PHILADELPHIA — Evan Turner is in the top 20 in the NBA in scoring – No. 20, to be exact – and still feels unloved.
Turner is still paying the price for not being what was expected three years ago as the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft – even though he is starting to do it now. He’s still being judged by what he considers unreasonable standards, as if he was supposed to be a flawless stone rather than a diamond in the rough when he arrived.
And while others in his draft class have already been rewarded with lavish contract extensions, Turner is still waiting and wondering where his hoops path will eventually lead.
Instead of sulking, Turner is doing the smart thing: tuning it all out and trusting those he believe have his best interests in mind. He will simply worry about now and let the future take care of itself.
“I just want to keep progressing,’’ said Turner, whose days with the Philadelphia 76ers seem numbered after they did not offer him an extension prior to the start of the season. “If you start planning stuff and worrying about stuff out of order, that’s when everything else messes up.
“That stuff is gonna handle itself five or six months from now. That’s when you worry about it.’’
Until then the question will linger: Where will E.T. call home?
The question has been unanswered from the moment new Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie chose not to offer the 25-year old Turner the fourth-year extension bestowed on others in his draft class, which included John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and the player who’s turned out to be the cream of that 2010 crop, No. 10 pick Paul George.
What are their plans for him?
With the season at the quarter pole and his team playing better than most expected, Hinkie is not about to tip his hand. Besides, he’s rumored to be more focused at the moment on a potential deal sending versatile forward Thaddeus Young to Houston for disgruntled big man Omer Asik—whom he helped lure to the Rockets as a free agent in 2012.
But make no mistake, what to do with Turner remains high on Hinkie’s priority list.
Turner will become a restricted free agent at the end of the season, presuming the Sixers extend him a qualifying offer of $8.72 million. That would enable them to match any deal or engage in a sign-and-trade with Turner’s prospective new team. Philadelphia also could withdraw the offer at any time to free up cap space – not that they need it.
Should Hinkie decide not to wait, the Sixers can move him at any time leading up to the Feb. 20 trading deadline, presumably taking back enough contract dollars to assure they won’t sink any lower beyond the current salary floor, in addition to acquiring future assets.
Proposed landing spots for Turner – currently averaging 20.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists while shooting a career-best 45.5 percent – are many. (It does not help him that he is tied for fifth in the NBA in turnovers with 3.8 per game.)
Could he join LeBron James and the Heat, in desperate need for another scoring option with Dwyane Wade’s status in constant jeopardy and Chris Bosh playing in a fog?
Perhaps, since Miami has the one thing Hinkie values most: A potential first-round pick in the rich 2014 draft.
The fact that it happens to be Philadelphia’s own – dealt to the Heat in 2012 by his predecessor, Rod Thorn, for the rights to No. 27 pick Arnett Moultrie – is an irony that can’t be ignored. Thorn did his diligence protecting his team, ensuring the pick doesn;t go to the Heat until the Sixers make the playoffs. If that doesn’t happen in 2014 or 2015, the owed first-rounder converts to a pair of second-rounders.
But with the East playoff picture so murky this season, suddenly it’s not absurd to suggest the young and hungry Sixers (7-16) could somehow squeeze themselves in. That would mean their 2014 pick goes to the Heat.
What better way to guard against that than to get it back by trading their leading scorer, which almost certainly would eliminate any postseason hopes?
If not Miami, perhaps a Turner homecoming to the Bulls? A native Chicagoan before going to become the NCAA Player of the Year at Ohio State, E.T. would undoubtedly love going back to his old stomping grounds. And with Derrick Rose gone for the season and his future in limbo after two serious injuries, the Bulls would welcome anyone who can create offense get buckets. Chicago is currently 28th in scoring and averaging less than 75 points per game over its last three contests.
Exactly what the Bulls have to offer the Sixers, though, is another story. Perhaps some combination of Jimmy Butler, improving power forward Taj Gibson, veteran Mike Dunleavy and some distant future pick would do it. Then again, the $25 million Gibson is guaranteed through 2017 might scare off Hinkie.
Turning to the West, you’d have to think many teams would be receptive to a player having a career year – even if that may be circumstantial since Philadelphia doesn’t have many other options. One might be Oklahoma City, which hasn’t been able to replace Kevin Martin and saw last season that Kevin Durant simply couldn’t carry the full load once Russell Westbrook went down.
The Thunder has some young, cheaper players with upside who haven’t had much chance to show it: Perry Jones III, Jeremy Lamb and Westbrook’s backup, Reggie Jackson. They also have rugged forward Nick Collison and a $6.5 million trade exception, which they could package with a cheap player to snag Turner.
As long as they throw in a draft pick.
Whatever the answer, Turner says it’s not on his mind right now. His focus is continuing to get better and help the Sixers make all those prophets of doom eat their words.
“My first couple of years, I played with some seasoned veterans, Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala,’’ said Turner, who also played for a demanding coach in Doug Collins, with whom he regularly clashed. “I had to always adhere to certain situations.
“I think the whole thing is like a microwave situation. Everybody wants what they’ve been seen and been told at that moment. Obviously, the pick I was taken with, everybody expected one thing. They wanted a 20-point scorer and all that other stuff. But I didn’t play on a 20-point scoring team. I was a double-digit scorer. I wasn’t a 20-point scorer, but nobody was. Whatever I was, I got bashed.”
Turner maintains his increased production has been through natural progression.
“People say now you’re playing different, you’re playing better. It’s just progression,” he said. “Am I supposed to be a finished product at 22, opposed to maybe hitting my prime at 27 or 28?
“Honestly I’ve just stopped listening. It’s all about getting respect from my teammates and my peers.’’
And they have noticed.
“Obviously his first year he didn’t play a lot, or was up and down,’’ says Doc Rivers, who watched Turner’s roller coaster career from Boston’s bench for three years before taking over the Clippers. “But he just keeps getting better. He doesn’t shoot like Paul (Pierce), but he scores like Paul. You look in the box score and he has 25 points. And he gets to the foul line.
“But it’s different than when we didn’t play back in my day. When we came in, we weren’t stars already. No one knew who I was. But now it’s the AAU stuff. They’re stars in high school, so it’s tougher when they don’t play. At the end of the day, if they come out of it, definitely it makes them a better person. I hope a better player, too.’’
Exactly where that will be next season or even later this season, no one knows. From the time Hinkie took over and traded All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday on draft night for injured big man Nerlens Noel and New Orleans’ top-five protected 2014 pick, the Sixers’ intentions were clear.
But players don’t think that way, even if fans looking at the bigger picture cringe each time they win.
“You can’t get mad at that,’’ Turner said. “It’s all about what people advertise.’’
“Together We Build’’ is the slogan the Sixers are preaching, knowing that aside from those two high draft picks, they figure to have as much cap space as anyone after this season.
Is Evan Turner part of the foundation, or someone to be discarded during reconstruction?.
For now, he remains here. For how long, who knows? But E.T. will eventually find someplace to call home.
Jon Marks has covered the Philadelphia 76ers from the days of Dr. J and his teammate, Joe Bryant (best known as Kobe’s dad). He has won awards from the Pro Basketball Writer’s Association and North Jersey Press Club. His other claim to fame is driving Rick Mahorn to a playoff game after missing the team bus. Follow him on Twitter.