getting his feet set. When you don’t have people breathing down your neck all the time you can be comfortable out there, so I’m quite sure that’s the reason why he’s playing so well in the last two games.”

With the defense still showing some warts (429 total yards allowed to Charlotte, including 231 on the ground) and the meat of the schedule coming up with conference play, Temple will be counting on Walker to keep his game at a high level to help the Owls defend their East Division crown.

“Looking forward to it,” Walker said of opening up the AAC portion of the schedule. “There are a lot of great teams in this conference. I think this conference can go either way whether it’s anyone from the West or anyone from the East. There’s a lot of great talent. We just have to bring our A game every week. We’ve got a long stretch here, so we just have to come out here and play our game.”

Phillies' Darin Ruf could be facing quiet goodbye

Phillies' Darin Ruf could be facing quiet goodbye

The final eight games remaining on the Phillies’ 2016 schedule will undoubtedly serve as a farewell to Ryan Howard.

Lost in the background may be the fact this week could quite possibly be the end for the man who was supposed to platoon alongside him this year, as well: Darin Ruf.

Both men have been supplanted by Tommy Joseph, who's hit 21 home runs in just 100 games this year while positioning himself as the Phillies first baseman of the near future.

Ruf will start Saturday night against Mets’ lefthander Sean Gilmartin. The Phillies are not scheduled to face a lefty starter for the rest of the season, so Saturday could be one of the final chances to see Ruf in a Phillies uniform, especially considering manager Pete Mackanin’s stated intent to give Howard more playing time down the stretch.

“It seemed like we never faced a lefty for the first month of the season. So that didn’t help Ruf at the time,” Mackanin said.  “Joseph entered the picture and made an immediate impression.”

Ruf’s departure from the majors set the stage for Joseph’s immediate emergence. At the time of his May 13 demotion to AAA Lehigh Valley – and Joseph’s promotion -- Ruf was had a .158/.206/.193 slash line.
  
Since his Sept. 1 return to the majors after rosters expanded, Ruf has done what he can to make sure his possible final season in a Phillies uniform ends on a high note. On Friday night, he drilled a home run to left center off Mets reliever Josh Smoker in pinch-hit duty, the first time Ruf had gone yard since Oct. 1, 2015.

“It felt good,” Ruf said about ending his home run drought. “You just try to simply things and last night it worked out for me.”

Where Ruf will be next year is a more complicated matter, as the 30-year-old is out of minor league options. Japanese scouts were spotted at the games he played for AAA Lehigh Valley.

With Lehigh Valley, Ruf received an opportunity he’s never truly been able to get with the Phillies due to the longstanding presence of Howard: a chance to play every day and consistently accumulate plate appearances. He hit .294/.356/.529 in 390 trips to the plate for the IronPigs. 

Ruf has never made more than 300 plate appearances in a major league season and would struggle to crack that number if he remains in Philadelphia as a backup to Joseph, who will still be 25 on opening day next year.

“I learned [this year] that you can’t take anything for granted in this game,” Ruf said. “You’ve just got to keep working to get better every day, got to put up numbers no matter where you’re at in order to get to where you want. 

“Hopefully, wherever I’m at next year, I can do that.”