Sixers' options with Evan Turner are endless

usa-evan_turner.jpg

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.

Without Joel Embiid, Brett Brown eager to see if Sixers can protect the rim

Without Joel Embiid, Brett Brown eager to see if Sixers can protect the rim

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers have been challenged by playing without Joel Embiid in one of two games in a back-to-back series all season. Now they will have to do it in at least the next two straight games. 

“We’re going to be without him tomorrow (against the Clippers) and in Milwaukee and we’ll go from there,” Brett Brown said after practice Monday. 

Embiid, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, suffered a left knee contusion in Friday’s win over the Trail Blazers. He did not travel with the team to Atlanta on Saturday for the back-to-back series. 

Brown called the decision “precautionary.” Embiid did not practice Monday but took some light shots after. He was pre-scheduled to sit out Wednesday against the Bucks in accordance with his limitations for consecutive games. Embiid is reportedly expected to return Friday against the Rockets.

The standout rookie leaves a glaring hole on the court when he misses games. The Sixers are 2-10 when he does not play. For all the ways Embiid dominates at the basket (22.4 points over the last 10 games), there is an obvious difference on the defensive end without him. 

“It’s still about our defense, it’s still about running, it’s still about sharing the ball,” Brown said. “I think you go with Jahlil (Okafor) and Nerlens (Noel) and challenge them in relation to rim protection and what Joel provides us. The group around them also has got to perform at a higher level when you don’t have Joel. I think that second group that we have been playing, led by Nerlens really can take on a far greater defensive identity than it has recently, and Nerlens will be the captain of that.”

This is a time when the Sixers’ logjam at the five-spot actually helps them. Brown still has three true centers to turn to, in addition to power forwards Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric, whom he could slide into the position if they go small. Brown sees a silver lining for his bigs in the uphill battle of playing without Embiid. 

“It definitely hurts the team, how can we spin it any other way?” Brown said. “But like anything, you’re going to now look at Nerlens and Jahlil. This is fantastic for those two. It could prove, based on some things, Richaun (Holmes) sees daylight a little bit. 

“There aren’t many teams, I would suspect, that have the ability to roll out three young guys when somebody like Joel goes down and look forward to watching them develop more, look forward to giving them the opportunity to play NBA minutes.”

Okafor has been receiving the start when Embiid is out. (He has been out of the rotation when Embiid does play.) Okafor, though, is dealing with right knee soreness he experienced on Saturday. The Sixers kept an eye on him Monday and held him out of 5-on-5 drills in practice. Okafor said the team was being cautious, and he wanted to rest his knee given the number of games coming up. He is listed as probable against the Clippers.

“It was bothering me a little bit in the warmup lines, I started to feel it. When I got going it started feeling really good, then when I sat out for an extended period it got kind of (got) sore on me again,” Okafor explained. “Today they were trying to make sure I could get back to being a hundred percent because they knew that my knee was bothering me. They haven’t really told me what the plan was for tomorrow. Today was really focused on getting me back to being healthy.”

The Clippers are shorthanded as well. Blake Griffin has been sidelined since Dec. 18 because of a right knee procedure and Chris Paul had surgery to repair a ligament tear in his left thumb. Griffin could make his return against the Sixers.

Embiid's honor
Embiid's Player of the Week honor is rare for a rookie. He's only the third Sixers rookie ever to win it, joining Allen Iverson and Michael Carter-Williams.

The last Sixer before Embiid to be named Eastern Conference Player of the Week was Thaddeus Young in January 2014. 

The Sixers won all three games Embiid played last week. He averaged 22.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks.

Joel Embiid (left knee) to miss Sixers' next two games

Joel Embiid (left knee) to miss Sixers' next two games

Update: 4 p.m.

Joel Embiid did not practice on Monday and is listed as doubtful for the Sixers' game Tuesday against the Clippers.

Embiid hyperextended his left knee in the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Blazers Friday. He said after the game that the knee was fine, but the Sixers are clearly exercising caution with their young star center.

"I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way," Embiid said Friday. "I'm great. The knee's fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good."

The Sixers are calling it a left knee contusion. Embiid will also rest on Wednesday against the Bucks. He is expected to return Friday against the Rockets, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Sixers are 13-17 when Embiid plays and 2-10 without him. Brett Brown is looking forward to seeing how the defense responds without its centerpiece Tuesday and Wednesday (see story).

Jahlil Okafor (right knee soreness) was limited at Monday's practice but is probable to play the Clippers.

Okafor had 12 points, four rebounds and three blocks in 30 minutes in Saturday's 110-93 loss at Atlanta.

CSN Philly's Jessica Camerato contributed to this report.