A Look Behind the Scenes of the 76ers' Free Agency Meeting with Andrew Bynum

A Look Behind the Scenes of the 76ers' Free Agency Meeting with Andrew Bynum

With Dwight Howard and Josh Smith officially off the market, and Chris Paul long since committed to re-upping with the Clippers, the NBA's off-season attention turns to our very own Andrew Bynum, the ultimate wildcard in this year's free agency. Yahoo reports that Bynum has already been offered a two-year, $24 million offer from Cleveland (with the second year a team option), and that Bynum will meet with the Mavericks and Hawks before week's end, in a kind of miniature version of the drama that preceded Howard finally signing with the Houston Rockets last Friday.

Of course, the week wasn't going to transpire without the 76ers, the team that ostensibly employed Bynum last season, having their say in the matter. Their meeting with Bynum took place early this morning--possibly late last night by Andrew's schedule--in a closed-door affair that left most media members in the dark. However, ESPN Philadelphia has the report of what went down in the Sixers' free-agency pitch to their All-Star center:

The meeting started with Bynum and three members of his entourage arriving 25 minutes late, claiming to have gotten confused by the number of similar-looking parking lots in the South Philadelphia Sports Complex area. Bynum wore a salmon-colored Polo t-shirt and sandals with socks, as well as a pair of aviator sunglasses, which he politely declined to take off during the meeting.

First to talk at the meeting was Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie, who spoke to Bynum about the importance of taking the long view of things, and not to expect any kind of quick fixes with the team and their roster as currently constituted. He explained to the center that the team would probably not be ready to compete for a championship for another three to four years minimum, and that in the meantime, there would be a lot of losing. Bynum asked if that meant the team was hoping to sign him to a contract that would have him still on the roster at the point of the Sixers again being competitive. Hinkie responded by scolding him for "trying to rush the process."

Next up were a number of special guests: Jeff Ruland, Chris Webber and Elton Brand, who preached to the center about Philadelphia 76ers history, and the team's proud lineage of injured, past-their-prime big men. Ruland spoke fondly of seasons spent on the sideline at the Spectrum, laughing about his impression of Charles Barkley ordering a Breakfast Sampler at IHOP with teammate Scott Brooks. Webber recalled skipping Fan Appreciation Night with Allen Iverson at the Wachovia Center ("We heard about this party AI's cousin was throwing at Drexel that night--SO many drunk college chicks") in his last home game for the Sixers. Brand focused mostly on the subtle pleasures of getting amnestied, raving about how "they actually pay you go play for another team--sometimes one that's actually good!"

Then came the pleas from Bynum's Sixers teammates. First came Nick Young, who gave an emotional, surprisingly coherent-sounding remembrance of his and Bynum's time as teammates, going off-road biking and making late-night trips to the Franklin Institute. Young even pulled up some pictures on his phone of he and Bynum posing with various different hairstyles and goofy-looking hats, including a black-and-white one of the two in sombreros and cartoonish mustaches, the memory of which made the pair crack up in hysterics. Bynum was clearly touched by the display, though he also seemed a bit surprised, claiming that he didn't even know Young had been re-signed by the team. Young looked upset and confused at this, and started to say something to Sam Hinkie, before Hinkie quickly thanked him for his time and shuttled him out of the room.

After Young came Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes, who spoke to Bynum of the bright future they envisioned for the 76ers. The words "dynasty," "big three" and "final piece" were mentioned, with Evan pulling up his 2012-13 Game Log on Basketball-Reference to show Bynum the stat lines from his one month of above-average play from the previous season, and Hawes citing that time Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski predicted pre-season that he would win Most Improved Player for the year. The two also reminded Bynum of the benefits of living in the Philadelphia market, explaining that it took them a good two seasons to come up with their ideal hoagie-and-sides orders at Wawa, but now they couldn't imagine eating at any other convenience store. Before leaving, Turner and Hawes made Bynum promise that he would finally follow them on Twitter, though it remains unclear if Bynum even has a Twitter account.

Finally, the Sixers' new head coach made his appearance. He gave an incredibly rousing, inspirational speech about the value of teamwork and the importance of building character, concluding by walking up to Bynum's seat and saying "Now I can't be the one who walks you through that door. All I can do is tell you that once you get to the other side, and look into my eyes, and the eyes of those 11 boys who'll be standing there with you, you will know without a doubt, deep down in your heart, that you did the right thing." The room erupted into applause, including a stunned-looking Bynum. Once he left the room, Bynum asked of his entourage if they had any clue who the coach was. None seemed to, nor did any of the media members or Sixers officials in the room, though a couple discussed the coach's striking resemblance to actor Kyle Chandler.

After the meeting, Sixers president Josh Harris said that he thought the meeting "went well," and that he was feeling "very positive" about the team's chances of retaining their All-Star big man.

No official word yet about the Sixers' offer to Bynum, or his response to their offer. Stay turned for further details.

Nola, bench, the kids and more: A half-dozen issues to watch as Phillies get set to play games

Nola, bench, the kids and more: A half-dozen issues to watch as Phillies get set to play games

CLEARWATER, Fla. — For the first time since Oct. 2 when Ryan Howard tipped his cap and Hector Neris retired Kevin Plawecki on a ground ball to third base to give them a 5-2 win over the New York Mets, the Phillies will play a game on Thursday afternoon.

They will host the University of Tampa for the third straight year in an exhibition game at Spectrum Field. The Spartans are 7-2 and ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division II.

Manager Pete Mackanin will take the opportunity to look at a number of minor-league prospects in his starting lineup on Thursday. Minor-league right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. will start for the Phillies.

The Phillies will play a number of their projected regular players in Friday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees in Tampa.

As the games get going, the evaluations and decision-making process ramps up for Mackanin, the coaching staff and the front office.

Let’s take a look at the six biggest storylines that will unfold over the course of the Grapefruit League season:

Aaron Nola
So far, so good for the right-hander who missed the last two months of the 2016 season with an elbow injury. He says he is completely healthy and his early-camp bullpen sessions have gone smoothly.

But game action will bring a rise in intensity and a truer gauge of Nola’s health. He is expected to make his first start sometime next week.

“I'm real anxious to see Nola pitch,” manager Pete Mackanin said Wednesday. “We all know what he's capable of doing when he's healthy. Right now, he appears to be and says he is 100 percent. My only concern for him is as we go along into the season, if it's going to come back to haunt him. Right now, I'm real pleased at the way he's throwing and the way he looks. He feels very confident.”

Nola has no limits, but ...

“We will have to keep a close eye on him,” Mackanin said. “All the pitchers, actually. Especially him. I know how good he can be. I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch. Hopefully, every outing he has, he won't show any signs of it. That's the only thing I'm concerned about, that thing coming back.”

The bullpen
Mackanin opened camp by saying that Jeanmar Gomez was his closer — “at this point.”

Like all pitchers, Gomez will need some time and innings to get into a spring rhythm. Serious evaluation of him probably won’t happen until later in the spring. If he pitches well, he will most likely seize the closer job that he lost last September. If he struggles, he could end up forfeiting the closer gig to Hector Neris or Joaquin Benoit and move into a setup role, where he had success in 2015 and could be an asset because of his ability to pitch multiple innings. For the record, Gomez says he will be happy in whatever role Mackanin asks him to fill.

Other roles are open in the bullpen. In particular, Mackanin is looking for at least one lefty and ideally two. Joely Rodriguez probably has the inside track for one lefty spot because he’s on the 40-man roster. Adam Morgan will get starter’s innings in camp, but he could end up in the bullpen. Veterans Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett, both in camp on minor-league contracts, will each get a serious look to make the club.

Hitting approach
The Phillies were last in the majors in runs (610) and second-to-last in batting average (.240) and on-base percentage (.301) in 2016.

New hitting coach Matt Stairs is trying to improve the team’s on-base skills by stressing a gap-to-gap approach and not giving away at-bats. In other words, have a plan before the at-bat, key on a particular zone early in the count and don’t expand until there are two strikes.

Turning these hitters into a group that works counts, grinds out at-bats and gets on base won’t happen overnight, but Mackanin would like to see some progress in exhibition play.

“It takes a while for all of it to settle in,” Mackanin said. “When you hit a certain way your whole life or your thought process is a certain way your whole life, it's hard to make changes because you're out of your comfort zone. The important thing is for the players to buy into what Matt Stairs is selling. If they do that, I think we're going to improve.”

The bench
Barring injury, the starting eight position jobs are settled, but there is intrigue on the bench. Outfielder Aaron Altherr and infielder Andres Blanco appear to be locks and it’s difficult to imagine infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan not making the club. There are others in the mix, including veteran Daniel Nava.

The most intriguing bench question is who will be the backup catcher? Prospect Andrew Knapp will get a long look both behind the plate and at first base as he bids to win a reserve role at both positions. Big-league veterans Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan are also vying for the role of backup catcher.

A roster sleeper?
Last year, little known outfielder Cedric Hunter hit his way onto the opening day roster.

Will there be a repeat this spring?

Keep an eye on Brock Stassi and Andrew Pullin. Both are in camp as non-roster players. Both swing from the left side, have strong minor-league hitting resumes and could be very much in play if the Phils want to add a bat off the bench.

Pullin is a corner outfielder with a short, quick stroke that will remind you of Jim Eisenreich. Stassi has a good bat and could bring some versatility with his ability to play first base and outfield.

The kids
It’s always fun to look at the next wave of potential Phillies early in the Grapefruit League season. Outfielder Roman Quinn was one of the most exciting players in camp last year and he’s primed for another good showing before heading off to Triple A finishing school.

Top prospect J.P. Crawford will get a lot of looks at shortstop before heading to minor-league camp, and it will be fun to watch the power bats of Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens; they combined for 78 homers at Double A last season.

Catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams, both heading into important seasons at Triple A, will get playing time, commencing with starting assignments on Thursday.

Phillies prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

Phillies prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Phillies received some good and bad news on pitcher Victor Arano.

He was diagnosed with a sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

Surgery was not prescribed, which is good news.

The bad news, he’s been shut down for at least a month.

Arano’s injury was treated with a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection.

The 22-year-old from Mexico said he first started feeling some tenderness in the elbow during a stint in the Arizona Fall League. He experienced some swelling in the elbow after reporting to camp earlier this month.

Arano is an intriguing prospect. He was acquired from the Dodgers as part of the package for starter Roberto Hernandez in August 2014. He impressed team officials in spring training 2015 and really took a big step forward after moving to the bullpen last season. He pitched 79 2/3 innings in 46 games at Single A Clearwater and Double A Reading and recorded a 2.26 ERA while striking out 95 and walking just 19.

Arano’s stuff has been compared to that of Edubray Ramos, who jumped from Double A to Triple A to the majors last season.

The injury means Arano will have to start the season on the disabled list.

In other health news, pitcher Jake Thompson graduated to a bullpen mound on Wednesday. He had been slowed by a sore wrist, but is fine now. Thompson proved that by winning the longest drive at Tuesday’s annual team golf outing.

Thompson lines up to open the season at Triple A.