BOSTON -- Brad Stevens and a small contingent of Boston Celtics players and front-office officials were headed to Atlanta to meet with Al Horford when Stevens got the news.
Evan Turner, a player that Stevens had grown quite fond of during Turner’s two seasons with the Celtics, was going to sign a four-year, $70 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers.
The first person Turner said he called after he got the offer was his mother.
“I told her I’m probably going to sign for $70 (million),” Turner told me during the latest edition of the CSN CelticsTalk Podcast earlier this week. “She was like, 17? I was like, 'no, 70.' And she was like, '17?' I said, 'no, like 70. The number after 69.'”
Considering the amount of money the Blazers were throwing his way after he made $3.4 million last season with the Celtics, Turner, who returns to the TD Garden tonight, understood why his mother was in such disbelief at the amount of money he was telling her he was being offered.
“The whole number … we were baffled by it,” Turner said. “Even signing the deal, seeing how it was broken down and how much I would make per year, this is … I still try to live in the moment and see how blessed I am, so that was crazy to see ... wow, this is crazy.”
For Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, the news that Turner was going to sign with the Blazers was one of mixed emotions.
“Your heart sinks a little bit because you don’t want to lose him,” Stevens recalled. “But then you’re like, ‘what a cool thing for him,’ that contract to happen.”
Drafted by Philadelphia with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft, Turner never lived up to the expectations the Sixers had for him and when they traded him to Indiana, things didn’t get any better.
But in Boston, Turner thrived in his role as a do-it-all playmaker who was at his best in the fourth quarter primarily as a facilitator.
Among players who logged as many minutes or more than Turner’s 8.9 in the fourth, only New Orleans’ Jru Holiday (1.8) and Houston’s James Harden (1.7) had a higher assists per game average in the fourth than Turner (1.5).
So tonight he returns to a place where his career as well as the Celtics' fortunes took a major step in the right direction.
In his two seasons with the Celtics, Turner became an integral part of them getting to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
“Evan did a great job of representing what we wanted out of our guys,” Stevens said. “He had a great passion for the game, worked really hard to get better. He didn’t care with regard to starting, coming off the bench. He just wanted to help the team in any way that he could. Everybody valued him as a great teammate (who) made us better.”
Stevens has had a great relationship with most of the players, but it’s clear that there's a different kind of bond he has with Turner.
Like when Stevens talks about Turner supposedly trying to reach him around the time he decided to sign with Portland.
“He says he tried to call me on the plane but I don’t believe him,” said Stevens, grinning. “You (media) guys believe everything he says. Believe it or not, I don’t.
Stevens added, still grinning, “I love that guy; I love that guy. What was cool, he texted my 10-year-old son (Brady) a long text and said, ‘this is why I’m going’ … great guy, has a great heart. After that he didn’t need to call me.”
With Boston having its sights on signing Horford and potentially Kevin Durant this past summer, both sides knew that this basketball marriage between the Celtics and Turner, no matter how much both sides loved one another, was ending soon.
“I really liked the city; a great sports city,” Turner said. “I don’t take for granted putting on a Celtics jersey; that was dope. There’s franchises and there’s organizations. The Celtics have a franchise. Their culture … we had a tight-knit team. I really miss that. In the NBA, that’s hard to come by. We all genuinely wanted each other to do well. I didn’t take that for granted; we had a special bond there.”
Isaiah Thomas said he still talks with Turner every few days since he signed with Portland.
“Evan’s a good basketball player, but an even better person,” Thomas said. “He was always positive, always had something to say; not in a bad way. He stayed on everybody. He kept the locker room together. He was a big piece that we miss. He did more than produce on the basketball floor.”
And Thomas was one of the first to learn about Turner’s deal with the Blazers.
“I was happy for him, because for a guy like that, he deserves it,” Thomas said. “From being on top, back to the bottom and just keep pushing; that’s the definition of somebody that just keeps grinding and is a positive person.”
And that positive energy at times included jokes at Stevens' expense.
Like last season when Turner told the media that Stevens was so mad at the players, he refused them snacks on the team plane.
“I always laugh,” Stevens said.“I had to tell him, ‘I remember the plane food thing.’ I looked at him when he walked on the plane and said, ‘You know I didn’t say that. Now I’m gonna have to answer that tomorrow.’ But maybe he had conjured it up in his mind. I wasn’t happy at halftime but I didn’t say I was going to hold the food back.”
Exaggerated truth or not, it’s clear talking with Stevens and the Celtics who played with him that Turner is someone they miss, not only because of what he did as a player but also because of who he is as a person.
“He’s a great teammate,” Stevens said. “We’re really happy for him. He did a lot of good things for us, too. Again, more important than any numbers he put up or how he played on either end of the floor, he added to the passion in the work environment. That’s something you can’t take for granted in an 82-game season.”