Comes and Goes: Goodbye (again), Evan Turner


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.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as he liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fade away jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guy’s first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of (Hakeem) Olajuawon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).