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.

Let the bidding begin for Mike Trout, who Angels must move at some point

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Let the bidding begin for Mike Trout, who Angels must move at some point

Yes, the Angels are going to trade Mike Trout.

It may not happen this year or even next year, but eventually Angels GM Billy Eppler will accept the reality of the bleak future ahead for his franchise. Albert Pujols, who has five years and $140 million remaining on his contract after this season, has taken the baton from Ryan Howard for the worst contract in baseball. Good luck getting out of that deal. Other than the increasingly rare Pujols hot streak, they have nobody equipped to protect Trout in the lineup. 

The starting rotation has been patched together, with both Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney going down with elbow injuries early this season. Unless one of those guys comes back healthy, there isn’t a No. 1 or No. 2 starter on the roster. Theoretically, the Angels will have money to spend on the free-agent market with both C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver coming off the books after the season. But with Andrew Cashner and Jeremy Hellickson the likely headliners on the pitching market, a quick fix for the rotation seems unlikely. 

The 2017 free-agent market for hitters isn’t much better. Should Yoenis Cespedes opt out of his contract with the Mets, he could provide a potent presence behind Trout, but there will be stiff competition for his services and he’ll be in line for a massive payday. 

Toronto’s once-dynamic duo of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista should be available, but both appear to be trending downward. Giving either player a long-term deal is a risky investment at best. 

Building around the young players in the organization isn’t a viable option. By all accounts, the Angels have the worst farm system in baseball. You can check out those rankings here or here. This is a franchise in dire need of an infusion of young talent. 

We’ve seen the Phillies in a similar situation with Cole Hamels. Once there was no way forward to win with him, the only reasonable option was to trade him. Even the most ardent Hamels supporters have to admit now that moving him made sense.  

Yes, Trout is only 24 years old and is the best all-around player in baseball. The Angels should certainly explore every possible option to build a winner around the South Jersey native, who is in the second season of a six-year deal that will pay him $119 million from 2017 through 2020. But the franchise is trending in the wrong direction. If they cannot honestly see a path to contending with him, they should look to move him and jump-start a rebuild. There will be no shortage of suitors. 

So ignore the notion that you never trade an “inner-circle Hall of Famer,” which Trout certainly is on track to become. He is signed through 2019 and the clock is ticking. 

Let the bidding begin. 

Josh Hart discusses NBA draft process, returning to Villanova

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Josh Hart discusses NBA draft process, returning to Villanova

Josh Hart said the decision wasn’t easy.

But he’s happy with it.

After withdrawing his name from the NBA draft to return to school (see story), Hart is excited to focus on Villanova, graduation and then the NBA dream.

“I love the school, I love the teachers, the student body, the support, my teammates that we have coming back,” the 6-foot-5 guard said Wednesday on Comcast SportsNet’s Philly Sports Talk. “So it was a tough one and I just thought at the end of the day, I think going back for my senior year would be in the best interest of my parents and myself.”

As a junior, Hart helped Villanova win its second national championship in program history by leading the Wildcats in scoring with 15.5 points per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field.

Hart received plenty of feedback from NBA teams. He said shooting and ball handling are what he hopes to improve.

As far as his draft stock …

“There were teams interested maybe in the first [round], and then there were teams that said they would take me in the second,” Hart said. “But there’s a whole month before the draft, a lot of teams didn’t know exactly what they were doing with their picks — whether they were trying to trade up for a pick, trying to trade down, trying to trade a pick for a player. Several teams said that they would take me.”

For more from Hart on the draft and Villanova, watch the video above.

NHL Playoffs: Sharks win to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

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NHL Playoffs: Sharks win to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and the rest of the San Jose Sharks gathered around the Campbell Bowl for a celebratory picture after winning the Western Conference final.

In that moment, all those past playoff disappointments and collapses were forgotten. It will take four more wins to put to rest those questions about if they had the fortitude to win it all.

Captain Joe Pavelski scored an early goal, Joel Ward added two more and the Sharks advanced to their first Stanley Cup final in franchise history by beating the St. Louis Blues 5-2 on Wednesday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference final.

"It's a pretty cool feeling," Thornton said. "Obviously it's our first time. It was pretty neat to get this done at home. The fans here have waited so long, 25 years. We've waited 18 years or so. So it's a great feeling."

Joonas Donskoi also scored, Logan Couture had an empty-netter and Martin Jones made 24 saves as a Sharks team notorious for postseason letdowns will play for the championship that has eluded Thornton and Marleau since they entered the league as the top two picks in 1997.

Thornton assisted on Pavelski's goal less than four minutes into the game to set the tone and Marleau had two assists in the third period that set off chants of "We Want The Cup! We Want The Cup!"

"We're just enjoying the ride right now," Marleau said. "We've had some really good teams over the years."

Despite making the playoffs 16 times in 18 seasons and winning the second-most games in the NHL since the start of the 2003-04 season, the Sharks have been known for their soul-crushing playoff disappointments.

They won just three games in three previous trips to the conference final, were knocked out twice in four seasons by a No. 8 seed and most notably blew a 3-0 series lead to lose in the first round to Los Angeles in 2014.

The impact of that loss lasted for a while as San Jose missed the playoffs entirely last season. But led by first-year coach Peter DeBoer and bolstered by some key acquisitions by general manager Doug Wilson, the Sharks recovered this year and are now only four wins from a championship.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final will be Monday night. The Sharks will either host Tampa Bay or visit Pittsburgh, depending on which team wins Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

"It's a great moment for those guys who have put in a lot of work but we still have another series to go," Couture said. "We still have four more wins to try to get. It's another step. This is the third one now. We're ready for that next challenge."

With the loss, the Blues' postseason woes continue as the franchise still seeks its first championship and first trip to the Cup final since 1970. Coach Ken Hitchcock's second goalie change of the series did not work as Brian Elliott allowed four goals on 26 shots in his return to the net.

Vladimir Tarasenko, a 40-goal scorer in the regular season, got his first points of the series when he scored twice in the third period but it was too late for the Blues, who still trailed 4-2.

"It stings right now," captain David Backes said. "Six more wins and we're having parades on Market Street. Right now ... not enough."

This was the first time in San Jose's history that the team played with a trip to the Stanley Cup final on the line. The atmosphere in the Shark Tank reflected the high stakes with the fans at a frenzy during pregame introductions and the "Let's Go Sharks!" chants starting soon after the puck dropped.

The Sharks fed off that energy and were buzzing early as Hitchcock predicted before the game. St. Louis nearly silenced the crowd when Alexander Steen got a chance in the slot early in the period but Jones robbed him with a glove save.

That led to a breakaway for Thornton, who missed the net on his chance. But Pavelski recovered the puck behind the net and before Elliott knew what was happening, Pavelski tucked the puck in on a wraparound for his NHL-leading 13th goal of the playoffs.

San Jose added to the lead early in the second when Ward tipped a point shot from Brent Burns past Elliott to make it 2-0.

Ward's second goal and another by Donskoi in the third period removed any drama and allowed the fans to celebrate and the Blues to ponder their missed opportunity.

"They're hurting right now," Hitchcock said. "We're all hurting. "You don't want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block."

Notes
Marleau played his 165th career playoff game, the most ever for someone who never played in the finals. Thornton is next on the list with 150 games, followed by Curtis Joseph with 133. ... The only franchise that has played longer than San Jose without going to a Cup final is Arizona, which began NHL play as the Winnipeg Jets in 1979-80.