Comes and Goes: Goodbye (again), Evan Turner

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Comes and Goes: Goodbye (again), Evan Turner

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.

Nerlens Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday vs. Pistons

Nerlens Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday vs. Pistons

NEW ORLEANS — Nerlens Noel made another step toward his return from arthroscopic left knee surgery by joining the Sixers in New Orleans for their game against the Pelicans.

Noel arrived on Wednesday with Robert Covington, who is slated to start after missing the last three games with a left knee sprain. Noel is not cleared to play, but Brown doesn’t think it will be long until he suits up. 

“I don’t think far away,” Brown said of Noel’s regular season debut after shootaround.

When asked about the possibility of Noel playing this weekend when the Sixers face the Pistons on Sunday in Detroit, Brown replied, “Maybe.” 

Noel has missed the entire regular season recovering from elective surgery for an inflamed plica in October. He completed the first phase of his rehab in Birmingham, Ala. and has been continuing his work with the Sixers. This trip to New Orleans is the first time he has been with the Sixers on the road. 

“[He is] integrating with the team, studying a lot of tape, scripting with his teammates with the understanding that we have a chance to see him soon,” Brown said. “All that trying to ramp it up where he can go to an NBA court more comfortably.”

Noel spoke out about his displeasure with the Sixers crowded frontcourt at the start of the preseason. He recently stuck with his stance, saying, “I don’t think the roster’s changed.”

Brown is working to keep the team moving forward as a unit while still being aware of and recognizing Noel’s perspective. 

“It does,” Brown said when asked if Noel’s open frustration concerns him as it pertains to team cohesiveness. “But I feel like it’s so much a part of what we try do around here that it’s not like you’re going to blink and you’ve forgotten something that equals camaraderie, that equals team, that equals trying to keep this together, and you’ve left it for a week … 

“It’s a day-to-day focus for me and it’s a very candid conversation with me and the player. The team hears it, the individual hears it, we all understand it … We need to coexist and we need to understand the reality of it all, too. There’s a human side you understand. It’s also pride, it’s competitiveness, it’s do your job, it’s nothing is given, you’ve got to take stuff, draw your own line in the sand, competitors rule the day.”

Last season Noel averaged 11.1 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game. The Sixers will look forward to having him back on the court in that once-crowded frontcourt that is now shorthanded. Jahlil Okafor remained in Philadelphia with gastroenteritis. Ben Simmons still is rehabbing from a right foot fracture. 

"Soon you’re going to see Ben Simmons coming to a team bench where he doesn’t come out with boots and have to push him in some type of wheely apparatus," Brown said. "We’ve dealt with so many injuries trying to find that balance of dealing with their health and so on, and then trying to integrate them back into a team is part of growing a program."

Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

76ers (4-18) vs. Pelicans (7-15)
8 p.m. on TCN and CSNPhilly.com, Pregame Live starts at 7:30

The Sixers will try to snap their eight-game losing skid when they take on the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on Thursday night.

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Walking wounded, part II
After the Sixers were limited to nine available players in Tuesday's loss to the beat-up Memphis Grizzlies, things won't be much better in the health department in New Orleans.

Sure, Joel Embiid's expected return after sitting out the second half of a back-to-back set for rest will be a welcome boost. However, the Sixers are still dealing with a host of other ailments that will likely limit them to just 10 healthy bodies on Thursday night.

The Pelicans surely won't shed a tear for the Sixers because they have their own injury issues. New Orleans could have as many as five players sidelined, including former Sixer Jrue Holiday with turf toe.

2. The next big thing
All of the injuries won't decrease the game's intrigue, mainly because of the matchup at center between Embiid and Anthony Davis.

Embiid is coming off a subpar performance in his last outing against the Denver Nuggets, but the big man has still been as advertised this season. The rookie is putting up 18.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 23.3 minutes a game. Embiid is also shooting 46.8 percent from the field and an even 50.0 percent from three-point range.

On the other side, Davis has been an absolute monster for the Pelicans this season, even if it hasn't translated into many wins. 

The three-time All-Star leads the NBA in scoring with 31.6 points per game on 50.3 percent shooting. While carrying the scoring load, Davis has still been able to average a career-high 11.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals a night.

This should be the first of many meetings between two big men that look to dominate the future of the league.

3. Glass repair
With Embiid out on Tuesday, the Sixers were dominated 69-54 in the rebounding battle against the Grizzlies.

They should find things a little easier in that department against the Pelicans. Despite Davis' best efforts on the boards, New Orleans has allowed a league-high 48.9 rebounds to opponents this season. 

With Embiid back in the lineup, Ersan Ilyasova coming off a 17-rebound game and Richaun Holmes always active, the Sixers should be able to control the rebounding category.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee/illness) is available to play. Jahlil Okafor (illness), Jerryd Bayless (wrist), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Holiday (toe) and E'Twaun Moore (toe) are questionable. Tyreke Evans (knee), Dante Cunningham (knee) and Quincy Pondexter (knee) are out for the Pelicans.

5. This and that
•  The Sixers are trying to avoid a franchise-record 24th straight road loss.

•  The Sixers and Pelicans split the season series in 2015-16 with each team winning at home.

•  Ilyasova is averaging 16.2 points and 8.2 boards so far in December.