Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers Off-Season: #4. What the Hell Do We Do with Evan Turner?

Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers Off-Season: #4. What the Hell Do We Do with Evan Turner?

After enduring three years of absolutely vexing basketball from their former #2 overall pick, the Philadelphia 76ers are about to reach decision time with Evan Turner. The Extraterrestrial's rookie contract is in its final year next season, meaning that unless they ink him to an extension at some point before November, Turner will become a restricted free agent at season's end. The Sixers will then be able to match any offer sheet ET signs with another team, or have the right to let him walk to another team for nothing.

[10 Biggest Questions: 10. What are we now and where are we going? | 9. Is Thad Young untouchable? | 8. Is Spencer Hawes good enough for our starting Center? | 7. Are any of our mid-level FAs worth re-signing? | 6. What players are worth trading for? | 5. Free agent targets?]

If you've followed this blog with any regularity over Turner's three years, you'll know all about the mixed emotions we feel with any big decision regarding Evan. This decision--possibly the final one the 76ers make regarding their young wing--will be no different. There's nothing we here at the Level would like more than to see Evan turn the corner as a basketball player next season, prove that he can be an extremely valuable starter on a good NBA team, and be an important core player on the Sixers for years and years to come. The amount of personal investment I've put into Turner's success borders on the unhealthy, to have him part with the team at this point would be an extremely unsatisfying resolution.

But you probably don't need me to remind you at this point that Turner hasn't done much to encourage the team to show him any kind of long-term faith. If you look closely enough, you can find minor, gradual improvement in his numbers over the years--his three-point percentage, his assist rate, his scoring volume--but the bottom line is that in three seasons, Turner has still yet to display any efficiency as a scorer, shooting under 45% every season, never getting to the line even three times a game, and annually posting a PER lower than 13. According to the Offensive Win Shares stat, Evan continues to be an outright negative on that side of the ball, his usage rate far too high for a player who needs about 13 shots a game to score about 13 points a game.

As miserable as his scoring numbers are for a guy whose scoring is supposed to be one of his biggest assets, Evan does continue to provide value in other ways. He still finished second on the team last year in assists and third in rebounds, providing a versatility that, especially when combined with his career-best three-point shooting, allowed the Sixers to use him in different roles in different lineups and never lose that much in any one area in the process. ET's still not great at any one thing, which can be distressing at times, but he's above-average in enough different fields that it's hard to see him ever being a complete washout in this league.

Unfortunately for us, Evan still has that #2 pick shine to him, so even though he's not providing the value of an eight-mil-a-year-type player right now, that still might be the kind of contract he gets in the off-season. DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors is the most frequently cited comp for Evan, a similarly high-touted prospect who also struggled to score efficiently his first few seasons, and without Evan's high rebound or assist rates, but nonetheless commanded a four-year, $38-million extension from the Raps before he would hit free agency this summer. If ET gets that kind of contract in free agency, we can only hope it's not from us, since such a move would essentially strip the team of any remaining cap flexibility moving forward, for a player who doesn't seem particularly likely to take the Sixers to the next level at this point.

This is where getting Sam Hinkie as our new GM should be a difference-maker. As an analytically minded guy, and one with no personal connection to Evan Turner and his first three years as a Sixer, it's borderline-impossible to see him making his first act as Philly's new ship-steerer a four-year, $36 mil ET extension. Advanced stats have always been down on Turner, and during Hinkie's time with the Rockets, maintaining cap space for maneuverability's sake has always been a priority; he's not going to throw a lot of money at ET just to maintain the status quo with a middling asset. The hiring of Hinkie might have been the death knell for Turner's time with the 76ers.

For this upcoming season, though, the Sixers are actually in a pretty good place with ET. They can ride it out with him and see if he can't jump a level or two as a player, maybe mesh better with the team's yet-undetermined new coach or some new player personnel (possibly a re-signed Bynum?), then evaluate his value moving forward at season's end. There's a small chance that if he really improves that much, they'd have to pay more for him at season's end than they would by extending him now--as they certainly would have with Jrue Holiday after his breakout season had DiLeo and co. not extended him at the beginning of last year--but it's a small risk compared to the risk of locking him in for big money now, and at the very least, they'll always have the choice of letting him walk if the price tag is just too high.

Of course, if they don't feel like waiting until the end of the movie with Turner, they could also package him in a trade this off-season. Some team desperate for upside and in love with Turner's college numbers and continued versatility will undoubtedly still value him, and his contract has the benefit of being beefy enough to work as a valuable expiring deal as well, giving any team that acquires him a ripcord should they sour on Evan after a season's time. I'm still enamored with the idea of packaging ET with Spencer Hawes--as the Sixers supposedly did at last year's trade deadline, nearly landing Josh Smith from the Hawks--as the core pieces of a deal, parting ways with their tantalizing flashes of greatness, and getting a more stable contributor of some sort in return. I'd still be an emotional wreck letting ET go, but practically speaking, it might be time.

If I had to guess, though, I'd say Hinkie takes a wait-and-see approach with ET. Maybe he lets Evan play up his trade value with one of his patented early-season hot streaks, then sells high and lets another team deal with his inevitable regression to the mean. Maybe he lets him play out the season with no promises of return, makes him a reasonable offer in the off-season and encourages him to go let another team beat it. Maybe he just wishes him luck and sends him on his way, offering to write a glowing recommendation for his future employer. All are in play for Hinkie and Turner, and all could very conceivably be the smart long-term play for this team.

The one thing he probably won't do is extend him now for too much money out of some irrational insecurity that he'll end up breaking out this season and make him look silly for not having locked him up while he had the chance. That's all we can really ask for right now with our new GM and his inherited frustrating prospect, and that's really not something we could have taken for granted in previous years.

Phillies will take a peek at Tim Tebow, mostly out of curiosity

Phillies will take a peek at Tim Tebow, mostly out of curiosity

CHICAGO — The Phillies will send a scout to watch Tim Tebow’s baseball showcase next Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Now, before you start clearing a space in your closet for a red-pinstriped Tebow jersey — you know, right next to the midnight green Tebow jersey — keep this in mind: the Phillies, and every other team that stops by Tebow’s workout, are merely practicing due diligence by taking a look at an accomplished athlete who long ago showed some baseball aptitude. Tebow’s chances of ever playing in a major-league game are extremely thin.

The former Heisman Trophy winner and two-time national championship quarterback from the University of Florida has not played baseball since 2005, his junior year in high school. He has been training as a baseball player for several months in Arizona. Next week’s showcase was arranged by Tebow’s representatives. Southern California is loaded with amateur baseball talent so many scouts live there. It makes sense that most teams would have a set of eyes on hand for curiosity if nothing else.

Tebow, who turned 29 earlier this month, was a left-handed hitting outfielder/pitcher in high school. He hit .494 with four homers and 30 RBIs as a junior at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Florida, before giving up baseball to focus on football. That was a good move as he enjoyed a storied run at Florida. But Tebow has not been able to stick in the NFL.

Tebow played for the Denver Broncos in 2010 and 2011 and the New York Jets in 2012. He attended training camp with the Eagles in 2015, but failed to make the team. He spent last year working as a broadcaster for ESPN.

Obviously, Tebow’s competitive juices still run hot. His athletic résumé alone will attract scouts to his baseball showcase, which, by the way, will be closed to the public.

Prosecutor says he doesn't believe Jerry Sandusky accuser's claim

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AP

Prosecutor says he doesn't believe Jerry Sandusky accuser's claim

BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- A former Pennsylvania prosecutor testified Tuesday he does not believe a man who reached a settlement with Penn State over a molestation claim is the same person seen by a witness being abused by Jerry Sandusky in a university football team shower.

Joe McGettigan, a former prosecutor who is now a lawyer in private practice, took the stand as the final witness during three days of testimony in Sandusky's bid for dismissal of charges or a new trial.

McGettigan said his opinion about the man who claims to be the person described as Victim 2 in court records is based on changes in the man's story, that he appears too old to be the boy in the shower and that he did not provide certain details to investigators until after the man who witnessed the attack had given his own story in open court.

Sandusky's grounds for appeal include a claim that McGettigan lied when he said during closing argument that Victim 2 was known "to God but not to us."

McGettigan said he did not believe the man's claim to be Victim 2 at the time of Sandusky's 2012 trial.

"I did not then and I do not now," McGettigan said.

Graduate assistant Mike McQueary has testified he saw Sandusky abusing a boy inside a team shower late on a Friday night in early 2001, and reported the matter to then-head coach Joe Paterno and other top administrators.

Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of abuse of 10 boys after eight of them testified against him -- but not Victim 2.

McGettigan said the man who settled with Penn State was born in 1987, so he would have been about 14 at the time, but McQueary described Victim 2 as being about 10. McGettigan said the man was unable to properly describe the location of the attack and drew a map of a locker room that was not accurate.

The man denied to police in September 2011 that any abuse occurred and gave the same statement to an investigator working for Sandusky's lawyers. But after McQueary testified in a related preliminary hearing, he hired a lawyer and changed his story, claiming to have been sexually abused. Neither the man nor Penn State has disclosed the precise nature of his claim against the university or said how much he was paid to settle it.

McGettigan said Sandusky, who attended all three days of the Post-Conviction Relief Act hearing, "could at any time have told any number of persons" the identity of Victim 2. "He declined to say so."

Another former state prosecutor, Jonelle Eshbach, testified that her office set up a sting after a March 2011 story in The Patriot-News of Harrisburg disclosed details of the grand jury investigation that led to Sandusky's arrest about seven months later.

She and her supervisor, Frank Fina, placed a fake notice within the prosecution agency's file about someone who had been subpoenaed and then watched to see if it would produce a story that would indicate a leak within the attorney general's office. She said no one took the bait.

Fina, the third person to testify Tuesday, said his doubts about the man's claim to be Victim 2 were based in part on early questions about when the McQueary incident occurred. At first, it was publicly reported to be 2002, which the man confirmed. Later it was determined to have been 2001.

"There was a possibility that (he) had conformed his testimony to Mr. McQueary's recollection of the date," Fina said.

Sandusky previously lost direct appeals to the state's Supreme and Superior courts. The current process, presided over by the trial judge, is under the Post-Conviction Relief Act and therefore limited to newly discovered evidence, constitutional violations and ineffective lawyering.

The judge did not say when he would rule but indicated there may be additional proceedings.

Wendell Smallwood 'really excited, ready to go' for NFL debut Saturday

Wendell Smallwood 'really excited, ready to go' for NFL debut Saturday

Eagles rookie running back Wendell Smallwood will finally make his NFL debut on Saturday. After missing out on the team’s first two preseason games with a quad injury, Smallwood can’t wait for his first action.

“I’m really excited, ready to go,” Smallwood said Tuesday. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in a game.”

Smallwood held out some hope that he would play against the Steelers, but said he never cleared the final hurdle.

“The trainers and coaches didn’t feel like I had my last burst,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was up to full speed, I was about 85 percent running. I didn’t feel like I had that last gear … this week, I’m back to full speed.”

As he discussed last week, Smallwood has maintained his focus and tried to learn from watching his teammates while on the sidelines. Given his desire to impress as a rookie and the fact that he’s never missed a game before in his football career, that’s obviously been a challenge. Running backs coach Duce Staley and veterans like Darren Sproles understand that and have paid close attention to Smallwood’s development.

“Darren talks to me all the time about it, he asks me every day how I’m doing and what I need to do,” Smallwood said. “I think just having him and the other running backs in my corner is definitely a positive.”

One facet that Smallwood has been constantly working on is his pass-blocking knowledge. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich on Tuesday stressed the importance of all his backs being strong in pass protection, and said he was encouraged by Smallwood’s progress in that phase of the game.

“Even though he was a great runner in college, you could see glimpses of him in the passing game, you could see him in protection, that he was a willing blocker,” Reich said. “And he had the aptitude when you talked to him in the interviews and when you watch film with him, you can see that he gets it and he processes it, and that’s a very important part of it. So his continued progress to get on the field is going to have to come in the passing game, as well.”

Smallwood is pleased with his understanding of the Eagles’ pass-blocking schemes, but he knows he always has to be on his toes, just in case a question flies his way.

“I think I’ve been progressing very well with [pass blocking,]” Smallwood said. “Just learning techniques and learning the system, all the calls the line has, and I think I’ve picked it up. Duce throws random questions at me and I’m right on time with them, so I think I’m doing very well in that area.”

On Saturday, he’ll be dealing with more than questions; Smallwood will have to pick up linebackers and safeties trying to hit his quarterback. He’s looking forward to it.

DL Martin (knee) day to day
Defensive lineman Mike Martin is another Eagle who has been frustrated by a lingering leg injury.

Like Smallwood, Martin has yet to play in the preseason. Since twisting his knee several weeks ago in training camp, Martin has mostly been on the sidelines. Now he’s back to practice, though Martin said he’s “just easing back into it, not trying to throw myself in there hard right off the bat.”

It seems unlikely that Martin will play against the Colts. While he classified his situation as “a day-by-day thing right now,” it’s hard to imagine him going from “easing back into it” to the heat of an NFL game.

While he’s been out, Martin, a third-round draft pick by the Titans in 2012, has aimed to learn as much as he can.

“Anytime you miss time and can’t be out there, it sucks, but I’ve been in my book and haven’t missed much on the mental side of it,” he said. “Every day I’m just trying to pick up where I left off.”

Once he returns, Martin can’t wait to play in Jim Schwartz’s defense and create chaos for opposing offenses along with Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan and his other talented teammates on the defensive line.

“[This defense] is just an attack style, which is really great for me,” Martin said. “That’s the type of player I am and it fits me perfectly.”