There is a fan at Trail Blazers home games who takes great effort to heckle and chastise Evan Turner.
It reached a head a couple weeks ago, during a blowout win over Sacramento, when the heckler harped on the fact that Turner had only two points as the Blazers were closing out the Kings.
“Hey Evan! I see you got your typical two! Your typical two!’’’ Turner said, recreating the scene.
He shakes his head thinking back to it.
“All year … That’s what you call a true fan, huh?’’
Turner says he understands he might have to take some ribbing in the give-and-take of a fan-player relationship at a game. But the season-long chiding by this fan had, in Turner’s mind, become harassment.
So, late in that Sacramento game, Turner faced the “dumb redneck,” who sits three rows back from the court.
“When I turned around and cursed him out, he turned bright red,’’ Turner said chuckling.
That Turner stopped absorbing insults and dished back is indicative of where he is in his second year in Portland: comfortable enough in his role and his performance to no longer care what the outside noise is saying.
In telling the middle-aged heckler to “shut the (expletive) up,” Turner might as well been speaking to all who still harp on his 4-year, $70 million contract.
“First off, let me say one thing: Everything I have done, I have earned,’’ Turner said. “My contract – that’s my bread, and I earned my bread. So, kiss my ass. Dead serious. Write that. I earned that (expletive) money.’’
In Portland, his teammates call him one of the smartest players on the team. And his coach says he is invaluable both for his defensive versatility and for his array of offensive weapons, from posting up, to shooting mid-range to passing to running the offense. And above all, they all say he is team first, all the time.
“All I’m doing is what my coach asks,’’ Turner said. “I’m trying to help the team, truly and genuinely help the team. Because I’ve been on teams where I’m putting up 20, and nobody gave a damn because we were losing.’’
Never before has Turner’s wide-ranging value been more on display than during the Blazers’ nine-game winning streak that has vaulted them to third in the Western Conference.
His defense was instrumental late in Friday’s win over Golden State, when got up-close-and-personal while forcing misses from Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Earlier in the week, against Oklahoma City, he had 17 points – which included three three-pointers – to fuel the season-series clinching win. And in an important victory against Minnesota, he had a team-high six assists and zero turnovers.
“He doesn’t get enough credit, but we know what he does, and that’s all that matters,’’ Maurice Harkless said motioning around the locker room.
And, perhaps, that’s the key, Turner says. He doesn’t care whether he gets the credit. And he doesn’t care if people think he is worth $70 million.
“At the end of the day, winning matters,’’ Turner said. “Character matters. And what you are willing to sacrifice matters. I think my biggest steps and growth are being able to compartmentalize the things that really matter. I used to waste a lot of time worrying about things that don’t matter. Who gets credit and all that stuff … it doesn’t matter.’’
One thing that does matter: A smile.
It is Thursday, the day before the Blazers will play Golden State in a matchup of two of the NBA’s hottest teams, when Turner stops after practice to pose for a picture to model his Li-Ning shoes.
Even though the shot is for his shoes, Turner adorns the biggest and cheesiest of smiles, for which he is playfully ribbed.
“Hey, a smile can mean a lot. I can murder somebody, and if the judge looks at my smile, it can be the difference between 30 years and life,’’ Turner said.
What makes this rationalization even more funny is … he’s serious.
“That’s why I smile on my driver’s license,’’ he said, dead serious. “You never know.’’
His teammates are often left shaking their head, either in confusion or in a can-you-believe-this-dude wonderment.
“He’s the funniest guy on the team, and the funniest guy on the team, accidently,’’ Harkless said. “And we all love him for it.’’
The Blazers are a mostly serious group, very dedicated to their craft, and it is natural over the course of the long NBA season for players to be uptight, or find themselves in moods.
And probably never in the last decade has there been a more off-the-wall personality than Turner to prevent that tension from escalating.
“ET helps us out a lot, not just on the court, but his personality,’’ Ed Davis said. “Every day, he comes in and mixes things up. Little things that you need in a long season, like you come in and are feeling like, damn, I don’t feel like hearing Coach’s mouth today, or I don’t feel like seeing Shabazz … but ET will come in and bring that unique energy and everything changes.’’
Turner’s outlook changed midway through his career, shortly after he contemplated quitting the NBA while he was in Indiana. He was involved in a practice scuffle with Lance Stephenson, fell out of the playing rotation and felt like his career had hit a dead end.
“It was after the Pacers incident,’’ Turner said. “I guess I reached an age when I realized what was important. You start equating that to the real sentimental stuff and you starting putting stuff into perspective.’’
His perspective now?
“This is basketball. It should be fun,’’ Turner said. “Sports are for kids, and adults mess it up. For me, I was one of those people, who overly, overly, overly took it serious. To the point where it wasn’t fun. So now, I make sure I have fun with it. This is a dream. A game.’’
Although Turner doesn’t like to admit it, much of the fun of last season was squashed by the burden of his new contract. Fans had expectations for a player making $17 million a season, and Turner couldn’t help but feel those expectations as he tip-toed through acclimating himself on an already established team.
He averaged 9.0 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 25.5 minutes a game while shooting 42.6 percent form the field and 26.3 percent from three-point range.
Both Ed Davis and Shabazz Napier said they have either seen or heard Turner struggle about the burden of his contract.
“A lot of players get judged on their salary,’’ Davis said. “If he was making, let’s say 8 million a year, they would be like, ‘He’s the best player in the league’ … that’s just how life is. But I always tell him: That’s a good problem to have. I’d rather have someone talk (stuff) to me if I was making 17 million a year than 6 million a year. So that’s a good problem.’’
This season, much of that burden seems to have subsided, in part because he says he is “focusing on positivity” and in part because he knows he is an invaluable cog to the Blazers’ machine.
As a result, he neither has the time nor the energy to waste in justifying his contract. In fact, he borders on being offended having to defend it.
“I don’t mean to be harsh, but I get tired of it being brought up,’’ Turner said. “And it’s really not my focus. Who am I supposed to prove it to? Some might be of the opinion that I help the team a lot.
“But as long as there are radio personalities who are nowhere near the team, and there’s people who have never played basketball giving their opinion and making up blogs, there will be stuff out there,’’ Turner said.
This season, he is averaging 8.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting 44.2 percent from the field and 31.9 percent from three-point range. They are not standout statistics, but coach Terry Stotts and the Blazers players say stats will never capture Turner’s true worth.
“I can talk all day about him. Not a lot of people understand the value he has for this team. And they don’t understand because he is not a conventional player,’’ Napier said. “But he is our best post-offense player. Defensively he is able to guard Kevin Durant, then switch and guard Steph Curry or Klay Thompson. But it’s also his leadership skills, and his charisma, his camaraderie – the things people don’t see. They are the things that make up ET. And it’s those things that make him a great player to us.’’
Napier often refers to “intangibles” when talking about Turner, noting a recent piece of advice he gave to Zach Collins – to spin immediately after getting a pass in the post. Collins immediately implemented the advice and scored.
“He calms guys down, gets guys in right spots … he’s just the leader we need,’’ Napier said.
That some Blazers fans, including the third-row heckler, are slow to see what his teammates see, is not surprising to Turner.
He was energized this summer on a trip to China, during which he found a renewed zeal for the game. He filmed one of his workouts, of him shooting 3-pointers, and posted it on social media. He was stung to see negative comments about his shot.
And upon his return, during a conversation on ride with an Uber driver, he was taken aback at the narrative about his game. It caused him to recoil, and it started his obsession to seek only positivity.
So when he was asked if he is appreciated, he was quick to answer.
“From my teammates, of course. Absolutely,’’ Turner said. “I don’t really care outside, nor is it really worth digging into. I get the love. I really only pay attention to the positivity.’’
With the NBA’s longest current winning streak, never have the Blazers been surrounded by more positivity, and Turner has been in the middle of it all.
“We’ve won nine straight. I mean that’s dope as (expletive),’’ Turner said.
Perhaps that’s why he snapped back at the heckler, and why he has become more adamant in standing up for his contract.
“I’ve come from the mud,’’ Turner said. “I had nothing. I had a pair of shoes. My mom worked hard to put me in the situations I’m in. I rejected a lot of negativity and a lot of cop-outs growing up to stay focused and get to situations like this. That’s why I’m fired up about it. I’ve never taken (expletive). I’ve only taken what I’m supposed to take, never tried to dip out on people, and I’ve tried to live life the right way. What’s mine is mine. It’s my (expletive) money. And if it ever got taken away, I’m strong enough to go get more.’’
So the hecklers can heckle, and the voices on the radio can take shots. Turner is busy listening to the positivity of the NBA’s hottest team.
“I know this is just the way sports is,’’ Turner says, thinking back to the heckler. “And to whom much is given, much is expected. But perception is reality, and it takes a while to change perception.’’