Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers' Off-Season: #9. Is Thaddeus Young Untouchable?

Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers' Off-Season: #9. Is Thaddeus Young Untouchable?

The good and bad thing about the 76ers' current state of supreme flexibility is that we don't have a ton of players that we know for a fact are gonna be a big part of this team's future. In the long-term sense, just about everybody on this team is expendable, and it wouldn't be hugely surprising if two years from now, at least ten of the 12 guys who played the most minutes for the Sixers this year were wearing a different uniform (or in some cases, possibly out of the league altogether). Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Jason Richardson, Arnett Moultrie, even Kwame Brown--all of them can be had for the right price.

The only true untouchable on the team is probably Jrue Holiday, the team's 22-year-old point guard. He made his first All-Star team this year, the youngest player in franchise history to do so, he kept the team in playoff contention for about half the season (before running out of gas after the All-Star break), and he's signed to a bargain of a four-year / $41 million contract. Unless they're dealing for an MVP candidate--and there aren't a ton of those out there for the dealing--any deals they make are going to be to find a complementary player for the Damaja.

The real question is about Thaddeus Young, the Sixers' second-most-valuable player. Like Jrue, Thad had something of a career year last year, averaging career highs in rebounds, assists, steals and win shares, while playing the most minutes of his career, proving that he can be a starting forward for a good team in this league, maybe as  a sort of poor man's Shawn Marion. And like Jrue, Thad is signed to a contract that now seems extremely reasonable, under team control for another three years and another $27 million or so.

However, Thad probably ranks below Jrue in terms of trade value for the Sixers and around the league, mostly as a function of his being a couple years further along his carer than the Damaja, and there being more of a sense that this is probably about as good as Young is gonna get as a player. He could expand his shooting range a little (though he'll probably never be a real three-point threat) and he could further improve his ball-handling (which he's already made great strides with), but he's probably a little too slight and undersized to be enough of a post presence to grow into a 20/10-type player. He'll always provide value in subtle ways, but he's not too likely to become a star, in the conventional sense.

So Thaddeus Young stands not only as the Sixers' second-best player (and probably top all-around producer), but also as their most valuable trade chip, a player any team would love to have, on a contract that many teams could easily absorb without it becoming problematic. If the Sixers wanted to add a second core player to build around, along with Jrue, including Thad in a deal for that player would likely be the most efficient way to do it.

For instance--and I'm not suggesting that they should actually do this--the Sixers could probably make a real run at star Lakers big man Pau Gasol in the final year of his contract using a deal built around Thaddeus and an expiring contract or two. Thad would offer the Lakers a chance to get younger and more athletic, and his defensive versatility would help them further cover up the defensive deficiencies of their aging Nash-Kobe backcourt. He'd also help Mike D'Antoni by being able to play the three or four, allowing them to use him in small or big lineups, and his finishing ability would be a fantastic weapon for Nash and Kobe on the break or in the fast court.

However, you might look at all that and rightfully ask: If Thad is that good, and that valuable, why would you trade him at all? Why not keep him long-term and build around him and Jrue as the nucleus of the team's future? Having two young, cheap players like that locked up on team-friendy, multi-year deals is a pretty good starting point for any young team, and if you could add a third worthwhile core player through the draft or free agency without giving up Thad, wouldn't that be the better long-term play?

Undoubtedly it would, but unfortunately, that's much easier said than done. Barring a lottery miracle--their second in four years--the Sixers will likely have the 11th pick in this draft, said to be historically weak, and chances are much better of them adding a quality rotation piece than a true difference-maker. And if they keep both Jrue and Thad around for the next few years, that'll probably be good enough to keep them out of the top ten of the draft for the foreseeable future, meaning they'll have to strike late-lottery (or early-out-of-lottery) gold with another Jrue Holiday (who the Sixers nabbed with the #17 pick in 2009) to add another core player that way.

As for free agency, having Jrue and Thad is a good start to landing quality free agents. However, the Sixers don't have quite enough financial flexibility to add a max guy this off-season, and the free-agent class next season is pretty weak. And in the meantime, the rules of the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement have so incentivised players to stay with their current teams (who can award them more years and more money per year than any new team) that the only reason marquee free agents have to really switch teams are to play in a major market or chase a championship, neither of which they would necessarily be doing if they signed with the Sixers.

This is all pretty broad-strokes stuff, but I do believe that generally speaking, it'd be much easier to add another difference-maker through trade than through other avenues, and Thad is their best asset with which to do it. And if so, I think that would ultimately be a sacrifice the Sixers have to make--as wonderful as Thad has been, he hasn't been good enough to be the second-best guy on a Sixers team that would actually contend for anything, and even though his production last year was his best yet, it was more due to an increase in minutes and role than any tremendous strides he made as a player, as his percentages and rates for the season--field goal percentage, PER, win shares per 48, etc.--were all basically in line with his last two years' averages.

That's not to diminish his accomplishments--being able to maintain that level of production in big minutes is a huge accomplishment in itself, and Thad proving he could do it was a huge step for his career. But as previously mentioned, it's hard to see him getting that much better from here, and a guy that gives you 15 and seven with solid peripherals and excellent defense is still more of a complimentary player, a third or fourth option, on a title-caliber team. Thad could easily put a team close to contention over the top, but it's hard to see him elevating a lottery team like the Sixers to that status without a whole lot of help. So if the right trade opportunity came along, I would like to see the Sixers open to trading Thaddeus, though not for anything less than an established star (or at least a player with the upside to be one), or a likely high future lottery pick.

Of course, as with so many of our Ten Biggset Questions, the Funny-Looking Kid With the Big Hair looms large over all. If the Sixers do end up rolling the dice a second time with Bynum, that high-upside guy they could get without giving up any other assets besides cap space, it might be worth holding to Thad for at least another year, since he would be an excellent frontcourt complement to Bynum, especially if he can be enough of a mid-range threat to give Drew some space on offense. But if Bynum is a no-go, our chances are better at getting the player we thought he was gonna be for us are better if we deem Thad expendable in such pursuits. Sad, but that's just how player acquisition works in the NBA.

MLB Notes: Braves place Erick Aybar on 15-day DL

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The Associated Press

MLB Notes: Braves place Erick Aybar on 15-day DL

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves have placed shortstop Erick Aybar on the 15-day disabled list with a bruised right foot.

Aybar left Friday night's game in the fifth, one inning after he was hit by a pitch from Miami's Adam Conley. The Braves said Friday night that X-rays were negative.

Aybar, acquired as part of the offseason deal that sent shortstop Andrelton Simmons to the Los Angeles Angels, is hitting .182.

Daniel Castro is starting at shortstop in Saturday's game against the Marlins.

In a corresponding move, the Braves recalled right-hander Aaron Blair from Triple-A Gwinnett to start Saturday's game.

Royals: RHP Chris Young activated off DL
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Royals have activated right-hander Chris Young from the disabled list before Saturday's game against the Chicago White Sox.

Young, who had been out since May 9 with a right forearm strain, was placed in the bullpen after beginning the season in the rotation. He was 1-5 with a 6.68 ERA in seven starts, allowing 13 home runs and walking 11 in 32 1/3 innings.

The 37-year-old Young earned the victory in the first game of the 2015 World Series, working three scoreless innings in relief as the Royals beat the New York Mets 5-4 in 14 innings.

Kansas City optioned left-hander Brian Flynn, who was 1-0 with a 4.91 ERA in five relief appearances, to Triple-A Omaha.

Indians: Brantley unsure when he'll return
CLEVELAND -- Indians outfielder Michael Brantley has no timetable for his return from the shoulder injury that has sidelined him for the second time this season.

Brantley spoke to reporters Saturday for the first time since being placed on the 15-day disabled list on May 14. He began the season on the DL following surgery for a torn right labrum in November. Brantley hit .231 with seven RBIs in 11 games before being shut down again.

Brantley, who received an anti-inflammatory shot in the shoulder two weeks ago, doesn't think he returned from the surgery too soon. He has been hitting off a tee but isn't sure when he will begin taking swings in the batting cage.

Brantley finished third in the AL Most Valuable Player voting in 2014 when he hit .327 with 20 homers and 97 RBIs. He batted .310 with 15 homers and 84 RBIs last season.

End to End: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

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End to End: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

Each week, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone, all producers/reporters for CSNPhilly.com.

The question: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

Dougherty
Scott Laughton will be given every opportunity to prove himself, and if there is any single player under contract on this Flyers roster with the most to prove, it's Laughton.

Laughton, the 20th overall pick in 2012, is coming off his first full season with the Flyers and he left much to be desired. He struggled to stay in the top nine and found himself a healthy scratch for seven games during the most crucial stretch of the season.

What concerns me about Laughton is Dave Hakstol struggled to find a position for him. Laughton is a natural center and the original thought process was he would play center in the NHL, which he still very well may. But Laughton ended up playing some wing this season, too. It was similar to what the Flyers were doing with Brayden Schenn in 2014-15.

Still, Laughton, who turns 22 on Monday, failed to show much at either position. He finished with seven goals and 21 points in 71 games. He found his way into the lineup for three games in the playoffs because of Sean Couturier's shoulder injury and showed little before suffering a scary injury that left him motionless on the ice for a few minutes.

We've said it before — Laughton will have every chance to earn his spot on the opening night roster in training camp. The Flyers won't give up on him after one disappointing season, but Laughton has to come to camp in shape and with an edge we haven't seen yet.

Looking into our crystal ball, the orange and black could have one or two more forwards from outside the organization in camp come September and Travis Konecny will be hungry to crack the lineup. Laughton is going to have competition for his spot on the roster.

And he has to prove to Hakstol, general manager Ron Hextall and the Flyers he deserves it.

Hall
There will be no shortage of pressure for Jakub Voracek next season.
 
Not much went his way this past season, the first after signing an eight-year, $66 million extension following his career year in 2014-15.
 
He started slow. He changed positions. He got hurt and then played through it.
 
It all culminated in a taxing and disappointing season.
 
So, if anyone, Voracek has the most to prove in 2016-17. He’ll want to show that his career season was no fluke, that he can produce near that clip and is worth the hefty deal doled out by the Flyers.
 
Voracek’s health/production will be one of the hottest storylines to start the season.

Paone
No player on the Flyers’ roster has more to prove next season than Voracek.
 
Remember how great he was in 2014-15 when he finished fourth in the NHL with 81 points after leading the league for much of the year in that category, was named an All-Star for the first time in his career and earned a massive eight-year, $66 million extension shortly thereafter?
 
Those contract numbers are important because what Voracek has to prove this season lies in those numbers. His play last season wasn’t necessarily befitting of someone with that type of contract.
 
Voracek put up solid numbers last season with 11 goals and 44 assists in 73 games, but he just didn’t have the same effectiveness that he did in the prior season. If you recall, it took him 17 games to net his first goal of the season, an overtime winner in Carolina on Nov. 14. His ineffectiveness caused Dave Hakstol to move Voracek up and down the lineup and even send him over to the opposite wing, a position Voracek had rarely ever played before.
 
It just so happens that contract extension kicks in this season.
 
The soon-to-be 27-year-old forward holds himself to incredibly high standards. He’ll be out to prove to himself this season was an anomaly and make sure people know he’s a star worthy of those contract numbers.

Today's Lineup: Ryan Howard still starting against a righty

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Today's Lineup: Ryan Howard still starting against a righty

One day after a rain-soaked 6-2 loss to the MLB-best Cubs, the Phillies look to steal a game against Chicago's fifth starter Kyle Hendricks Saturday afternoon (see game notes).

And with a right-hander on the bump for the Cubs, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has decided to give Ryan Howard the start at first base instead of Tommy Joseph.

This has been the subject of debate in Philadelphia. What to do with first base? Mackanin has used a platoon at first all season long, first with Darin Ruf and now with Joseph.

But with Howard's struggles at the plate continuing, many have called for more playing time for the 24-year-old Joseph, even against righties. Both played in Detroit.

Now it appears the platoon may continue. For at least one more day. Howard gets the call for Game 2 of a three-game set Saturday at Wrigley Field against Hendricks.

Howard is sporting a .159 average in 132 at-bats with .224 on-base percentage and is hitting .172 in May. Additionally, the lefty is hitting .162 against righties this season.

Still, Howard is tied for the Phillies' lead with eight homers. He's not making much contact and the case against playing him may be stronger, but he still has some pop.

Chicago is scheduled to start another righty Sunday in John Lackey. Joseph, who's hitting .290 with two home runs and four RBIs, might find his way into the lineup then.

Joseph faced four straight righties before Friday's game in Chicago. Against Atlanta last Sunday, he went 0 for 4, but in Detroit, Joseph was 4 for 11 with a homer and three RBIs.

What the Phillies do with Howard-Joseph at first base will continue to be a storyline until the situation is resolved. At least for Saturday, the discussion lives on.

In other lineup notes, Mackanin has given leftfielder Tyler Goeddel the day off, giving David Lough the start in left and batting him seventh. Cameron Rupp is back behind the plate, catching Jerad Eickhoff.

Here are today's full lineups:

Phillies
1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
7. David Lough, LF
8. Jered Eickhoff, P
9. Peter Bourjos, RF

Cubs
1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Jayson Heyward, RF
3. Kris Bryant, 3B
4. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
5. Ben Zobrist, 2B
6. Jorge Soler, LF
7. Miguel Montero, C
8. Addison Russell, SS
9. Matt Hendricks, P