Comes and Goes: Goodbye (again), Evan Turner

Comes and Goes: Goodbye (again), Evan Turner

March 14, 2014, 10:00 pm
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Evan Turner posted four assists, four rebounds and two points in his return to Philadelphia with the Pacers. (AP)

There’s an old joke about volunteering to drive an unwanted player to the airport just to get him out of town. Except when the Sixers traded Evan Turner to Indiana, it wasn’t a joke. Sam Hinkie actually hopped in the car with Turner and took him to catch his flight. That had to be an awfully strange ride.

“It was random, for sure,” Turner said. “But I can shoot the s--- with anyone. It was cool, man. Hinkie is definitely a cool guy. He comes off as reserved. Sometimes you don’t really know what to take from him at first, but he talks and he’s cool and he has pretty cool stories. It was just a kind gesture. I appreciate that.”

That is not quite what you’d expect to hear from Turner, who as recently as early November said, “Hinkie is not my GM.” Time and distance have a way of smoothing things over.

Turner was in Philly on Friday for the first time since being bundled off to Indiana. He was in good spirits before the game (which the Pacers predictably won) and spent some time catching up with old teammates and reporters. He said he didn’t harbor any animosity toward Hinkie for trading him (see story). But what was their relationship when he was still here?

“I barely saw him, as opposed to the Rod Thorn situation,” Turner said. “Rod was my man, you know what I’m saying? He could scold me, and then we could talk about something else later. Sam is a different GM and a different president. He does things a little bit differently. We spoke, and there wasn’t any hostility. It wasn’t anything negative or anything like that.”

It was a bit odd to see Turner in the visitor’s locker room in the visitor’s jersey, but it was also inevitable. After a few seasons, it was apparent that Turner wasn’t a top-tier player, or at least that he wouldn’t return enough value on the Sixers’ initial investment of a second overall pick. You knew he would eventually move on. Hinkie simply accelerated the departure.

Turner said it “takes guts” to implement a plan like Hinkie’s in a city like Philly. When Turner was asked whether Hinkie articulated his designs on tanking to the players or whether they were left to figure it out for themselves, he laughed.

“I don’t know how to answer that question,” Turner said. “For me, man, I always don’t believe the ship is going down. In any situation, I was always taught when you wake up, you have a fighting chance. I always thought the next game was our game to put a streak together.”

The Sixers are on a streak, just not of the variety Turner once hoped. Friday marked their 19th straight loss. But as Turner said, he’s in a different place now, a better place, even if that place hasn’t come complete with the easy transition he’d probably prefer.

In his first nine games with the Pacers, Turner averaged 22.9 minutes, 9.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 turnovers. He shot 47.2 percent from the field and made 5 of 9 three pointers. His role, as you might expect, is limited compared to what he did here. His usage rate has dipped from 24.1 with the Sixers to 19.8 with the Pacers, while his PER has dropped from 13.2 to 11.9. (He went 1 for 4 for two points in 21 minutes on Friday).

Unsurprisingly, the biggest adjustment for Turner has been acclimating to the Pacers' defense-first approach. As Zach Lowe wrote for Grantland, “the Pacers have been disastrously bad defensively with Turner on the floor.” Lowe outlined several “non-Pacery” defensive help decisions by Turner, one of which was described as “particularly egregious” when Turner left Jeremy Lin wide open for a three in order to collapse on Omer Asik, who can be generously described as not exactly an offensive threat.

“It’s a little different,” Turner admitted, “because when they call a call, I find myself reverting back to doing something from Philly … they understand. They know I’m trying. It’s a process.”

It has always been a process for Turner. In Indiana. In Philly, especially. Brett Brown said that when Turner was here, he had “the weight of the city on him.” Turner remains acutely aware of how he’s perceived -- the second overall selection that never quite played like it.

“Where I was picked and how my role was from the first or second year, it wasn’t realistic,” Turner said. “Coming off the bench, you can’t get 20 points a game. If the team’s high is 14 points, you get mad at me because I average 10. Sometimes the gun was pointed at me and sometimes I didn’t do the best job every now and then either. I take full responsibility for anything else. It’s all good. I was able to make the playoffs and had some good moments.”

The Sixers recognized some of those moments with a video tribute during Friday’s game. It was pretty short.