Sixers' options with Evan Turner are endless

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Sixers' options with Evan Turner are endless

It is about options. It always has been.

When Sam Hinkie became the Sixers’ president and general manager, his plan became evident: Clear cap space, accumulate draft picks, untether the team from its present entanglements in order to weave a quality future with better material. It made sense then. It still does. Flexibility matters in the NBA.

It is, in part, why the Sixers recently decided not to extend Evan Turner’s rookie deal (see story). Turner wasn't thrilled when it unfolded that way. It’s hard to blame him. Getting paid and having a certain sense of security is preferable to not having those things.

At the time, Turner said he “didn’t expect anything because Sam Hinkie is not my GM. I didn’t come up with Hinkie, and he has his own plan for stuff.” As shots at your employer go, it was a big one -- a verbal half-court heave that Turner drained right through the get-bent basket. When he was asked if he thought he’d get traded, Turner said he didn’t know and reminded everyone that “[Hinkie] just traded Jrue [Holiday], and Jrue is like a walking legend.”

The walking legend stuff was a bit much, but you get the idea. Turner was ticked. Shy of storming into Hinkie’s office and smashing his favorite calculator during an analytics exercise, it would be tough for Turner to more clearly express his displeasure.

You can understand Turner’s emotional response, though that’s not the point here. The point is that Turner represents another option for the Sixers.

Turner is having his best season as a pro. He’s averaging 21.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.0 steals. All are career highs. He’s also taking smarter shots and getting to the line more. A year ago, Turner shot just 2.5 free throws per game. This year, he’s taking 5.7 per game and making a career-best 83.5 percent. And he’s shooting 59.8 percent at the rim this season compared to just 46 percent last season.

Turner’s advanced metrics have improved as a result. His player efficiency rating has improved from 12.1 a year ago to 16. And his true shooting percentage (which accounts for efficiency in two-pointers, three-pointers and free throws) is up from 47.8 percent last season to 52.5 percent.

He’s seriously struggling from three-point range (he’s hitting just 15.4 percent), but on the whole Turner is playing better than ever before. You don’t really need numbers to know that -- just working eyeballs.

Considering how much he’s improved, it makes sense that the anti-Turner crowd is clamoring for the Sixers to unload him now -- pack him into some bubble wrap and slap a UPS sticker on his forehead and overnight him to whichever NBA outpost is willing to pay the shipping and handling fee (a first-round draft pick and an expiring contract, perhaps). The Sixers could do that. But they don’t have to do that. With Turner, they could do so many things.

Turner is in the fourth year of his rookie contract. The Sixers have until June 30 to extend a qualifying offer. That would be around $8.7 million based on his current salary. If they do so, Turner becomes a restricted free agent and the Sixers would have the right to match any offer. If they don’t come up with a qualifying offer, Turner would become an unrestricted free agent.

In the first scenario, the Sixers could conceivably keep Turner around for a reasonable sum considering his current performance. Or, if some other team comes in with a ridiculous over-the-top offer that the Sixers don’t want to match, the Sixers could pass and let Turner walk. At which point they would free up more salary cap space that they could use to pay draft picks and/or free agents.

In the second scenario, the one in which they don’t bother with the qualifying offer, the Sixers could simply skip ahead to the expiring contract part, let Turner leave, and allocate those funds elsewhere.

Or they could do a sign-and-trade after the year if they find a suitor for Turner with pieces they want in return. Or they could simply trade him at any point between now and the end of the year. Or they could re-sign him. Or. Or. Or. Or is a great word for any NBA organization, particularly one looking to rebuild.

The Sixers don’t have to rush anything with Turner. They can (and should) wait until the time is right to determine his fate and find the proper path for the organization. They have options. It’s a good spot for the Sixers, even if it might be frustrating for Turner.

Tim Quarterman: Ben Simmons at PG will 'work out well' for Sixers

Tim Quarterman: Ben Simmons at PG will 'work out well' for Sixers

There are only a handful of people who have played basketball extensively with Ben Simmons, given he has been sidelined thus far into his rookie season with a foot injury. Those who spent Simmons’ freshman year at LSU with him have firsthand insight into the NBA player he has the potential to become.

“He's definitely a team player,” Blazers rookie guard Tim Quarterman, who played with Simmons at LSU, said Friday. “He's a pass-first person. He wants to see his teammates do well. I think when he comes back to play, that's what he'll bring to Philly. He's not one of those people who just tries to go out there to get a 100 points. He's a good teammate.”

Quarterman left school after his junior year and earned a spot on the Trail Blazers' roster. He and Simmons have different stories: Simmons was the first overall pick; Quarterman went undrafted. Simmons has has been out since training camp; Quarterman, while playing sparingly, has experienced live NBA action. Still, the two have shared in the journey of life in the league. 

“It's a cool process going through our rookie season together,” Quarterman said before the Trail Blazers faced the Sixers Friday. “Even though he's not playing right now, he's working to get on the court. I'm sure he'll do great when he gets back out there. I got a chance to talk to him last night. Everything's been good so far.”

The Sixers got a small glimpse of Simmons during training camp before he suffered a Jones fracture on the final day. He recently began participating in 5-on-0 drills. Simmons also has been putting up shots after practice and doing light courtwork during pregame warmups. 

Brett Brown has said he intends to start the 6-foot-10 Simmons at the one spot when he returns. As part of his multi-faceted rehab, Brown has been giving Simmons written tests in which he has to navigate various in-game situations as the point guard. Simmons played point-forward at LSU, where he averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists. 

“He'll be able to space the floor,” Quarterman said of Simmons at the point. “He can see over the defense and make passes that some little guards can't. He can defend. He can move his feet well. I think it'll work out well.”

It remains to be seen when the former teammates will both be suited up in the same NBA game. There is no timetable set for Simmons’ return. The Sixers face the Trail Blazers for their second and final meeting of the regular season on March 9 in Portland. 

“It's cool for both of us to be making the best of our opportunity,” Quarterman said.

Sixers-Hawks 5 things: Looking to keep win streak alive without Joel Embiid

Sixers-Hawks 5 things: Looking to keep win streak alive without Joel Embiid

Sixers (15-26) at Hawks (25-18)
7 p.m. on CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30

Coming off a thrilling comeback win over the Trail Blazers on Friday, the Sixers travel to Atlanta to take on the Hawks at Phillips Arena in the second game of a back-to-back. 

1. Going streaking
It's been a long time since the Sixers have had anything resembling a winning streak. No longer is that the case, as the Sixers have won three straight games, with Friday's win capping their fifth-straight home win. 

The Sixers have also won eight of their last 10 games — with only the Warriors posting a better record during that span — and are playing with a confidence and energy that hasn't been seen in Philly for years. 

One streak they'll try to end, however, is their recent losing streak to the Hawks, as the Sixers haven't beaten Atlanta in six straight matchups.

2. Injury scare
Fans at the Wells Fargo Center held their breath Friday night as Joel Embiid came down awkwardly on his left knee and came up limping. 

Embiid ran to the locker room on his own and was cleared to return to the game, though he never did. He was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and said after the game that everything was fine.

"I'm great," he said. "The knee's fine. They did an MRI and stuff, and everything looked good."

Despite not having Embiid for the final minutes of Friday's game, the Sixers were able to pull together and rally for a 93-92 win over the Blazers. 

Injury precaution aside, Embiid won't travel with the Sixers to Atlanta, as he was scheduled to miss the game against the Hawks because it was the second game of a back-to-back. 

3. Playoffs?
Hey, crazier things have happened, so let's not rule this one out. 

With the Sixers in the midst of their hottest stretch in recent years, Embiid has the team and city thinking playoffs. After notching yet another win Friday night, the Sixers are just 4½ games back from the eighth seed in the East. 

"I look at it every day," Embiid said Friday. "We’re coming for those playoff spots. We’re going to keep on getting better, keep working and winning games."

If the wins actually do keep coming, this might be something to keep an eye on as we get deeper into the season. 

4. Tall task 
With Embiid scheduled to miss Saturday's game against the Hawks, the Sixers will lean on Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel to carry the load in place of their superstar center. 

A night after facing a dynamic backcourt featuring Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, the Sixers will turn their attention to the dominant frontcourt duo of Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard. 

Millsap comes in averaging 17.8 points and 8.1 rebounds, while Howard averages 13.7 points and an incredible 13 rebounds per game. Without Embiid, the Sixers might have a hard time stopping Millsap and Howard from having their way in the paint. 
 
5. This and that
• The Sixers have made three go-ahead field goals in the final five seconds of the fourth quarter/OT this season — the most in the NBA.

• The Sixers have 15 wins at the halfway point of the season. They had just 10 wins total all of last season. 

• Jahlil Okafor last played on Jan. 14 against the Wizards, posting 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the floor. 

• The Sixers are 13-17 with Embiid, but just 2-9 without him.