The Trail Blazers on Thursday shed some light on the decision-making process that went into their controversial free agent signing of Evan Turner.
Neil Olshey, the team’s president of basketball operations, said the team made two key determinations before free agency started on July 1: This was not a top-flight market for impact players, and their biggest need was on the perimeter, not an interior defender.
So among their early targets was Turner, a 6-foot-7 wing who was given a four-year, $70 million contract because of his defensive versatility and his playmaking skills.
A former No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, Turner has been a role player during much of his six NBA seasons, causing many to question why he was given such a lucrative contract. Last season with Boston, he averaged 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists while playing 28 minutes a game, mostly off the bench.
“We though it was a fairly thin market for impact-level players; guys who capable of starting on a playoff caliber team, ’’ Olshey said. “ (Turner) is unselfish, versatile and is about making his teammates better. I think that’s going to be huge for us.’’
Olshey said that versatility was prioritized over the Blazers’ perceived need for a rim-protecting center.
“There were perceptions out there about what positions we quote-unquote needed,’’ Olshey said. “And we had made decisions in house as far as how Terry was going to handle the roster and rotation – so we shifted those priorities down to the perimeter. ‘’
Turner, 27, joins a Blazers young core that last season won 44 games and reached the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, largely behind the dynamic offensive play of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
As talented as Lillard and McCollum were in becoming the first guard tandem in franchise history to average 20 points, they were suffocated in the playoffs amid an avalanche of double-teams and traps.
Turner, who played point-forward for the Celtics when All-Star Isaiah Thomas rested, was brought in to help take pressure off Lillard and McCollum with his passing and ball-handling.
“One of the things we wanted to do this year was add another playmaker on the court,’’ coach Terry Stotts said. “CJ and Dame had a lot of responsibility as far as being a playmaker so we are really counting on Evan to be a facilitator and playmaker for us – putting him in ball screens.’’
The Blazers were also a below-average defensive team, particularly on the perimeter, with only Al-Farouq Aminu, Allen Crabbe and Ed Davis among the noted defenders on the roster.
After studying film, Stotts said Turner will help the perimeter defense.
“He is a really good, alert defender - both on and off the ball,’’ Stotts said. “He fits into our culture in how we want to play, both on and off the ball.’’
Turner said he was not promised a starting position during his recruitment, despite reports to the contrary. Either way, he is expected to compete for the starting small forward position while Aminu moves over to power forward – a shift the Blazers went to late last season with great success.
Olshey noted the Blazers’ analytics team calculated the Blazers as a 53-54 win team with Farouq at power forward compared to a mid-40’s win team with him at small forward.
Turner, who has started 241 of his 469 career games, said he will first focus on making an impression on his teammates before worrying about what lineup Stotts wants to send out opening night.
“I don’t think anything is really promised at the end of the day,’’ Turner said. “I think I might have to come in, and regardless of what I signed for, I’m going to have to earn my teammates’ respect. I’m going to have to fit in before I do anything else and learn.’’
Turner said his big contract, which raised eyebrows around the league, won’t take away his drive.
“I think you try to fit in best with the situation you are in, and these are hungry guys,’’ Turner said. “I’m a pretty motivated guy, pretty self-driven guy. I try to make the most of each day … I never like to take my foot off the gas.’’
Notes: Turner will wear No. 1 for the Blazers … Turner joins one of the most prolific three-point shooting teams in the NBA. He is a career 30.5 percent shooter from three-point range, which dipped to a career-low 24.1 percent last season. “Coach told me everybody ends up shooting the three better when they get here … so I’m trust him on that,’’ Turner said. “I’ll keep working each day on it. Most importantly, taking the right shots and making right plays and making the right read.’’