76ers

Sixers' options with Evan Turner are endless

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Sixers' options with Evan Turner are endless

It is about options. It always has been.

When Sam Hinkie became the Sixers’ president and general manager, his plan became evident: Clear cap space, accumulate draft picks, untether the team from its present entanglements in order to weave a quality future with better material. It made sense then. It still does. Flexibility matters in the NBA.

It is, in part, why the Sixers recently decided not to extend Evan Turner’s rookie deal (see story). Turner wasn't thrilled when it unfolded that way. It’s hard to blame him. Getting paid and having a certain sense of security is preferable to not having those things.

At the time, Turner said he “didn’t expect anything because Sam Hinkie is not my GM. I didn’t come up with Hinkie, and he has his own plan for stuff.” As shots at your employer go, it was a big one -- a verbal half-court heave that Turner drained right through the get-bent basket. When he was asked if he thought he’d get traded, Turner said he didn’t know and reminded everyone that “[Hinkie] just traded Jrue [Holiday], and Jrue is like a walking legend.”

The walking legend stuff was a bit much, but you get the idea. Turner was ticked. Shy of storming into Hinkie’s office and smashing his favorite calculator during an analytics exercise, it would be tough for Turner to more clearly express his displeasure.

You can understand Turner’s emotional response, though that’s not the point here. The point is that Turner represents another option for the Sixers.

Turner is having his best season as a pro. He’s averaging 21.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.0 steals. All are career highs. He’s also taking smarter shots and getting to the line more. A year ago, Turner shot just 2.5 free throws per game. This year, he’s taking 5.7 per game and making a career-best 83.5 percent. And he’s shooting 59.8 percent at the rim this season compared to just 46 percent last season.

Turner’s advanced metrics have improved as a result. His player efficiency rating has improved from 12.1 a year ago to 16. And his true shooting percentage (which accounts for efficiency in two-pointers, three-pointers and free throws) is up from 47.8 percent last season to 52.5 percent.

He’s seriously struggling from three-point range (he’s hitting just 15.4 percent), but on the whole Turner is playing better than ever before. You don’t really need numbers to know that -- just working eyeballs.

Considering how much he’s improved, it makes sense that the anti-Turner crowd is clamoring for the Sixers to unload him now -- pack him into some bubble wrap and slap a UPS sticker on his forehead and overnight him to whichever NBA outpost is willing to pay the shipping and handling fee (a first-round draft pick and an expiring contract, perhaps). The Sixers could do that. But they don’t have to do that. With Turner, they could do so many things.

Turner is in the fourth year of his rookie contract. The Sixers have until June 30 to extend a qualifying offer. That would be around $8.7 million based on his current salary. If they do so, Turner becomes a restricted free agent and the Sixers would have the right to match any offer. If they don’t come up with a qualifying offer, Turner would become an unrestricted free agent.

In the first scenario, the Sixers could conceivably keep Turner around for a reasonable sum considering his current performance. Or, if some other team comes in with a ridiculous over-the-top offer that the Sixers don’t want to match, the Sixers could pass and let Turner walk. At which point they would free up more salary cap space that they could use to pay draft picks and/or free agents.

In the second scenario, the one in which they don’t bother with the qualifying offer, the Sixers could simply skip ahead to the expiring contract part, let Turner leave, and allocate those funds elsewhere.

Or they could do a sign-and-trade after the year if they find a suitor for Turner with pieces they want in return. Or they could simply trade him at any point between now and the end of the year. Or they could re-sign him. Or. Or. Or. Or is a great word for any NBA organization, particularly one looking to rebuild.

The Sixers don’t have to rush anything with Turner. They can (and should) wait until the time is right to determine his fate and find the proper path for the organization. They have options. It’s a good spot for the Sixers, even if it might be frustrating for Turner.

Best of NBA: Pelicans hold off late Lakers rally for 1st win

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Best of NBA: Pelicans hold off late Lakers rally for 1st win

LOS ANGELES -- Anthony Davis scored 27 points, DeMarcus Cousins had 20 and the New Orleans Pelicans withstood a furious rally to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 119-112 on Sunday night for their first victory of the season.

The Pelicans led by 22 points in the second quarter and were still up by double figures heading into the final period, but the Lakers made a charge despite a poor shooting night from rookie Lonzo Ball.

Reserve Jordan Clarkson had 24 points for the Lakers, but Ball shot just 3 for 13 for eight points. He did have 13 assists and eight rebounds.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope started and scored 20 points in his first appearance for the Lakers. Rookie Kyle Kuzma also had 20.

E'Twaun Moore, who went 0 for 5 in his last game, added 19 points for the Pelicans (1-2), while Jrue Holiday and Ian Clark each had 14 (see full recap).

Wiggins' heave banks in, leads Timberwolves past Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Andrew Wiggins' 3-pointer from a few steps inside halfcourt banked in as time expired to give the Minnesota Timberwolves a 115-113 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night.

Oklahoma City's Carmelo Anthony had hit a 3-pointer with 5.1 seconds left to give the Thunder the lead before the Timberwolves inbounded to Wiggins, who rushed up the court and got free with help from a crushing pick by Karl-Anthony Towns before pulling up for the winner.

Wiggins scored 27 points and Towns had 27 points and 12 rebounds for Minnesota (2-1).

Russell Westbrook scored 15 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter for the Thunder, who were coming off a loss at Utah on Saturday night. Anthony scored 23 points and Paul George scored 14 points on 6-for-20 shooting. Steven Adams had 17 points and 13 rebounds for the Thunder (see full recap).

Allen Crabbe scored 20 points, Nets beat Hawks
NEW YORK -- Allen Crabbe scored 20 points, DeMarre Carroll had 17 and the Brooklyn Nets beat the Atlanta Hawks 116-104 on Sunday.

Caris LeVert and D'Angelo Russell each had 16 points to help the Nets improve to 2-1 with their second straight victory.

Marco Belinelli had 19 points for Atlanta. The Hawks have lost two in a row to drop to 1-2.

Atlanta point guard Dennis Schroeder went down with an apparent ankle injury with 3:37 left and had to be helped off the court.

Brooklyn found a way to win once again without Jeremy Lin, who was lost for the season on opening night with a knee injury, holding off the Hawks after leading by 16 points late in the third (see full recap).

Winless Suns fire head coach Earl Watson

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Winless Suns fire head coach Earl Watson

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns have fired coach Earl Watson just three games in to the NBA season.

The Suns announced the firing Sunday night after hours of meetings at the team's headquarters.

Assistant coach Jay Triano, a former head coach of the Toronto Raptors, was named interim coach. Triano was an assistant at Portland before coming to Phoenix last year.

Watson was promoted from assistant to interim coach of the Suns after Jeff Hornacek was fired Feb. 1, 2016. The interim tag was removed on April 19 of that year. With an extremely young team, the Suns struggled under Watson. He compiled a 33-85 record. Watson's only full season was 2016-17, when the team went 24-58.

The 38-year-old Watson played collegiately at UCLA and in the NBA for 10 seasons. He often spoke of his long talks with John Wooden, emphasized togetherness and a family atmosphere to nurture the young squad but wins were hard to come by.

And owner Robert Sarver apparently didn't like what he saw. Phoenix is 0-3 and two of the losses were especially ugly. The Suns were blown out 124-76 by the Portland in their season opener Wednesday night, the most one-sided loss in franchise history and the most one-sided season opener for any NBA team.

Phoenix was routed by the Clippers in Los Angeles 130-88 on Saturday night.

"I Dont wanna be here," point guard Eric Bledsoe tweeted Sunday, just as the news of Watson's firing surfaced in an ESPN report. The tweet by Bledsoe, a former Clipper, was followed by one from the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan saying "Come back home bro."

Bledsoe has been rumored in possible trades for months.

Watson's dismissal is the first NBA coaching change in well over a year. Hornacek's hiring by the New York Knicks, which was finalized in June 2016, had been the most recent change -- and the irony there is that Watson got the job in Phoenix with 33 games left in the 2015-16 season, after the Suns fired Hornacek.

Watson was the league's second-youngest active coach behind the Lakers' Luke Walton, and the Suns were tied with the Chicago Bulls as having the youngest opening-night roster in the NBA this season.

"I'd like to see the fight be a little bit more," Watson said after the blowout loss to the Clippers. "Or a lot more, until you know they're just fatigued."

The Suns came into this season with only four losses by 40 or more points in franchise history. They've had two in the first three games of this season. Phoenix has not made the playoffs in seven years, the longest drought in the franchise's 49-year history.

Watson was the 17th Suns coach in the franchise's history.

This was the first NBA season where every coach who started one year had the same job to begin the next.