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.

Ron Hextall sees benefit in Brayden Schenn's 'market deal'

Ron Hextall sees benefit in Brayden Schenn's 'market deal'

Expensive at the start, cheaper at the finish.
 
That’s how Flyers general manager Ron Hextall views the four-year, $20.5 million contract he gave Brayden Schenn on Monday morning to avoid salary arbitration (see story).
 
Hextall admitted the club is overpaying up front on the deal, but believes it got a “fair” number for the final two years when Schenn would have become an unrestricted free agent.
 
“We took a higher cap hit for the first two years and essentially a lower hit than we would have taken in years three and four if we piece meal it together,” Hextall said.
 
Hextall said he was walking into the 9 a.m. Toronto hearing with agent Don Meehan already deep in a conversation on a deal but prepared to go through with arbitration.
 
Both parties asked arbitrator Elizabeth Neumeier for additional time and completed the contract by 9:45 a.m.
 
Schenn, a restricted free agent, turned down the Flyers’ two-year offer of $4.25 million for this coming season and $4.369 million in 2017-18. That averaged to $4.30 million.
 
His new contract averages $5.125 million.
 
“The benefit for us is our cap number stays flat for four years rather than having have a cap at a lower number then taking a run at him for two years, if in fact he’d sign for two years at a higher cap number,” Hextall said.
 
Hextall denied he was concerned he might get whacked in arbitration. Yet Schenn has had just one very good season in five years as a Flyer. That was last season with 26 goals and 59 points.
 
Hextall described Schenn as a player who has been “average” in his development, yet has improved in the subtle “intricacies” of the game such as finding open spots, avoiding shot blocks and coming cleanly across the blue line without turning the puck over.
 
Schenn’s true market value is closer to what New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri, a 25-year-old right wing, signed earlier this month: a five-year deal worth $23.25 with an AAV of $4.65 million.
 
Then again, St. Louis’ Jaden Schwartz signed a five-year, $26.5 million deal with a $5.35 million AAV. That’s above market value.
 
Meehan originally sought an AAV of $5.5 million for Schenn. In arbitration, it’s likely the Flyers would have received a two-year award in the middle of both numbers.
 
“Nothing really concerned me [about arbitration],” Hextall said. “We had a range and in the end our range was close to what Brayden’s camp felt the range was. Both sides had a range on a two-year deal.

“It’s a market deal … Brayden has been a good player. Top six forwards are hard to find and there’s a premium to pay. There’s no question we paid a premium for a top six forward whose 24-years-old and essentially coming into his prime.”
 
While Hextall labeled Schenn as a top six forward, he tap-danced around whether he sees him as a “core” player for the Flyers, even though this makes him the third highest-paid forward behind Claude Giroux ($8.275 million) and Jakub Voracek ($8.25 million).
 
“What is a core [player]?” Hextall asked. “That’s arguable … What we do know is Brayden is a very good young player who is getting better and we hope he continues to get better.”
 
This signing leaves the Flyers with just $1.38 million in salary cap space, but with 14 forwards, the club will lose at least one by the end of training camp.
 
Thinking ahead, Jordan Weal could be sent to the Phantoms, shaving $650,000 off the cap. That’s the most likely option for the Flyers, but not their only option.
 
Scott Laughton, whose role was diminished by a strong presence from Nick Cousins, is a lesser possibility. His cap hit is $863,333.
 
Losing either of those two salaries would provide the Flyers over $2 million in cap space.
 
Schenn’s contract lacks a no-trade/no-movement clause that he would have been eligible for starting in 2018-19. He turns 25 in August.
 
The Flyers have one more arbitration to settle: defenseman Brandon Manning on Aug. 2.

Cubs acquire closer Aroldis Chapman from Yankees

Cubs acquire closer Aroldis Chapman from Yankees

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs acquired hard-throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman in a trade with the New York Yankees on Monday, giving the NL Central leaders a boost as they try for their first World Series title in more than a century.

The Cubs paid a steep price, parting with top shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres and versatile pitcher Adam Warren in the four-player package going to the Yankees. Chapman faced a domestic violence allegation in the offseason that cost him a 29-game suspension, and the left-hander is eligible for free agency after this year.

But there is no doubting the talent of the 28-year-old Chapman, who went 3-0 with a 2.01 ERA and 20 saves in 31 games with New York. He threw a 105.1 mph fastball to Baltimore's J.J. Hardy last Monday night, matching the fastest since Major League Baseball began tracking speeds in 2008.

With lefty-batting sluggers Bryce Harper of Washington and Brandon Belt of San Francisco possibly looming in the playoffs, the addition of Chapman gives manager Joe Maddon one of the majors' top assets when in need of a late strikeout.

New York had won six of eight heading into Monday night's game at Houston, but it still faces long odds of getting to the playoffs. All-Stars Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances are still at the back of the bullpen, allowing the Yankees to trade Chapman now and still consider trying for the postseason depending on how they fare ahead of the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline.

The Yankees made the decision to trade Chapman after his agents said he would not agree to a new contract that would start in 2017, a person familiar with the talks said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no public statement on those talks was authorized.

If New York slips back any further, it could engage in a rare sell-off for the franchise. Miller, who is signed through 2018, also could be traded. Outfielder Carlos Beltran, first baseman Mark Teixeira and pitcher Ivan Nova are eligible for free agency after the season and could be sought by contenders.

Chapman quickly turned into one of baseball's most dominant relievers when he broke into the majors in 2010 with Cincinnati. He threw the 62 fastest pitches in the major leagues last season, ranging from 103.92 to 102.36 mph.

Chapman saved 146 games with a 2.17 ERA in six years with the Reds before he was traded to New York last December after a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers fell through when it was learned Florida police investigated an accusation of domestic violence involving the Cuban pitcher.

Prosecutors declined to file charges, citing conflicting accounts, and Chapman was suspended for the first 29 games of the season, losing $1,856,557 of his $11,325,000 salary. He was the first player penalized a finite number of games under Major League Baseball's domestic violence policy.

"I regret that I did not exercise better judgment and for that I am truly sorry," Chapman said in a team statement Monday. "Looking back, I feel I have learned from this matter and have grown as a person. My girlfriend and I have worked hard to strengthen our relationship, to raise our daughter together, and would appreciate the opportunity to move forward without revisiting an event we consider part of our past."

Chapman and Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo also got into a heated argument in the ninth inning of a July 2014 game, but Rizzo said last month he was fine with the idea of acquiring the reliever.

The Yankees also received minor league outfielders Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford in the trade for Chapman. McKinney, a first-round pick in the 2013 draft, was acquired along with All-Star shortstop Addison Russell in the 2014 deal that sent pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland.

Warren was drafted by New York and made his major league debut with the Yankees in 2012. He was traded to Chicago in the December deal that moved infielder Starlin Castro from the Cubs to the Yankees.

Eric Rowe and a case of the new-defense hiccups

Eric Rowe and a case of the new-defense hiccups

Eric Rowe's first real NFL action wasn't pretty.

Last Thanksgiving against the Lions, Rowe was thrust into action when Nolan Carroll went down for the season with a broken fibula. Calvin Johnson wasted no time taking advantage of and destroying the then-rookie.

But things got better, and by season’s end, Rowe was probably the team's best cornerback. In fact, many were mentally writing his name into one of the starting corner spots this spring, until the team got on the field.

During OTAs, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks worked as starters, while rookie Jalen Mills impressed and Carroll returned from that injury. Rowe was sort of a forgotten man. And on Monday, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said Rowe struggled some adjusting to a new scheme.

"He's learning a new defense and new techniques this year from [Jim Schwartz’s defense]," Pederson said Monday after the first practice of training camp (see observations). "And there were some hiccups in the road a little bit this offseason and he was pulled back a little bit, but you just want to see that growth and that development with any player on your roster.

"But the chance to come out here and compete and put yourself in that position, you know, I've said this from Day 1, the competition is the best thing you've got going for you. I give credit to [vice president of football operations Howie Roseman] and his staff for bringing in the guys now that we can have that type of competition, and Eric's one of those guys that you want to see compete on a daily basis."

Rowe, 23, was taken by the Eagles in the second round last year, when Chip Kelly was the de facto GM. Now, Kelly is obviously gone, and Rowe seems to be facing an uphill battle to win back his starting job.

Still, he'll be able to fight to be a starter once he reports to camp Wednesday and gets on the field for practice Thursday.

"He had a good spring. He's another one that's in the mix," Pederson said. "He's part of that depth that we have there. I’m looking forward to seeing him when we put the pads on. Part of playing corner is how well and how physical they can be when you put the pads on and start tackling and all that. And he's a big kid and I look forward to seeing his progress now this camp."