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.

Flyers Notes: Wayne Simmonds defends hit on Andrei Markov

Flyers Notes: Wayne Simmonds defends hit on Andrei Markov

MONTREAL — Wayne Simmonds didn’t feel as though he did anything wrong. Or that he even touched Andrei Markov.
Thing is, however, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety may have a different view of it come Tuesday morning.
Early during first-period play Monday night, the Flyers' winger came out of the penalty box after serving a minor for holding and cross-checked Markov from behind.
The Canadiens' defenseman went face-first into the boards and fell to the ice, where he appeared to try and sell a penalty. Nothing came of it, but the hit will likely be reviewed anyway.
“I barely touched him,” Simmonds. “When you got a bunch of guys diving all over the place, what are you going to do? Stand on your feet.”

There were a number of tough hits from both sides in the Flyers' 3-1 loss to the Canadiens (see game recap). It was evenly played and the Flyers deserved a point.
“We played a solid game,” Simmonds said. “Obviously, we lost and it’s not what we wanted but we have four more games this week.
“We go home and we've got to be focused on the positive things that we did and carry it over the rest of the week.”
Gudas eligible
Radko Gudas has yet to play a real game this season.
The Flyers' bruising defenseman has been serving a six-game suspension for a careless hit in Boston that closed out exhibition play earlier this month.
Tuesday night, the Flyers will play the back end of a back-to-back against Buffalo at the Wells Fargo Center and Gudas likely will return to the lineup now that his suspension has ended.
“It seems like forever,” Gudas said. “I could use more games behind me. I think I’m ready with my conditioning and skill level, so I can’t wait to get back in there.”
The decision as to who comes out will be difficult. A good guess right now would be Nick Schultz.
“We've got the information at this point,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “It will be a tough decision, no question, if we are healthy.”
At some point — Nov. 5 — Michael Del Zotto will be eligible to come off LTIR. That means another veteran blueliner would become available and an even bigger problem will arise because Del Zotto carries a $3.875 million cap hit.
Barring injury or trade, when Del Zotto returns, the Flyers will have to move two players off their roster entirely just to be cap compliant.
For now, following Monday’s loss, Hakstol has to decide whether to stick with his current defense or put Gudas back in. Given the Flyers have missed Gudas’ physical presence — teams have taken liberties on smallish rookie Travis Konecny — it makes sense to reinsert Gudas.
“Obviously, teams are going to take advantage of smaller guys,” Gudas said. “I would love to be out there if anything happened. All the guys here are responsible and I think they did a pretty good job defending that. It’s not happening a lot.”
No, but it’s happened enough that the Flyers should take note of it.
Hakstol said his decision does not have to come until Tuesday.
“That’s not to say we haven’t looked at things and thought about the [issue], but that decision comes after tonight,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gudas finally has come to the conclusion that the NHL is watching his every hit.
“They’re looking at me since Day 1 I got here,” he said. “The guys made up their minds. I have to make sure I don’t give them an opportunity to call again.”
Maybe he should change his ringtone to say, “Player Safety calling.”

Loose pucks
Simmonds and Matt Read saw their four-game goal-scoring streaks come to an end. ... The Flyers were credited with 39 hits, the most they’ve had since 41 in a home game against Montreal on Jan. 5, 2016. Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Schultz were credited with five apiece. ... Ice-time leaders: Ivan Provorov (21:31), Shayne Gostisbehere (21:27) and Brandon Manning (20:36). … Boyd Gordon was 10 for 12 (83 percent) on faceoffs. ... Jakub Voracek had five shots, giving him 21 overall, which ties him for 10th in the league. His goal gave him eight points and ties him with five other players for fourth in the NHL.

RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai 'calms the storm,' rebounds in 2nd start

RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai 'calms the storm,' rebounds in 2nd start

Halapoulivaati Vaitai wasn’t Lane Johnson on Sunday against the Vikings.

But he didn’t look like Halapoulivaati Vaitai either ... at least the version that was a revolving door last week in Washington.

In his NFL debut last week, Big V gave up two sacks, a quarterback hit and a hurry. Against the Vikings, he gave up just one QB hurry.

What led to the change?

“I just think learning from the week before, quite honestly,” head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. “He really, again, detailed his work during the week. He practiced extremely well. He used his hands better.

“He was able to calm the storm, so to speak, and played a fine football game. He played the type that we saw [in] him and he’s capable of doing. Now it’s something that he can continue to build on.”

While it seemed like Pederson curtailed his offense some to counteract what could be a shaky offensive line, he said it was more about utilizing his team’s strengths. Still, Carson Wentz attempted just four passes that traveled over 20 yards on Sunday and didn’t complete a pass that went more than nine yards in the air.

Despite Vaitai’s scary performance in his debut, Pederson decided to stick to his plan and leave him at right tackle instead of shuffling the offensive line by moving Allen Barbre to tackle and replacing him with Stefen Wisniewski.

The jury is still out on the decision, but the Eagles probably have more confidence in their offensive line for the next eight games of Johnson’s suspension than they did before playing the Vikings.

The Eagles' O-line didn’t give up a sack to the Vikings after giving up five the previous week.

“I thought our guys [Sunday] did a great job of no sacks against a team that had 19 coming in,” Pederson said. “Protected [Wentz], kept him clean and it just gives him confidence now and gives our whole unit confidence moving forward and coming away.”