Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers Off-Season: 7. Are Any of Our Mid-Level Free Agents Worth Re-Signing?

Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers Off-Season: 7. Are Any of Our Mid-Level Free Agents Worth Re-Signing?

As has been mentioned numerous times in this multi-part off-season
review, one of the unquestionably smart things the Sixers did last
off-season was to not take on any long-term contracts while rebuilding
their team on the fly. Consequently, a number of guys we picked up while
re-stocking our rotation–now missing such previous contributors as Lou
Williams, Jodie Meeks, Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand–are already coming
off the books, allowing us to get a trial sample of their work, and
allowing us to make long-term decisions about their futures at season’s
end.

This group includes Nick Young, Dorell Wright, Damien Wilkins, and
Royal Ivey–though unfortunately, not Kwame Brown, unless Tony DiLeo
makes him an offer he can’t refuse (free trip to Hershey Park?) and he
opts out of the second year of his contract. All those guys, and their
combined $12.5 or so million in salary, come off the books this year,
and all could very well be playing in different jerseys next year.

But are any of them worth retaining long-term, or at least for another short term? Let’s break them down, one at a time.


Nick Young:

Unlike many, I had absolutely no issues with the Swaggy P experience
in Philadelphia. He knew his role–come in shooting off the bench, hit
crazy shots when the team’s down 20–and he played it fine. His passing
was better than advertised (though still not exactly Nash-ian), his
defense was better and more committed than most gave him credit for, and
he gave us a handful more legitimately memorable moments on and off the
court than at least six or seven other guys on the roster. I have no
beef with Nick Young, and wish him the best wherever he ends up,
including if he’s back with the Sixers.

However, there is the matter of the price tag. Nick Young cost us $6
million last year, a total that while not totally unpalatable on a
one-year deal, is still far more than a player of Young’s production
deserves. What’s more, rumor has it that after last year’s make-good
deal–which ended with him riding the pine for much of the second half of
the season–the Swagness now wants a long-term deal, and may very well make something in the three-for-$15, four-for-$18 million-type range.

That shouldn’t be the Sixers. As much fun as it’s been to have Swaggy
in our locker room, he’s still little more than a bench wildcard–he was
only worth a little over two wins for the Sixers last year by Win
Shares, and he’s never had a PER above 15 (about league average) in his
career. He’s not a young core player on a rebuilding team, he’s not a
reliable veteran player on a contending team, and it’s hard to see how
he really helps the Sixers no matter what direction they end up going
in.

If he’s willing to take another one-year contract for the Sixers, at
about three or four million, I’d still take him for the entertainment
alone. But that’s probably not going to happen, so Bye Bye Swaggy.


Dorell Wright:

Dorell had an up-and-down year for the Sixers, his production and
playing time both streaky (though only one of those things was really
under his control), but in the end, he was about what we thought he
was–an athletic wing defender who can hit open threes and provide lineup
flexibility by playing either the three or the four. That’s a limited
but valuable skill set, one that translates to just about any style or
type of team, and at age 27, it’s one he should be able to provide for
at least another couple years–which for the $4.16 million he was paid
last year, is a fairly good bargain.

However, it’s unclear whether he’ll be available at that price again.
His statistical production last year was fairly modest for a contract
year–9.2 ppg, on 40% shooting and 37% from deep, with about four
rebounds and two assists–but advanced stats actually have this as a
career year for Wright, with his highest PER and WS/48 yet, likely due
to his stellar D, his 85% shooting from the free-throw line, and his
best-ever assist-to-turnover ratio (about 2.3:1). Plus, as Zach Lowe of
Grantland recently wrote about,
players who can defend two wing positions and hit three-pointers are at
a peak in NBA value, and Wright arguably fits that description.

So it’s a matter of price for Dorell and the Sixers. If we could get
him back for a couple years at a rate in line with his previous pay
scale, he’d certainly provide value for the Sixers, as a trade chip as
well as as a player. But if he starts climbing into the
five-or-six-mil-a-year, multi-year strata, which he very well may
deserve, he officially becomes too expensive for the Liberty Ballers,
who should be avoiding those kind of mid-level contracts at all costs as
they attempt to find a core of players worth building around.


Damien Wilkins:

A few months ago, this would’ve been a joke inclusion, like
“hahahahah no of course we’re not giving Damien Wilkins a contract what
is this opposite off-season??” For better or worse, though, Damien has
played his way into this actually being some sort of conversation,
ending the season with his strongest production in years, with 12 points
a game on 53% shooting for the month of March. He provided real energy
and toughness for the Sixers, played adequate defense, and
dribble-drived his way into Doug Collins’ starting lineup and heart.

That said, this really still shouldn’t be much of a discussion. We
got Damien for the veteran’s minimum last off-season, and if he charges
the Sixers a penny more this off-season–which he has every right to do,
having proven himself a decent veteran bench guy–he’s gotta head
elsewhere. Even though he played with fresh legs last season, Damien is
33 years old, with only one really good month in his last five seasons
to his credit, and should be the ninth or tenth man on a playoff team
needing bench depth, not a potentially rebuilding one like the Sixers.

There isn’t a Sixers writer alive that isn’t terrified the team won’t
reward Damien with a four-year, $20-million deal, though, just to thank
him for keeping the team competent during the waning months of last
season. If they do, we have very, very serious problems as a franchise.

Royal Ivey:

Our other veteran-minimum signing last off-season, Royal had himself a
similarly decent year, though never quite earned Collins’ loyalty the
same way as Wilkins. He was asked to do remarkably little–defend
opposing point guards that were giving Jrue and Evan trouble, and make
open threes–and he did both of those things pretty well. He didn’t do
much else, but that’s cool.

If he wants to come back and do those two things for the same amount
of pay next year, I’m with it. If he wants to earn more or do more,
well, don’t forget to write. Is there a cheese-named player out there
that he can be teammates with, as has long been his nickname destiny?
Here’s hoping.

In Conclusion:

If you asked me, I’d be a little surprised if any of these guys were
on our team next year. I’m the most worried about them re-signing
Damien, but I’m hoping–perhaps naively–that they’ll be too concerned
with landing a big fish in free agency to take up their cap space with
four or five mil a year of D-Wilk. There’s a chance Dorell gets
undervalued on the open market and ends up sticking where he is, or that
Royal has nowhere else to go and just returns to Philly out of process
of elimination, but ultimately, I think it’s goodbye and good luck to
all four of these guys.

And that’s fine–none of these guys were ever part of the Sixers’
long-term plans (or at least they shouldn’t have been), and they
arguably do more for us by walking away and letting us invest their
combined $12.5 million (or however much of it the CBA says we can use)
elsewhere. Miss you guys, particularly Swaggy, but there’s no point in
being sentimental about low-level contributors on a 34-win team, so it’s
onwards and upwards for the Sixers without this particular quartet.

Previously:

No.
10. Where Are We Now (And Where Are We
Going)?

No. 9.
Is Thaddeus Young Untouchable?

No. 8. Is Spencer Hawes Good Enough For Our Starting Center?

Several reasons behind Brandon Graham's seemingly sudden emergence

Several reasons behind Brandon Graham's seemingly sudden emergence

With three sacks in three games, Brandon Graham is off to the fastest start of his career by far, already almost halfway to his career high of 6½. Naturally, the Eagles' defensive end is excited about the production, but not nearly as excited as he was with the defense as a whole after a 34-3 romp over the Steelers on Sunday.

"For us, I was just happy we stayed together, we played together and the outcome was good," Graham said postgame. "Hats off to Pittsburgh because we did a lot of planning for them. We respect them a lot.

"I am just happy to get this win and I am happy in the style we did it."

Graham was one of four Eagles players to bring down Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, marking the first time the seventh-year veteran has recorded at least one sack in three consecutive games. In fact, prior to this season, Graham had never posted a sack in Week 1.

For once, the numbers are taking care of themselves for Graham — although that's not what he's focused on.

"Since I've been here, I've never gotten a sack in the first game, and I've never been consistent," Graham said. "I'm just trying to be the leader, go out there, get W's and be relentless."

There are plenty of explanations for Graham's seemingly sudden emergence.

This is only his second season as a full-time player in the NFL after injuries, then depth conspired to keep the 2010 first-round pick on the bench early in his career. Perhaps all he needed was an opportunity. The switch back to a 4-3 defense and wide-nine front no doubt helped rejuvenate Graham's career as well, allowing him to move from outside linebacker back to his natural position at defensive end and focus on rushing the passer.

With Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith all rotating in at end, Graham is also being kept fresh. Last season, the Eagles lacked the quality reserves to provide many breathers for Barwin and Graham on the outside.

"It's a great feeling because there's no pressure to hurry up and get back out," Graham said. "I feel like everybody is just as good and there's no drop-off when we come out of there.

"It's definitely going to help us later on in the year. It's been helping now."

There are all sorts of schematic reasons why Graham could finally be on his way to a breakout season. This will be his first full season as a starter at D-end in a 4-3, it's the first time since 2012 he's in a wide-nine and the defense no longer has to be worried about being exhausted by Chip Kelly's offense's uptempo approach.

Graham was also blessed with a new addition to his family during the offseason — a baby girl. The 28-year-old admits that changed his perspective as well, making him want to work even harder toward achieving his goals.

"Just the preparation and then the work this offseason, I took it up to another level," Graham said. "I guess because I had a daughter this offseason, everything is kind of viewed a different way for me.

"I know we have a good defense — that helps out a lot, too. I couldn't ask for a better defense right now."

Clearly, those goals are not individually motivated. Graham wants to be part of something great, and with a dominant performance against the Steelers in Week 3, the Eagles and their defense passed a huge test.

"I feel like we improved," Graham said. "We got a lot better. We stopped a good team, a great team, a well-coached team. Our hats off to them because they made us work this week."

Few people were expecting the Eagles to handle a trendy Super Bowl pick the way they did, and Graham actually prefers it that way.

"I hope we still get overlooked because it feels so good when people are talking the way they did," Graham said. "It added a little fuel. We watched a little bit of the TV (Sunday) morning, and they were just saying how [the Steelers] were going to dog us.

"I'm just happy that we came out and did what we were supposed to do, and I hope we stay the underdog because, for us, nobody gave us a chance and we stayed together. If we stay together in here, that's all that matters."

Through three games, the Eagles lead the NFL in fewest points surrendered with a paltry 27 and rank fourth in yards allowed. They're also tied for third with 10 sacks and tied for seventh with six takeaways.

If the defense stays together the way Graham says they have, how far does he think the Eagles go this season?

"I don't know," Graham said. "If we keep playing like that, there is no ceiling."

Flyers Notes: Promising performances from young defensemen

Flyers Notes: Promising performances from young defensemen

The most impressive thing about the Flyers' 4-0 preseason win over the Islanders on Tuesday night was the play of the their young defense and the outstanding work by the penalty kill.

Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers each gave a strong accounting of themselves while veteran Andrew MacDonald proved why experience helps with some terrific PK work during an extended five-on-three Islanders power play in the third period.

“Overall, they did a good job,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I look at some of the opportunities we gave up, especially in the second period, we gave up three or four Grade A opportunities that Mase (goalie Steve Mason) was great on, but I put those on our forwards.

“We’re still not into regular-season form on our play without the puck. I thought as a whole, the group of defensemen did a good job and the young guys in there were good tonight.”

Sanheim had strong plays the entire game from the point and picked up two assists (see highlights). He gets the puck quickly on net and joins the play up front.

“It took me a little bit, even in this game,” Sanheim said. “As I play more, I started to jump up more and you start to see my game more. It’s something I want to bring to this next level.”

Provorov logged 21:43 of ice time following nearly 29 minutes at New Jersey. He had 5:17 on the PK. Some of his clears weren’t deep or hard enough, at times, possibly because of fatigue.

He also took a bad boarding hit on Joshua Ho-Sang in the third period that set up an Isles five-on-three power play. It became extended because of a trip call to Myers but MacDonald did yeoman’s work on the extended PK.

Provorov quarterbacks the first-unit man advantage for now until Shayne Gostisbehere joins the crowd. He had some very skillful passes. The Russian can find the seam up the ice on the breakout quickly and had a no-look, hard pass to Nick Cousins in the second period for a quality one-timer on net.

Expect Provorov to handle the second-unit power play during the season, should he make the roster.

The goals
Although the Flyers, using a better NHL lineup, were lacking for offensive chances early against the Isles' "B" squad, they found their way in the final four minutes of the opening period.

First, Dale Weise had one of those pinball goals as a bouncing puck hit a couple of players in the slot, including goalie Chris Gibson, to make it 1-0 during four-on-four play.

That was the Flyers' first goal of preseason in three games. A little more than a minute later, Wayne Simmonds scored off a rebound just as a Flyers power play ended. Simmonds had two goals in the game, including a wrister from the left circle to open the final period.

Smallish (5-foot-7) — but bullish — centerman Andy Miele, a former Hobey Baker Award winner as college hockey’s top player (Miami-Ohio), made it 3-0, out-battling Thomas Hickey for the rebound of Michael Raffl’s shot.

The shield
Simmonds is wearing a visor for the first time. It’s an experiment for now.

“Everyone is all over me about it,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. It wasn’t too bad tonight. The only thing is trying to track pucks in the sky when you are getting the glare from the lights. A little bit of an adjustment."

He said neither his mother nor girlfriend had pushed him as hard to wear the shield as someone else: “Ron Hextall,” he said flatly. “He gave me a call.”

Because of his tenacious play in the slot where sticks are high and pucks are deflected, a shield makes sense.

“Yeah, I think so, being that front guy and doing work on the PK,” he said. “Getting sticks in lanes like that, the game is really fast and pucks get deflected.

“Sometime you don’t know where they’re going and can’t react to that. Obviously, the shield is good for that."

He added he would wear the shield in a fight, too.

“Every time I fight and someone has a shield on, I’m at a disadvantage so I guess this evens it up,” he said.

Loose pucks
Weise did a nice job sticking up for teammates late during a melee after a Ben Holmstrom crosscheck to linemate Nick Cousins. “It was a bad crosscheck and you’re defending your teammates,” he said. “The ref was in the way and I kind of went overtop him. That’s what I’m about. Guys take liberties on my linemates, I’ll stand up for them.” … Matt Read had just 6:54 ice time through two periods. Fourth-liner Boyd Gordon had more ice time there — 9:39 — but Read finished with 13:55 to Gordon’s 13:41. More than half of Gordon’s ice time was on the penalty kill. … Goalie Steve Mason faced some point-blank chances among the first 17 shots he faced and finished with 23-save shutout.