A transcript of Evan Turner's drive to the airport with Sam Hinkie

A transcript of Evan Turner's drive to the airport with Sam Hinkie

Reports this weekend from Evan Turner's return trip to Philly with the Indiana Pacers revealed that Turner had driven to the airport with Sixers GM Sam Hinkie, the man who had just traded Evan from the only NBA franchise he'd ever played for. Thanks to bugging equipment the 700 Level had long ago installed in Hinkie's Honda Civic for just such an occasion, we were able to get exclusive tape of the conversation that took place on their car ride. Here is the transcript of that conversation.

Sam Hinkie: So Evan, have you ever been to Indiana before?

Evan Turner: Well, yeah, we play there a couple times a season, and we used to play Indiana a bunch when I was at Ohio State...

Hinkie: Right, yeah, of course. What I meant was, have you ever really spent much time there, gotten to really know the place?

Evan: Uhhh, no, not really I guess.

Hinkie: Well I think you're gonna love it. It's beautiful there, especially during the spring time. And they have great fast food--you're a fast food guy, right?

Evan: Uhhh, yeah, sure, I guess...

Hinkie: Well they have these drive-in restaurants there. You ever been to a drive-in restaurant, like in American Graffiti? You just drive up and they take your order straight from your car, and then they bring it out to you on a tray, your burger and fries and soda, all while you're still in the car. You just eat it right there. It's great, especially on a sunny spring day. And they love their basketball there. You ever seen the movie Hoosiers?

Evan: Yeah man, of course, everybody's seen that movie.

Hinkie: There you go. Not to badmouth the Philly fans--and please don't tell anyone I said this, haha--but it's just a different type of fan out there. They just love the sport, in all its incarnations out there. It's pure. They're gonna love you there, too, the way you play. I just know it.

Evan: Thanks, man.

The conversation is silent for a few minutes, before Evan asks if he can turn on the radio. Sam says sure, and Evan flips a couple times through Hinkie's presets, mumbling something about him not being able to find a hip-hop station. Finally, he settles on an oldies station playing a Smokey Robinson song. The conversation is silent again for another couple minutes.

Evan: So, uh, Mr. Hinkie, could I ask you a question?

Hinkie: Sure, Evan. And I've told you before, please call me Sam.

Evan: OK, Sam. So, like...I'm not surprised that you traded me. I've been in trade rumors for as long as I can remember, since my rookie year, it feels like. I'd learned to not pay much attention to them, but this time, I could feel it was different, you know? The team was losing so much, and you guys had just traded Jrue, and he was an All-Star last year, so I knew you guys were rebuilding and that nobody on the team was safe. I get it, really.

Hinkie: Thanks, Evan. I'm glad you're able to see it that way. What's your question, then?

Evan: Well...was Danny Granger and a draft pick--a second-rounder--really the best offer you got for me?

Hinkie: What do you mean?

Evan: I mean, that's not that much to get back for me, man. I'm only 25. I was averaging 18 points a game, grabbing six rebounds, four assists. I'm getting better every season. Guys like me, teams should be going out of their way to try to get so they could build around us, but you gave me and Lavoy up to Indiana for next to nothing.

Hinkie: Well, second-round picks are very valuable these days. They don't count against the salary cap and some of the upcoming drafts might go two rounds deep with NBA talent.

Evan: Yeah, but that pick's gonna be what, in the 50s?

Hinkie: Well...not definitely, but it's possible.

Evan: In the 50s! Man, I was the #2 overall pick four years ago! You think you can replace my production with a #52 pick?

Hinkie: No, probably not, but having the pick allows to do various other things, too. We can use it in a trade to move up in the first round, or as part of a larger trade that gets us another valuable rotation guy. And we're also getting back Danny Granger. Don't forget that Danny was an All-Star a couple seasons ago.

Evan: Yeah, but Sam, is he even gonna play for you guys?

Hinkie: Well, we're going to sit down with him and have a conversation, and find out where...

Evan: C'mon, man, don't give me that B.S.! You know goddamn well you're gonna buy him out first chance you get, so you don't have to worry about giving him minutes that could be going to some scrub you're gonna call up from the D-League or Europe or whatever who costs you like two bucks and who ain't gonna be on the team a month later. You forget I just spent over half a season on this crappy team you put together? You think I haven't figured out how it works? Don't treat me like I'm a damn blogger talking to you right now!

Hinkie: OK, Evan, calm down. Look, you're probably right--chances are, he's not gonna play for us. He's too old to want to play on a rebuilding team, so he's gonna want to get bought out, and we doubt he can really do that much for us this season anyway. He'd just be a distraction.

Evan: All right, so then why'd you trade me for him?

Hinkie: I'm sorry, Evan, it's just the realities of the trade market. We wanted to trade you for a first-rounder, but fact of the matter is, nobody's offering first-rounders mid-season these days. Your contract makes you a difficult player to trade for, since you're a free agent at the end of the season, and most people think you're going to ask for a lot of money in the offseason.

Evan: But I've earned it! Haven't I earned it? You see guys getting these extensions, ten million, twelve million a year, and they haven't averaged 18 points a game! They haven't been to the playoffs twice! They haven't done what I've done in this league! I've put in the work, I've done what I had to do. Why shouldn't it be my turn to get paid?

Hinkie: Look, Evan, I don't disagree with you. I think you're a very talented young player. But the truth of the matter is, you weren't in our long-term plans. Really, nobody that was on this team before I got here is--the old administration put us so far behind that we're basically trying to start from scratch. Michael and Nerlens, we hope they'll be part of our future, but we don't even know that for sure yet. We're taking it one step at a time, but we need a clean slate before we can truly start over.

Evan: OK, yeah, I sort of get that, I guess. But didn't anybody else want to take a chance on me? There's 29 other teams out there, I gotta sign with one of them eventually!

Hinkie: Of course you do. But what I think you need to understand, Evan, is that your style of game makes you a hard player to fit around sometimes. You take a lot of shots, but you don't make a very high percentage of them. You get a lot of assists, but you get nearly as many turnovers. You defend twos better than you defend threes, but you don't make enough three-pointers to play you at the two. It's hard to know where you fit in a starting lineup, and you've made it clear you feel like you don't deserve to come off the bench.

Evan: Well, yeah, man, I get buckets! I can get a bucket whenever I want to, man, always have. You guys all worry so much about "Is he a two, is he a three?" Dude, it's just basketball! Let me get out there and play, it don't matter what position they got me in on the scorecard or whatever!

Hinkie: OK, well that's fine when you're at Ohio State and the entire offense is built around you. But in the NBA, you're gonna be going to teams that already have guys like that, where they need you to come in and play a supporting role, to do the little things that help make a good team a great team.

Evan: I can do those things, too. Man, don't you see the box scores at the end of games, the numbers I put up?

Hinkie: Yes, but it's not always about those things. Sometimes it's about making the correct defensive rotation, or about hustling back in transition, or about just standing behind the three point line and making enough shots out there that a defender has to stay with you, opening up space for the rest of your team to work with. And if we're being honest here, I don't think you've always done that sort of thing with consistency.

Evan: I try, man. You know Sam, everyone thinks they know me, know my game, what I do or don't do or whatever. But they don't know what it's like to have the offensive load on my shoulders every night. To get fouled while shooting like I do but not got the respect from the refs for a whistle. They don't know what it's like to be on a team this bad, hell, I didn't even know until the last few years. It's hard to do all the little things when we ain't got enough of so many of the big things.

Hinkie: I think you're right, Evan, to an extent. And I do feel bad for you having to play on a team that loses so much, and I do think you get more criticism from some people than you probably deserve. But I think there also comes a point in your career when you've got to get past all that, even past the losing, and lead by example. You've gotta be the guy who gets back on defense, who doesn't complain to the refs, who goes hard on every possession and doesn't bail out defenses with bad shots. That's what the great ones--the Kobes, the LeBrons, the Durants--all do, and they do it every night. If you wanna be great, that's what you have to do too.

Evan: Look, I know I'm not a perfect player. But I'm still young. I'm still improving, working hard every off-season. I know there's another level I gotta get to, and I still wanna get to it. I'm gonna get there, Sam, I know I will. I've gotten there my whole life.

Hinkie: I don't doubt that you will, Evan.

Evan: So then why trade me at all, man? You couldn't get squat for me, whatever, you didn't want to re-sign me in the offseason, whatever. Why not just keep me for the rest of the year? Don't you care about winning games at all? We lost our last ten, man, how you think we're gonna do now that Spence and Lavoy and I are gone? Did I mean that little to you as a player?

Hinkie: Of course not. You might not believe me, Evan, but I really do think you're a good player, and I know you would help us win more games. Hell, I've seen it with my own two eyes. I saw what you did against LeBron the first night of the season. I saw you hit that game-winner in Boston. I saw you play your heart out against the Knicks in New York. I'm a fan of yours, Evan, and I'm gonna miss having you as a Sixer. But I don't think you need me to tell you that it's not about that for us right now. It's about the future We know we can't afford you in the offseason, so we don't want to wait until then to part ways with you, when it's possible we could get a player on our roster right now who might still be able to help us, and we might be able to resign in the offseason. I'm sorry we couldn't get more for you--and believe me, I tried--but like I said, that's where the league is at right now. You didn't see a lot of other guys getting traded for much of anything this deadline, did you?

Evan: No...not really.

Hinkie: OK, so...would you really have wanted to finish out the season on a losing team? Don't you miss playing meaningful basketball? Wouldn't you rather have a chance not just to go to the playoffs, but to maybe even win the title? Do you know how many really good players have gone their careers without ever even getting that chance?

Evan: Well, yeah, of course. I'm all about winning, that's all I've ever been about.

Hinkie: So then why are you looking at this in such a negative way? This should be the opportunity you've dreamed of since you got in the NBA!

Evan: I dunno, man. I just didn't think it'd be so cold, I guess. I thought I could leave with a little dignity.

Hinkie: Evan, you have nothing to be ashamed of here. You've been a great Sixer, and now we're rewarding you with the chance to play for a team that's much farther along than we are right now, than we'll likely be for years to come. We could have traded you to Sacramento, to Charlotte, but instead you're going to Indiana. Back to Big Ten country! You should be excited.

Evan: I guess, man.

The conversation goes silent again for the remainder of the car ride. The tape ends with the car stopping at the airport, and the two men sharing a brief goodbye.

Hinkie: Well, this is it, Evan. Best of luck in Indiana, and if all goes right, hopefully we'll see you in the playoffs in a couple years' time.

Evan: Yeah, Sam, see you there. Next time you see Tony, tell him not to shoot so many damn threes, will you? He never listens to me when I tell him, but maybe he'll listen to you.

Hinkie: Hah, Evan, sure will.

The car door shuts, and "Leaving on a Jet Plane" comes on the oldies station. Hinkie chuckles for a second and starts to sing along softly to himself as the car pulls away from the airport.

Phils owner John Middleton, who still wants his trophy back, reflects on the Ryan Howard era

Phils owner John Middleton, who still wants his trophy back, reflects on the Ryan Howard era

The end of an era has arrived for the Phillies.

Ryan Howard burst on the scene like a comet ablaze and powered his way to becoming the National League Rookie of the Year in just a half-season in 2005. A year later, he had one of the greatest seasons in franchise history when he clubbed a team-record 58 homers and added 149 RBIs in winning the 2006 National League Most Valuable Player award. He was the big bat — or Big Piece, as Charlie Manuel so aptly dubbed him — in the middle of the lineup for a club that won five NL East titles, two NL pennants and a World Series over a five-year run of success that ended on that October night in 2011 when Howard himself fell to the ground in pain and clutched his left ankle as his Achilles tendon exploded on the final swing of the season.

From his seat at Citizens Bank Park, John Middleton watched Howard go down that night and he knew.

Middleton had joined the Phillies ownership group in 1994 and seen his stake in the team rise to nearly 48 percent as the club was rising to the level of baseball elite. He felt elation on the night the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, disappointment on the night they lost the World Series in 2009 and frustration when the team suffered postseason failures in 2010 and 2011.

Howard’s crumbling to the ground on that October night in 2011 came to symbolize the end of the Phillies’ great run. A mighty man had been felled by injury. A mighty team had been brought down.

“They all gnaw at me,” Middleton said of the postseason failures that followed 2008 in a recent interview with CSN Philadelphia. “The opportunity to do something extraordinarily special is rare. And when it presents itself, you need to be able to take advantage of it as much as you possibly can.

“That said, I think '11 was the hardest for me.”

The Phillies won a club-record 102 games that year, but did not make it out of the first round of the playoffs and haven’t been back since.

Middleton, still in ass-kickin’ physical condition at 61, was a wrestler in college. He’d seen injuries. He’d had injuries. As soon as he saw Howard go down, he knew it was an Achilles injury and he knew it was bad. Deep down inside, he just knew that great Phillies team would never be the same, that the run was over.

“When Ryan went down with the Achilles injury at the end of that game, I knew he was going to be out for 2012 and you didn't really know when he was going to be back and how well he would come back,” Middleton said.

Howard’s injury coincided with injuries to Chase Utley and Roy Halladay.

“That was just too many people to lose,” Middleton said.

Middleton has stepped out of the background and taken a more up-front role with the club over the past two years. He was a leader in making the decision to move away from past glory and commit to a full rebuild two years ago, and he remains committed to it today.

The reconstruction of the Phillies has coincided with the deconstruction of the club that won all those games and titles from 2007-2011. Hamels, Rollins, Utley, Ruiz, Werth, Halladay, Lee and others are gone. All that remains is Howard and his time in red pinstripes will come to an end after this final weekend series against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

While the failure to do something “extraordinarily special” — i.e., win multiple World Series — still gnaws at Middleton, he will remember the good times that Howard provided.

There were lots of them.

“This wasn't just a guy who was good or very good, this was an elite player,” Middleton said.

Howard has not been an elite player since the Achilles injury. There were times in recent seasons when his union with the club became uncomfortable. He was mentioned in trade rumors, but the fact is there wasn’t much interest in him from other teams. He went from being a full-time player and a star to being a part-time player.

Middleton appreciates the way Howard handled things as his role diminished.

“I think he’s a wonderful human being,” Middleton said. “He's been a terrific player and an even better person. I really will miss him when he's gone.

“Ryan made it easy because he was the consummate teammate. And not only for the other 24, 25 guys on the roster, but for his coaches, for the front office, for the owners. This guy has just been fabulous about it.”

In April 2010, a year and a half before Howard would have been a free agent, the Phillies gave him a five-year, $125 million contract extension. The idea was to lock up a key, productive player and gain some cost certainty. Critics said the Phillies acted too early and they were proven right when Howard blew out his Achilles before the extension even officially kicked in.

Middleton was not the architect of that extension. Former club president David Montgomery and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. were at the helm then. Both have stood by the decision and pointed to Howard’s productivity — he averaged 44 homers and 133 RBIs from 2006 to through 2011 — as a reason the deal made sense. Both have acknowledged that injuries can change everything in a blink of an eye and, in this case, one did.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” Middleton said. “Had you asked a question and had a crystal ball and knew Ryan was going to have an Achilles injury in October of ‘11 and that would probably limit his effectiveness going forward … that's one question.”

Middleton rattled off some of Howard’s accomplishments: The top 10 finishes in the MVP voting, including the win, the fastest player to 100 and 250 home runs in baseball history …

“This guy was a truly terrific player,” he said. “Over the past 10 years, there's been a strategic move on the part of teams to identify young talent and lock it up early. Ryan's contract was just that. We were trying to identify young talent and lock it up before it hit free agency. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. And in large part, it didn't work out because he had that crippling injury in 2011.”

Howard was still healthy in 2009. In fact, he hit 45 homers and led the NL with 141 RBIs that year. He was the MVP of the NLCS but struggled badly in the World Series against the Yankees, going 4 for 23 with 13 strikeouts.

The performance crushed Howard.

After the Phillies lost Game 6 in Yankee Stadium, Middleton stood outside the clubhouse and wondered if he should go in and comfort the disappointed players.

He finally did and a story that will forever link him and Ryan Howard was born.

Yes, the “I want my (bleeping) trophy back” story is true.

“Completely true,” Middleton said with a laugh.

“We have to go back to that night. Losing the World Series is excruciatingly painful. As great as they have to be to get to the World Series, when you lose, it's just crushing. It really is. I don't know any other word for it.

“So I went into the locker room, obviously very emotional, and there's tons of media around, and I'm trying to talk to each player quietly and privately. I'm trying to thank them for their contribution to the year. I'm trying to get them focused for the offseason and 2010 because I thought we had a great opportunity in 2010. And I look around, and I see Ryan kind of sitting in front of his locker, slumped over with his head in his hands.

“This is my opportunity to go up to Ryan and talk to him without anyone around so I did that. I knelt down beside him and we were talking about the season, the postseason, just a very emotional moment for the two of us and it became more emotional as we talked.

“And at the end, I said, ‘Ryan, I want my … trophy back.’"

The Phillies are still looking to get that trophy back.

Ryan Howard will not be on the team when they finally do.

But he was a big reason they got one in the first place and in a town that loves winners, well, that should not be forgotten as he heads out the door.

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Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Jeremy Hellickson made his final start of the season for the Phillies on Thursday night.

Now he becomes the team’s first big offseason decision.

Hellickson had long left the game with a sore right knee by the time struggling reliever Jeanmar Gomez was tagged for four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning in what ended up as a 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves (see Instant Replay). The Phillies were swept in their final trip to Turner Field — the Braves will move into a new ballpark in April — and have lost six of their last seven games heading into the final weekend of the season and a three-game series against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

“It’s a bad time to be in a rut and we’re in a rut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “We’ve got to go home and snap out of it.”

Besides supporting his rotation mates, Hellickson won’t make any contributions this weekend. The 29-year-old right-hander, acquired in a November trade with Arizona, finished his season 12-10 in a career-high 32 starts. He tied a career high with 189 innings. His final ERA of 3.71 was his best since he recorded a 3.10 ERA in 31 starts for Tampa Bay in 2012.

Though he left the game in the fourth inning after tweaking his knee while running the bases (see story), Hellickson achieved his season goal.

“This isn’t anything that’s going to linger,” he said, looking down at his knee. “So I came out healthy. That was my main thing, try to throw 200 innings — I fell just short of that — and stay healthy. So as far as those two goals go, it was good.”

By staying healthy and pitching well, Hellickson built himself a nice free-agent platform. But before Hellickson heads out on the open market, the Phillies must make a decision: Do they offer him $17 million to retain him in 2017 or simply let him go. As a rebuilding team, the Phils would love to get a draft pick as compensation for Hellickson’s leaving. But to get that pick, they must make Hellickson that one-year qualifying offer and he must reject it and sign elsewhere. 

It seems likely that the Phils will make the offer to Hellickson. If he takes it, he will return in 2017 and fill the same veteran stabilizer role he did this season. If he rejects, the team will get a pick between the first and second rounds of next year’s draft. The value of that draft pick is significant and was seen as a reason the Phillies did not trade Hellickson in July.

Qualifying offers go out in early November, but general manager Matt Klentak isn’t ready to tip his hand on what he’ll do.

“Both are valuable,” he said, weighing Hellickson's returning on a one-year deal versus picking up a draft selection between the first and second rounds. “For the same reason Jeremy Hellickson was valuable to us this year, Jeremy Hellickson or a player like that could be valuable to us again next year. The draft pick at the end of the first round has a real, measurable, tangible value.”

After Thursday night’s game, Hellickson was asked if he believed he’d made his final start with the Phillies.

“I hope not,” he said. “But I don’t really know how to answer that. I would love to be back here next year. I think everyone knows how much I’ve enjoyed my time here and I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

The pitcher was pressed as to whether he could envision himself accepting the qualifying offer if the Phillies made one.

“Yeah, I mean I definitely could see it,” he said. “But …"

Hellickson paused. Then a reporter broke the silence by suggesting the pitcher would rather get a multi-year deal on the open market.

“Yeah, I would love that actually a little bit more,” he said.

The Phillies could look to strike a multi-year deal with Hellickson before he hits the open market five days after the World Series, but that does not appear to be in the club’s plans. The Phils seem to be interested mostly in short-term deals for veterans as they let their kids develop.

In time, this thing will play out.

But for now, the Phillies head home looking to stop a losing streak and scuttle the Mets’ postseason hopes.

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