Sixers' options with Evan Turner are endless


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.

Used to challenges, Brandon Paul fighting for Sixers roster spot

Used to challenges, Brandon Paul fighting for Sixers roster spot

Brandon Paul returned home from school to tell his mother a story from the day. What exactly he wanted to share, he doesn't remember anymore. It was quickly overshadowed by the sadness he saw on her face when he entered her bedroom.

"She was sitting on the couch and had the TV on," Paul recalled. "I could see she had tears in her eyes. I didn't really know what was happening. She basically told me we were at war. It was so surreal."

Paul was 10 years old in 2001. He was about to experience six months he had never expected.

Paul's father, police officer Cliff Paul Sr., was deployed to a base in Spain as part of a law enforcement security group. He already had been deployed in the past with the Navy, including to the Persian Gulf. This time, it meant leaving three sons at home.

"You're young," said Paul, a Sixers roster hopeful. "You can only register so much. I just remember crying. At school, I was acting different. My friends were like, 'Why is Brandon acting all different?' A teacher got involved and I started yelling at kids. They said, 'Why are you acting like this?' and I kind of broke down in class. That was the first time I ever showed that type of emotion."

Paul stepped up despite being the middle child. He would look out for older brother Cliff Jr. and younger sibling Darius, he assured his father.

"Brandon said just as we departed, 'Don't worry dad, I'll take care of the family,'" Cliff Sr. said in a telephone interview. "It was very comforting. He'd always been kind of the unsung leader of those three in their shenanigans (laughs). It seemed like he was more mature than the other two, and he just kind of assumed that role."

Over the months, the family was able to communicate via Skype. His mother, Lynda, helped Paul get through the period by making sure he knew his father was not going to be fighting in the war. Paul kept his word to watch over his brothers, which often included spending time at their outdoor basketball hoop.

"That's kind of when I became the man of the house, so to say," Paul said. "I kind of took it upon myself to keep the family together. ... That was a challenging thing that helped me mature faster than most of my friends."

The 6-foot-4 guard has used that early maturity to persevere throughout his basketball career. In college at Illinois, he suffered a broken jaw during a collision on the court. His jaw was wired shut for six weeks.

After going undrafted in 2013, Paul signed a deal with Nizhny Novgorod in Russia. He came back to the United States in 2014 to play for the Canton Charge in the D-League. Just a few games in, he tore the labrum in his left shoulder. 

Paul fought to return in 3½ months, only to tear his right shoulder during a summer league scrimmage with the Bulls. He missed another four months recovering from surgery.

In 2015, Paul was once again playing for the Charge. He was a few weeks away from the NBA playoffs when he dislocated his left shoulder a second time. 

"After the first one I was like, 'I can't believe this is happening,'" Paul said. "After the second one I thought, 'I can't believe this is happening again. I'm about to play for my hometown team.' ... The third one, that was the one that took a real big mental toll on me. I had already gone through two and I was playing well enough and had a bunch of teams ready to call me up. It was the worst timing."

Paul went overseas again to make an impact. Last season, he led FIATC Joventut of Spain in scoring (13.2 points per game). Paul played for both the Hornets (Orlando) and Sixers (Las Vegas) summer league teams in July. Following a strong showing, the Sixers signed him to a non-guaranteed deal.

Paul entered his first training camp at 25 years old. He jumped instantly when he saw an opportunity to make an impact. Paul scored 15 points (6 for 10 from the field) with four rebounds in 13 minutes against the Celtics in the preseason opener. He has appeared in four games, averaging 7.3 points and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from three. 

The Sixers have until 5 p.m. Monday to make their final cuts and bring their regular-season roster to 15. It currently stands at 19. Paul, Cat Barber, Shawn Long and James Webb III are the most likely Sixers to be waived and spend time with the D-League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers.

If that happens, Paul will continue to fight to land in the NBA, as he has been doing for years.

"A-plus human being," Brett Brown said. "He's high class. He really is a polished person. I think there is a toughness in him. He's physical. He is a two-way player — he can make a shot and he can guard. I think he's got a real bounce, he's hungry. He's been great to have around. I believe he's an NBA player."

Jahlil Okafor eager for more minutes as knee heals

Jahlil Okafor eager for more minutes as knee heals

CAMDEN, N.J. — Jahlil Okafor has been patient with his right knee. He was disciplined with restrictions and recovery during the preseason, recognizing the goal of being ready for opening night. 

At the same time, once he got back on the court he wanted more. Okafor played eight minutes Friday against the Heat, his first game since Feb. 28 before undergoing surgery to repair a right meniscus tear. 

“I don’t think I’m going to do eight again,” Okafor said Sunday. “They kind of heard me complain about that a lot. I think it’ll definitely be more than eight, but it won’t be much more.” 

Okafor has been limited since aggravating his knee during the final day of training camp. He practiced “to tolerance” on Sunday, according to the Sixers. Okafor did not participate in the team scrimmage and worked out individually with assistant coach/head of strength and conditioning Todd Wright. 

The second-year big man did not feel soreness on Saturday following the game. On Sunday, he felt “kind of stiff” during practice. Brett Brown has been watching Okafor’s movement closely. While Okafor considered it to be “good,” Brown was a tougher critic. 

“I think he looked OK,” Brown said. “He didn’t look great to me today. I’ll give him a B-minus … It’s always how do you move? East, west, north, south, how do you move?” 

Okafor scored four points and had one rebound, one assist, one block and one turnover in Miami. He focused on his defense during the game. When he subbed out, he checked in with Elton Brand on the bench to receive feedback from the now-retired veteran. Okafor plans to continue to tap into him for advice throughout the season. 

With opening night three days away, Okafor still plans to be on the floor for it.

“I am optimistic about it,” he said. “I should be ready to go.” 

Robert Covington sprained his right ankle in Friday’s game and did not practice Sunday. Brown anticipates Covington, who has been starting at small forward, also will be ready to go Wednesday. 

“I do (expect him to play),” Brown said. “But we won’t know that for sure yet.” 

Sixers waive retired Elton Brand
The Sixers waived Brand on Sunday, making his retirement official. Brand announced his intentions to walk away from the game Thursday. The Sixers' request of waivers was a procedural step. The roster currently stands at 19. 

“It’s been an honor, it’s been a privilege to play this game, the game that I love, and I’m certainly going to miss it,” Brand said last week (see story). “But it’s definitely time now.” 

Brand celebrated his career with his teammates at Komodo in Miami on Thursday night ahead of their preseason finale against the Heat.