Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers' Off-Season: #1. What About Andrew?

Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers' Off-Season: #1. What About Andrew?

This guy. After holding the Sixers hostage for the entirety of the 2012-13 season--maybe his fault, probably not totally--Bynum will continue to have the team in his grasp until at least July 1st, when free agency begins and Sam Hinkie and company can figure out whether or not the Funny Looking Kid With the Big Hair is gonna be a part of this team's future. In the meantime, every major decision this team has to make--from what to do about Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young, to who to draft or attempt to trade for, even to who is gonna be our coach next season--depends on whether or not Bynum sees his fro's shadow at the beginning of next month.

Andrew is not only the biggest wildcard of the Sixers' off-season, but the biggest unknown in all free agency. In his list of the 20 best available big man free agents, SI's Rob Mahoney decided not to even rank Bynum, saying "it’s impossible to know where he fits into the free agent landscape or to predict what an interested franchise might offer." Too true--there's little precedent on the open market for a proven, talented, still-pretty-young big man with degenerative knee issues who didn't play a single game the year before. He's the ultimate risk/reward gambit, a guy who could very feasibly be the steal of the off-season or a franchise-crippling disaster. I could see him signing an incentive-laden deal somewhere for three years and $40 million, and I could see him landing a five-year, $85 million deal from a team desperate for a shot at relevance. The only thing certain with Andrew is that he's going to cause some team a whole lot of regret this summer--possibly because they had the chance to sign him and didn't, and possibly because they had the chance to sign him and did.

Where do the Sixers fit in with all this? Well, as Hinkie stated in his introductory press conference, the Sixers do have two advantages when it comes to dealing with Bynum--they can negotiate with him before any other team, and they have more information about his current and ongoing health status than any other team. (They can also offer him a larger max contract than any other team, in the somewhat unlikely situation that it comes to that). But otherwise, they're just one of many suitors Bynum will likely have this off-season, a spate of partially or totally rebuilding teams with room for improvement in the middle, a list which may also include the Rockets, Mavericks, Cavaliers, and who knows who else. There's no reason to believe he'll be naturally inclined to lean towards signing with the Sixers, and the idea that he might give Philly a break out of some feeling that he "owes" us for not playing at all last year is, uh...well, we wouldn't bank on it, anyway.

Of course, there's probably some residual feeling among certain pockets of the Sixers faithful that we shouldn't even try to re-sign the controversial big man. Drew didn't exactly do a ton to ingratiate himself to the fanbase while riding the pine last year, and the more ridiculous stories and videos that leaked regarding Bynum over the course of the season--bowling, flamenco dancing, lawsuits involving the song "Currency" by Trina--the more a lot of fans wished the guy would just go away already. Even when healthy, Bynum has a reputation as an eccentric, to say the least, and there would be concerns about how his attitude would clash with the fanbase. Combine that with all the injury concerns, and news that TFLKWTBH had signed for big money elsewhere would probably be cheered by many in the City of Brotherly Love.

But as I've cautioned for the entire season, and will continue to do so now, be careful to cut bait too quickly with Andrew. There aren't a lot of quality big men available throughout the league, and arguably none who have Bynum's upside when healthy. The alternative to re-signing Bynum is to sign, trade for or draft a big who gives you at best, maybe 2/3 of what you get with a healthy Bynum--the scoring ability and fit but not the youth (Al Jefferson), the youth and the offensive talent but not the right fit (Josh Smith), or the youth and the upside but not the proven track record (Alex Len, Nerlens Noel or any number of other draft prospects). The Sixers have some good players, but they're still badly starved for elite talent, which you really need to be a factor in this league. To discard a player like Bynum, an All-NBA performer when right, just because he's a headache to deal with...it's pretty short-sighted.

So does that mean we should do what it takes to re-sign him, potentially at any cost? Well, not necessarily, and a lot of that depends on Hinkie's long-term plan for the team, and the Sixers' inside knowledge of his knee(s) situation. The fact that we haven't heard anything about Bynum or whatever progress he is or isn't making these last few months would lead me to believe he's not exactly right as rain, yet, but that doesn't mean he's dead to the world exactly either. More importantly, Hinkie might conclude that even with a healthy Bynum, the Sixers would be too far away from real contention, leading him to conclude that stripping the team down and rebuilding through the draft would be a likelier path to relevance than investing in a huge question mark like Andrew.

Personally, I'd say that if they can convince him to sign a short-term deal--something for just two or three years--then they should probably sign him, almost regardless of his health concerns or the possible price tag. If he's healthy, then maybe he, Jrue, Thad and (in a super-perfect world) Evan can grow together as a young core of a team that can be competitive in the east for years to follow. If not, then we're probably not going to be competitive for the next three years anyway, and we can just strip away loose parts, pile up losses and draft picks over the duration of his contract, and reset in the Summer of 2016. It's far from a foolproof strategy, but it might be the highest-percentage play, and that's probably what Hinkie is looking for this off-season.

But if I had to guess, I don't think that's what's going to happen. I think ultimately, Drew will want the years, and he'll get them from someone, but not from Hinkie, who'll just see the injury risk as too great for a four or five-year commitment. Bynum will officially leave Philadelphia without having played a single game for us, and without us getting any kind of assets in return to replace those (Iguodala, Harkless, Vucevic, future 1sts) that we gave up for him. That would be an incredibly sad state of affairs, obviously, but throwing bad money after good just to "get something out of the deal" would be a gross miscalculation that our Smart Guy GM is probably too smart to make.

Still, I'd like to see Bynum in a Sixers jersey next season if at all possible. C'mon, Andrew. Think about how much fun you'll have going to wrestling events with Spence and Evan. Plus, if you're not too traumatized to get back into rolling, Wynnewood Lanes is really the shit.

Phillies-Mets 5 things: All the pressure on Mets, Gsellman

Phillies-Mets 5 things: All the pressure on Mets, Gsellman

Phillies (70-85) at Mets (82-73)
1:10 p.m. on CSN

After two rough losses for the Phillies and their pitching staff, the offense picked them up and came through with a 10-8 win. 22-year-old Jake Thompson takes the hill this afternoon while Robert Gsellman starts a crucial game for the Mets.

Here are five things to watch on Sunday.

1. All the pressure on New York, Gsellman
The Mets remain 0.5 games up on the final National League playoff spot. 

While their pitching staff was falling apart at the seams going into (and during) this series, the one saving grace for New York was its soft schedule, facing the Phillies seven times in its last 10. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals have to deal with the MLB best Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants end the year vs. the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers.

However, a loss on Saturday (thanks in part to Noah Syndergaard getting scratched with strep throat) puts the Mets in a precarious position. They're tied in the loss column with the Cards and Giants while fighting for one of two playoff spots and their rotation most closely resembles their Triple A team from Opening Day. 

Gsellman is one of those pitchers who started the year never having tasted the major leagues. In fact, he started the year in Double A. His first career start came at Citi Field last month against the Phillies and resulted in his first career loss after he allowed four runs in six innings. 

He's been better since that start, carrying a 3.13 ERA into Sunday. The 23-year-old righty will likely start vs. the Phillies again next weekend, meaning the Mets' season rides in part on a rookie with just 31 2/3 innings in the majors. 

2. Young man on a roll
While Gsellman lost his last start, Thompson has won his last two starts. The young righty is on a hot streak as his season nears an end.

Thompson's ERA has goe down in each of his last five starts, a stat made less impressive by the fact that he began that run with a 9.78 ERA. He has gone at least five innings in his last eight starts and has shown glimpses of why he was such a valued prospects.

In September, Thompson is 2-1 with a 3.09 ERA over four starts. He's still allowed 33 baserunners in 23 1/3 innings during that span, but it's been much better than his lackluster August.

While Thompson is in line to start next weekend against the Mets as well, today could be his final start of the season. He has already set a career-high in innings and the Phillies may not want to extend him one more start.

3. What to look for in the season's final week
Including Sunday, the Phillies have just seven games left in their season. They're eliminated from playoff contention, but there's still plenty to watch as the Phils take on Braves and Mets.

Ryan Howard's final fairwell: With his five-year, $125 million deal coming to a close this year, Howard is almost certainly playing his final games in Philadelphia next week. He'll get plenty of starts and may even face the Mets' Bartolo Colon, who he's smacked three home runs off of in his career.

Playing spoiler: As mentioned above, the Mets have everything on the line both today and next weekend in Philadelphia. There are few better ways to end a postseason-less season than knocking a rival out of playoff contention.

More looks at the kids: Roman Quinn's emergence over the last two weeks has been fun to watch and Jorge Alfaro may get more chances in the last seven games. Beyond them, Thompson, Tommy Joseph and others close out a nice first season. 

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Maikel Franco has looked more like his 2015 self over the last few weeks. He's batting .310 in September with three home runs, matching his August total. His 15 RBI this month are his most in a month other than July. 

Mets: Asdrubal Cabrera has been on fire this month as well. After battting .405 in August, he's batting .333 and has five home runs, including the walk-off homer on Thursday. He's slugging .628 this month after putting up a .786 slugging percentage in August. 

5. This and that
• In Gsellman's August start vs. the Phillies, he only allowed one run while he was in the game. However, he left the bases loaded in the 7th with no outs before A.J. Ellis knocked in the decisive two-run double to give the Phils a lead they would not relinquish.

• Six different Phillies batters had hits off Gsellman, including Jimmy Paredes who went 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI. 

• Despite pitching injuries, the Mets have the eighth-best team ERA in September with a 3.64 average. The Phillies are 15th in baseball with a 4.10 ERA this month.

• The Phillies are 6-9 against the Mets this year. They're already ensured of a better finish than last year's 5-14 mark vs. New York.

Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, 24, killed in boating accident

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Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, 24, killed in boating accident

MIAMI -- Jose Fernandez, the ace right-hander for the Miami Marlins who escaped Cuba to become one of baseball's brightest stars, was killed in boating accident early Sunday morning. Fernandez was 24.

The Marlins announced Fernandez's death, and the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed that Fernandez was one of three people killed in a boat crash off Miami Beach.

In the statement, the Marlins say they are "devastated by the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this very difficult time."

Chief Petty Officer Nyxolyno Cangemi told The Associated Press that a Coast Guard patrol boat spotted an overturned boat at 3:30 a.m. on a jetty near Government Cut. The bodies were discovered a short time later.

Because the boat was on a jetty, the Coast Guard notified Miami-Dade police, which turned the investigation over to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Fernandez was on a 32-foot vessel that had a "severe impact" with a jetty, said Lorenzo Veloz of the Fish Commission.

A news conference was planned for later Sunday morning.

Fernandez was a two-time All-Star who went 38-17 in his four seasons with the Marlins, winning the NL's Rookie of the Year award in 2013. The native of Santa Clara, Cuba became a U.S. citizen last year.

He tried to defect from Cuba at least three times -- landing in jail after one of those unsuccessful tries -- before eventually getting to the U.S. and going to high school in Tampa, Florida. The Marlins drafted him in 2011 and Fernandez was in the majors two years later.

The Marlins' game Sunday at home against the Atlanta Braves has been cancelled.