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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.

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Best of MLB: Cubs take control in NL Central with win over Brewers

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Best of MLB: Cubs take control in NL Central with win over Brewers

MILWAUKEE -- Pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella drew a bases-loaded walk off All-Star closer Corey Knebel with one out in the 10th inning, helping the Chicago Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 5-4 on Friday night to tighten their grip on the NL Central.

The Cubs hold a five-game lead with nine days left in the regular season after winning their second straight tense game over the Brewers. Milwaukee dropped into third in the division, 5 1/2 games behind Chicago, after St. Louis beat Pittsburgh earlier Friday.

The Brewers had the tying run at first with one out in the bottom of the 10th, but Eric Sogard was called out at second trying to advance on a ball in the dirt. Shortstop Addison Russell appeared to hold the tag as Sogard's foot lifted off second for a split-second, and the call was confirmed on review (see full recap).

Ryan Goins' hidden-ball trick, grand slam lead Blue Jays over Yankees
TORONTO -- Ryan Goins successfully pulled off a hidden ball trick and hit his second career grand slam, leading the Toronto Blue Jays over Masahiro Tanaka and the Yankees 8-1 Friday night and ensuring New York had to wait at least one more day to clinch a playoff berth.

With Todd Frazier on base following a leadoff double in the third, Jose Bautista made a running catch just in front of the right field warning track on Jacoby Ellsbury's one-out drive. Goins caught Bautista's throw while standing near second base, then pretended to toss the ball to pitcher Marco Estrada while slipping in into his glove.

Goins turned his back to Frazier, who had returned to the base, and when Frazier briefly lifted his left foot off the base, Goins tagged him on the left thigh. Frazier insisted he had maintained contact with the base, but umpire Mark Carlson called him out to end the inning (see full recap).

Red Sox rally for win over Reds, extend AL East lead
CINCINNATI -- Rafael Devers hit a three-run homer Friday night, and the Boston Red Sox extended their AL East lead to four games by overcoming Scooter Gennett's fourth grand slam of the season for a 5-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Boston added to its lead with the help of the Yankees' 8-1 loss at Toronto. The Red Sox have won 12 of 15, keeping the Yankees at bay while moving a season-high 25 games over .500 (89-64).

Their AL Cy Young Award winner is still struggling heading into playoff time.

Rick Porcello gave up Gennett's fourth grand slam -- a Reds' season record -- in the first inning. He lasted a season-low four innings, turning a 5-4 lead over to the bullpen. Porcello has lost 17 games -- most in the majors -- after winning 22 last year along with the Cy Young (see full recap).

Cardinals rally past Pirates in 9th
PITTSBURGH -- Randal Grichuk scored after an error by Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer, capping a frantic ninth-rally that lifted the surging St. Louis Cardinals over Pittsburgh 4-3 on Friday night.

The playoff-chasing Cardinals won their fifth straight, despite trailing by a run entering the ninth.

Stephen Piscotty led off with a double to right against closer Felipe Rivero (5-3), and Jedd Gyorko followed with a pinch-hit RBI single. After Tommy Pham's single, Grichuk pinch-ran for Gyorko at third. He scored when Mercer misplayed Dexter Fowler's sharp groundball.

Former Pirates reliever Juan Nicasio (4-5) got the win after working the eighth and ninth. Fowler and Piscotty had two hits each.

David Freese had an RBI double for the Pirates, who have dropped eight of nine. Rivero blew a save for only the second time in 20 chances this season (see full recap).

Twins stay on track in postseason race with win over Tigers
DETROIT -- Max Kepler and Brian Dozier homered, Byron Buxton had three hits and the playoff-chasing Minnesota Twins beat the Detroit Tigers 7-3 on Friday night.

Buxton's two-run double in the fourth put the Twins ahead to stay against a Detroit team that announced before the game that manager Brad Ausmus will not be back in 2018.

Minnesota came into the night leading the race for the American League's second wild card by 2 games over Texas and the Los Angeles Angels.

Kyle Gibson (12-10) allowed three runs and five hits in seven innings for the Twins. He struck out six and walked two.

Daniel Norris (4-8) allowed five runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.

Nicholas Castellanos and Ian Kinsler homered for Detroit, but the Tigers dropped to 4-18 in September (see full recap).