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.

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Brett Brown left training camp last September with an unsettling feeling. He had just completed long days of scrimmages, drills and planning, and yet he sensed the Sixers were not ready to tackle the 82 games that lied ahead. 

“I remember driving back to Philadelphia last year knowing in my heart of heart that this group was going to be challenged,” Brown said Thursday following the morning practice session at Stockton University. “That was a frightening drive home. That drive home scared me because I felt like, I know what we have and how are we going to be able to maneuver through this?”

Brown was right. The Sixers lost their first 18 games and began the season 1-30. They stumbled the rest of the way, finishing the 2016-17 campaign with a dismal 10-72 record. 

“We really didn’t know who the point guard was,” Brown said. “We came in extremely injured, we were trying to make the Nerlens [Noel]-Jahlil [Okafor] thing work, there really weren’t a lot of veterans to look around [and see], and you knew it.”

Now in his fourth training camp as head coach, with 47 wins and 199 losses with the Sixers behind him, Brown has different emotions as the team nears the end of training camp on Friday. 

Instead of a constantly-changing lineup of players, the Sixers are building a roster that can serve as the foundation for the future. There are nine new players on the team, including first overall pick Ben Simmons and rookie Dario Saric. Joel Embiid will make his NBA debut after two years of injuries, and the Sixers added veteran leaders in free agency.

Brown has a clearer picture of what the team could look like this season and beyond. He is coaching training camp to enter a new chapter, not to simply make it through the upcoming months. 

“You can leave and you can sniff reality,” Brown said. “Now what I see is there’s depth. There are challenges positionally as we’ve talked about. But there’s talent. There’s point guards. They’re sprinkled in with some veterans. How we grow it and play it is still on the table. To me, it’s a completely different feeling that I have now that I did not have last year.”

The additions of Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez at the one spot lessen the coaching load for Brown. He also can turn to T.J. McConnell from last season. The depth is a far cry from when the Sixers were quickly changing at that position and didn’t find a consistent starter until they traded for Ish Smith in late December.

“That position, I think, is vital when you start putting a bunch of 20-year-olds around it and trying to find some type of organization,” Brown said. “You just can’t replace a point guard’s intellect. You can’t replace, I think, somebody that has great command from that position. It certainly helps me.”

Brown expects to feel “proud” when the Sixers wrap training camp on Friday. He is looking forward to getting the season underway, beginning with two practices at the new training complex in Camden before their first preseason game Oct. 4 against the Celtics. 

Brown anticipates his drive home this time will be a much different trip. 

“I feel comfortable that we’re ticking boxes and we’re achieving the goals that we set out from the start of what we wanted to get done in Stockton,” he said.

The Sixers continued to monitor load management on Thursday, as Okafor, Embiid and Gerald Henderson did not participate in the morning scrimmage. Bayless also did not go through the scrimmage because of a sore left wrist. 

Nerlens Noel thinks he and Ben Simmons can be a lockdown defensive duo

Nerlens Noel thinks he and Ben Simmons can be a lockdown defensive duo

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers' abundance of big men lends itself to numerous combinations in the frontcourt.

On Thursday, Nerlens Noel had his first experience playing with Ben Simmons. The center gelled with the rookie forward.

"It's a great duo, I think," Noel said following the morning practice session of training camp at Stockton University.

Noel has been paired with many big men during his career with the Sixers. Last season, he faced the challenge of playing out of position at times with Jahlil Okafor. The logjam prompted him to speak out about the current makeup of the roster (see story).

After playing with Simmons, Noel saw how the two can share the court.

"I think we complement each other very well, especially on the defensive end," Noel said. "He's definitely a lockdown type defender that digs in."

Even though Simmons has yet to play an NBA game, Noel already envisions how he can help the Sixers.

"He just plays basketball the right way," Noel said. "When your big man does that, it makes it a lot easier because he is very versatile being a point-forward type. That opens up a lot of things for him to be able to open up for his teammates."