Yes, Yes, 1000 Times Yes: Iguodala for Bynum, Best Thing Ever

Yes, Yes, 1000 Times Yes: Iguodala for Bynum, Best Thing Ever

Wonder of wonders, it looks like this thing is actually going down. No champagne-popping until everyone signs on the line that is dotted, and maybe not even for another 24 hours after that 'til we make sure that David Stern doesn't get up to his meddling ways, but ESPN and just about everyone else is reporting that the four-teamer Enrico posted about earlier today is indeed legit, and should be processed as early as Friday morning.

To recap, the trade in discussion is one that the great majority of the country will refer to as the "Dwight Howard trade," since by far the most notable part of the deal sees the All-World center Howard going from Orlando to the Los Angeles Lakers, with Orlando getting Al Harrington, some young'ns and draft picks in return, some of which the Sixers would provide. But the part of real consequence to the Sixers would see Philly's All-Star, Olympian and oft-rumored trade target Andre Iguodala sent to the Nuggets, with Lakers' All-NBA center Andrew Bynum coming to Philadelphia in return. (Philly also appears to be sacrificing young players Maurice Harkless and Nikola Vucevic in the deal, as well as a future protected #1 pick, and absorbs overpaid veteran shooting guard Jason Richardson as part of the deal.)

As hinted at in this post's title, this is just about the greatest thing ever for the Sixers. A team long marooned in the middle of the NBA pack, with good coaching and solid players but no stars and no ceiling to speak of, this is the move for a franchise player (or at the very least, a potential franchise player) that Sixers fans have endlessly clamored for. Last season, Bynum averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks a game, on 56% shooting. Every single one of those statistics would have led the Sixers last season. And that was while he had to split rebounds and post touches with Gasol, not to mention having teammate Kobe Bryant leading the league in shots per game on the wing. This guy is an absolute force in this league—and he's still only 24.

Almost as importantly, the Iguodala-for-Bynum swap instantaneously makes sense out of what is currently a very unbalanced roster. Never mind having to worry about starting Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown together anymore -- Bynum sends Brown to the 10-15-minute-a-game bench role where he belongs, and (hopefully) relegates Spence there as well, with the younger, more defensively competent Lavoy Allen brought to play alongside him in the frontcourt. Meanwhile, losing 'Dre opens up our wing glut to allow the penetrating, playmaking Evan Turner to play alongside the more complementary spot-up shooter Dorrell Wright. A Holiday-Turner-Wright-Allen-Bynum starting five, with Youngs Nick and Thad, Richardson, Brown and Hawes coming off the bench...that's not a bad top two lines, really.

And what do we lose in 'Dre? Well, a lot -- our perimeter defense will  suffer, and while Bynum will certainly be a defensive upgrade over Hawes (just about anyone would be), he's not nearly polished or mature enough on D to completely cover for our wing guys. But just everything else 'Dre gives us -- his playmaking, his scoring, his athleticism -- could be fairly well compensated for with increased minutes for Holiday and Turner, and without Iguodala or free-agency departee Lou Williams to dominate the offense, we could finally see exactly what we have with those two guys at the wheel. It's a step the team probably had to take at some point or another.

Naturally, the deal would not be without its pratfalls. Despite his obvious statistical career year last season, even casual fans should probably be able to recall a couple of stories over the last year involving Bynum being...difficult, to say the least. He clashed with Lakers coach Mike Brown over his desire to shoot threes, which he promised to continue shooting despite getting benched for doing so. He avoided huddles, joking that he was "getting his Zen on." He told reporters that he wasn't worried before a potential close-out game against the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs, because "close-out games are actually kind of easy." And of course, he missed the first five games of the season after clocking Dallas Mavericks guard JJ Barea in the Lakers' own elimination game of the 2010 post-season, a move stunning in its immaturity and carelessness. Bynum's arrival would almost certainly spell doom for Coach Collins, who might not be able to co-exist with a space cadet like Bynum for more than a road trip.

Perhaps more pressingly, acquiring Bynum might not be a long-term fix for the Sixers, as Bynum's contract expires at the end of the season. Bynum has never expressed much of an opinion about playing for the Sixers, because to my knowledge, up until 24 hours ago he had no reason to be asked about such a circumstance, but it's not hard to anticipate Bynum at least playing at testing his options in free agency should he be dealt to Philadelphia and play out the remaining season on his contract there—and in reality, he very well might walk to go play for whatever big-market superteam inevitably brews in the NBA over the next season.

And yeah, we are giving up some assets here beyond 'Dre. We still have absolutely no idea what we would have had in Harkless, and it always sucks to give up a young, talented player before you even get a chance to experience what he could have brought to the table. Nik Vucevic may have fallen out of the rotation towards the end of the year, but he was still a promising young big man, showing a refined touch around the basket and a (sporadically) reliable jumper that very likely will allow him to remain in this league for a long time. And while there's no point in waxing poetic about a likely lottery-protected #1 pick...well, you'd still rather like to hold on to those if possible.

Sportsnite's report on the deal above

Nonetheless, the assets they lost are likely all replaceable (and in fact were quite redundant on the team in the short term), and the upside far outweighs the risk with Bynum. The maturity complaints are legit, but they've been levied against countless great players who either outgrew or eclipsed them—including Bynum's teammate, the five-time champ Bryant. And while Bynum might split after the season, chances are also pretty decent that he'd end up staying—the Sixers will be able to offer him more money and years than anyone else, and if everything goes right, a Bynum-led Sixers team could be a top-flight team in the East next year, with a young, steadily improving core. If the Deron Williams experience in Brooklyn has taught us anything, it's that in the NBA, a franchise player in the hand is worth two on the trading block.

And if they do their best and Bynum does split...well, all you've lost to get him for a year was a guy who was probably gone the next season (if not earlier) anyway, and you still have Turner and Holiday to build around in free agency. Or, if it all totally goes to hell, you blow the team up entir
ely and rebuild from scratch. Either way, you're not just spinning your wheels every season, trotting out the same basic NBA experiment and hoping for different results. You're moving in a direction, and in the weird-ass world of the NBA, sometimes moving backwards can be just as productive as moving forwards. That's all we've asked for from this team for the longest time, and now they're actually doing it.

With all the short-term moves the Sixers were making this off-season, signing no player of real consequence but signing nobody for more than a year or two, it seemed like the team might very well just spend the next couple seasons twiddling their thumbs waiting for a game-changing trade to roll around. Well, this is the trade. It popped up a lot sooner than many of us were expecting, but it's here, and the Sixers deserve a lot of credit for seizing the opportunity and actually, presumably, hopefully, getting it done. It might have been years before an opportunity like this rolls around again, and as Sixers fans, we should be praying that it goes through ASAP.

(Much more on this to follow in the days to come, but if in fact we have seen the last of Andre Iguodala as a Philadelphia 76er, I'd just like to take this opportunity to say that despite all the miscasting, despite all the frustration, and despite all the times I've called for him to be traded, he was truly a great Sixer and I can't wait to root for him as a Nugget.)

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Chance for Nola to respond vs. worst offense

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Phillies-Braves 5 things: Chance for Nola to respond vs. worst offense

Phillies (46-57) at Braves (35-66)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies were throttled Wednesday, 11-1, as they dropped their fourth straight series coming out of the All-Star break. 

The Phils have gone 2-4 through the first two stops of their three-city, 10-game road trip which now takes them to Atlanta. It's a winnable series against the majors' worst team that could get the ice-cold Phillies' offense back on track.

Let's take a look at the opener:

1. Important night for Nola
Aaron Nola came out of the All-Star break with six shutout innings of the Marlins. It didn't mean he was all the way back. Sure enough, his next start was a struggle, just like his five before the break.

Nola allowed six runs in four innings to the Pirates last weekend as his ERA rose again to 4.75. He's allowed four runs or more in six of his last seven starts, five runs or more in five of his last seven, and he's pitched more than five innings just once in that span.

His command is just gone right now. And that's why this is such an important start for him. Facing the worst offense in baseball in a pitcher-friendly environment could build back Nola's confidence and result in a quality start, even if he's not locating perfectly. There is one dangerous hitter in Atlanta's lineup, Freddie Freeman. Other than that, Nola should be able to get away with a curveball that hangs a bit or a fastball that doesn't perfectly nip the outside corner.

His focus tonight should be attacking. Nola has faced the Braves four times and gone 2-1 with a 1.73 ERA.

2. Situational struggles
The Phillies went 2 for 21 with runners in scoring position in the Marlins series. On Wednesday, they had 10 hits but left 10 men on base. 

Rarely do you see a team come an out away from being shut out when its first two hitters reach base seven of 10 times. Cesar Hernandez was 3 for 4 with a walk, Odubel Herrera was 2 for 4 with a walk, and Maikel Franco also had a multi-hit game batting third.

But the Phils have just been unable to come up with the one big hit since the break and it's why they're averaging 2.6 runs per game.

3. Scouting Wisler
The Phils get another look at young Braves right-hander Matt Wisler (4-10, 4.92), whose ERA is much higher than it was the last time they faced him.

Wisler, like Nola, has been pounded lately. He ended May with a 3.16 ERA, but has a 7.40 ERA in nine starts since, allowing his opponents a .329 batting average and .934 OPS. 

Wisler faced the Phils twice in a 10-day span on May 10 and May 20 and allowed four runs in 14⅔ innings.

Wisler's fastball averages 94 mph, but he doesn't strike many batters out (6.8 per nine this season). He usually uses three pitches: four-seam fastball, sinker and slider.

Current Phillies have hit .299 against him in 67 at-bats with seven doubles and three home runs. Franco has done the most damage, going 5 for 9 with two doubles and a homer.

4. Bullpen blunders
The Phillies' bullpen has a 5.14 ERA since the All-Star break, another reason they've struggled. The main culprits have been Andrew Bailey (seven runs in four innings) and Brett Oberholtzer (four in five). 

The Phillies have three legit bullpen pieces in Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos, but none of the others have been reliable, which is a problem when the Phils don't carry a lead into the later innings. 

Expect to see a lot of bullpen turnover next season. The Phils have two promising young relievers in the minors in Jimmy Cordero (Double A) and Victor Arano (High A) who could turn this unit into one of the hardest-throwing in the game when they're ready to join Neris and Ramos. 

Bailey and Oberholtzer are not long for this organization. Both are free agents after the year and both could be designated for assignment to make room for another player over the next month.

5. This and that
• The Phillies are 6-3 vs. the Braves this season after going 30-45 against them from 2013 to 2015.

• Atlanta is a majors-worst 14-36 at home.

• Freeman is hitting .280 with 18 home runs and an .881 OPS, but he has just 41 RBIs because the Braves barely get on base ahead of him.

The Phanatic scared the bejesus out of Savannah Guthrie on the Today Show

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The Phanatic scared the bejesus out of Savannah Guthrie on the Today Show

Perhaps the best thing about the Democratic National Convention descending upon the city of Philadelphia this week is the fact that the Phillie Phanatic can just pop up anywhere, at any given moment and scare the bejesus out of people.

That happened on the Today Show when Savannah Guthrie didn't see it coming.

That Carson Daly guy looked pretty spooked too while Al Roker is cool as a cucumber. Al knows.

Roundtable: Which young player makes least sense for Phillies to trade?

Roundtable: Which young player makes least sense for Phillies to trade?

Earlier this week, ESPN.com looked around baseball and came up with each team's most "untouchable" player. For contending teams, the untouchable player could have been a prospect — for example, Boston's representative was Yoan Moncada, a player who shouldn't be moved even in a win-now trade. Makes sense. He's the Red Sox version of J.P. Crawford.

But for selling teams, the focus was mainly on the 25-man roster. ESPN's David Schoenfield listed Aaron Nola as the Phillies' most untouchable player, despite the 4.75 ERA. 

I saw that and disagreed. Nola is a valuable piece, sure, and he's better and will be better than his current ERA indicates. But there are a couple players who should be regarded as even more untouchable than Nola. To see if this opinion was shared, I turned to three of my colleagues, all baseball people for Comcast SportsNet or CSNPhilly.com. (Only players currently on the Phils' 25-man roster were considered.)

Phillies insider Jim Salisbury — 3B Maikel Franco
I'm a believer in building around pitching and the idea that you can never have enough of it. But given the strides this team has made in adding what looks mostly like mid-rotation starting pitching depth — valuable but mid-rotation, nonetheless — and its continuing shortcomings on offense, I would make Maikel Franco my untouchable at this deadline.

He's had his ups and downs this season, but at 23, he is still a young, developing hitter with lots of upside. He leads the club in homers and RBIs while being a marked man in a lineup that provides little protection. Some of the adjustments he made after a difficult month of May suggest that he has the ability to improve his selectivity and that will speed his development.

The Phillies have been starving for a homegrown, middle-of-the-order, right-handed power bat almost from the time of Mike Schmidt, who, incidentally, sees MVP potential in Franco. Whether he stays at third, where he shows an excellent throwing arm and soft hands, or becomes an option at first base because of range concerns, Franco is an untouchable right now. 

Phillies Clubhouse producer Brian Brennan — CF Odubel Herrera
The Phillies have a wealth of talented young starting pitchers, so the guy I'd least want to part with is Odubel Herrera.
 
I think the potential is there for a perennial .850 OPS centerfielder who's a perfect fit at the top of a lineup. Herrera is on pace to score 90 runs this season without any consistent production elsewhere in the lineup. Once you add in J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams to pair with Herrera and Franco, you've got the makings of a dynamic top of the order for years to come. 

Herrera is currently fourth among MLB centerfielders in on-base percentage, behind only Mike Trout, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Yoenis Cespedes. Herrera is younger than all of them.
 
Herrera could be the National League's version of Mookie Betts if everything breaks right. He needs to hit a lot more doubles to get there, but I think he has the ability to hit 30 to 35 doubles in a season. He's under team control for four more seasons and that's a guy I'd be very unwilling to trade.  

Phillies Pregame/Postgame Live host Marshall Harris — 3B Maikel Franco
For me it's Franco. You're not going anywhere in today's game without a good offense and Franco is a solid building block to that end.

I realize that he's having a worse offensive year this year compared to 2015. But his errors are down compared to a year ago as he's proving himself to be an above-average defender at the hot corner. The Phillies have a plethora of young rotation arms ready to go, while the same can't be said about third basemen in the MiLB pipeline.

Franco isn't arbitration-eligible until 2018 and won't hit free agency until the 2022 season. At age 23, he's exactly the type of player you want to build around going forward. Even if he's not the best player on this team when it contends again, why would you not want a 30-plus HR player somewhere in your lineup?

Corey Seidman — OK, I'll play devil's advocate, SP Vince Velasquez
My answer would be Franco, as well, but I might even put Vince Velasquez ahead of Nola in terms of untouchability.

I just see more upside in Velasquez. This has been an up-and-down season for the 24-year-old right-hander, but even after a bad run in late May and an injury, Velasquez is 8-2 with a 3.34 ERA in 17 starts. 

Velasquez ranks ninth among National League starters with a swinging strike rate of 11.6 percent, ahead of guys like Stephen Strasburg, Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke and Jacob deGrom. 

Velasquez has also struck out 27.2 percent of the batters he's faced, which is the eighth-highest strikeout rate in the NL. 

What's most impressive about Velasquez's ability to miss bats is that he usually does it without walking people. Even after walking eight batters in his last 13 innings, Velasquez has a K/BB ratio of 103 to 34 in 91⅔ innings this season. For his career, he has 161 K's and 55 walks, nearly a 3:1 ratio. 

If Velasquez can ever put it all together and find a way to get deeper into games consistently, he could be an ace or high-end No. 2 starter. He has more upside than Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Zach Eflin or Jake Thompson because he can pick up a strikeout at any time with that mid-90s fastball that has some late life and zip.

And if it turns out Velasquez never does put it all together, he could be a very good closer. That's what makes the Ken Giles trade so confusing. If the Astros so badly wanted a young, inexpensive fireballer in the back end of their bullpen, they could have simply converted Velasquez into a full-time reliever.