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Turner Hoping To “Fit In”

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

February 23, 2014

The most important quote of the year so far among the Pacers goes to Evan Turner, who made his practice debut with his new teammates on Sunday.

“Hopefully I'll earn my minutes and be able to play,” he said.

“I'm going to keep my eyes and my ears open. Try to walk the way they walk and get used to their foundation and standards.”

Turner – the centerpiece of the transaction that sent Danny Granger to Philadelphia for Turner and Lavoy Allen and forced the release of Orlando Johnson – was a consensus first-team All-American in college, the national player of the year according to some organizations, the second pick in the 2010 NBA draft, and Philadelphia's leading scorer this season (17.4). He's accustomed not only to starting, but to starring.

So, can he fit in as a role player likely to get 20-25 minutes off the bench?

Whether or not he backs up his words with action and attitude likely will be the key to the success of the deal.

Turner and Allen participated in a pre-practice video session and then went through the halfcourt offense along with Andrew Bynum, Donald Sloan and Solomon Hill Sunday afternoon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Turner will be thrown into the fray on Tuesday against the visiting Los Angeles Lakers and get Granger's backup minutes at small forward – probably 20-25 according to coach Frank Vogel. Allen will not be in the playing rotation at first.

Team president Larry Bird, who executed the trade deadline deal, likes the versatility Turner brings to the Pacers' offense. Granger had become little more than a jump shooter following his knee surgery last season, unable to create shots for himself or finish drives to the basket. Turner is not as good a three-point threat, hitting just 28 percent of those shots, but can score in more ways.

“He does a little bit of everything,” Bird said on Sunday. “He can play multiple positions. I like the way he handles the ball, moves the ball.

“It's hard to compare the two, but I think it's a good fit for us. The more we go along, the more you'll see what he can do for this team.”

Paul George, the Pacers' leading scorer, welcomes the addition of Turner. They became friends while preparing for the 2010 draft, and have remained in contact since then. As long as Turner is willing to give up some minutes and shots, George believes it will work out well.

“He's got to be able to make that sacrifice,” George said. “A lot of guys did on this team, so it's no different for him. He's got to do that as well to start off and we'll go from there.”

There's irony to Turner joining a team led by George. Turner was the second pick in the 2010 draft. He' s played well, but has not received individual recognition in the NBA beyond playing in the Rising Stars game over All-Star Weekend two seasons. George, who was drafted 10th, was voted the league's Most Improved Player a year ago and is a two-time All-Star – a starter this season.

Asked about that on Sunday, George interrupted the questioner and pointed out that Turner is “now on my team.”

It's George's team more than anyone else's, and Turner will have to live with that.

Turner, though, brings intriguing talent and potential to the Pacers' bench. And he's not that far removed from coming off the bench, having started just 14 games as a rookie and 20 the following season.

“It is what it is,” he said. “I'm just going to try to fit in and earn minutes.”

The most intriguing thing about Turner is his fearlessness. He scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 30 minutes off the bench in his first NBA game. He had a double-double in his first start. He scored 31 earlier this season against Cleveland, and hit a game-tying shot with 8.7 seconds left in the first overtime. He also scored a career-high 34 against the Knicks on Jan. 22. And, he hit game-winning buzzer beaters against the Nets and the Celtics this season.

He also hit a 37-foot game-winning three-pointer to beat Michigan in the first round of the Big Ten tournament at Bankers Life four years ago, his junior year at Ohio State.

“I had a great weekend that weekend,” Turner said. “Hopefully I have a great few months (here).”

If the Pacers make as deep a playoff run as they hope, Turner should have plenty of opportunities to hit more big shots.

“Evan Turner's a helluva player, man,” David West said. “I think he's going to help us tremendously. He adds a shot-creator and he's a big-moment guy. People overlook that about him. He's hit some game-winners. He's not scared of those moments.”

Allen Will Have To Be Patient

Allen will have to make an even greater sacrifice than Turner, at least at first. After averaging 18.8 minutes per game with the 76ers this season, he'll likely be out of the rotation with the Pacers unless a power forward is injured.

He knows that, and prefers it to playing a lot of minutes with a losing team.

“This team has been together for awhile,” he said. “I think it's going to take some time to get in there. That just means I have to be prepared and come in here and get some extra conditioning and be ready when my name is called.”

Allen averaged 5.2 points and 5.4 rebounds with Philadelphia, and scored a career-high 20 at Sacramento last season. But he's known primarily for defense. He had an eye-opening turn against Kevin Garnett in the second round of the playoffs two years ago, when the 76ers were within one game of reaching the conference finals.

“That's definitely something I pride myself in,” he said. “That's one of the reasons I've made it this far.”

Allen – the 50th player taken in the 2011 draft – drew high praise from 76ers teammate Andre Iguodala during that series.

“He's definitely shown up big for us in these playoffs," Iguodala said then. “He's one of those under-the-radar guys coming out of the draft, kind of like Paul Millsap or Carlos Boozer. Coming out, they just fell under the radar. Then when you put them in a position to just do their job, they excel.”

The consensus among the Pacers is that you can never have enough capable big men, and Allen add another to their roster.

“He's a good player, not just a throw-in,” Vogel said.

But What About The Chemistry?

The Pacers seemed to have outstanding chemistry this season, both on the court and in the locker room. Now that they've shaken up the roster, adding Bynum, Turner and Allen and subtracting Granger and Johnson, they're a different team.

Most league observers agree they have more talent after the transactions. But will they get along as well? Will they play together as well.

“We have a great group of guys already who like one another and like playing with one another and are like brothers in there, so I'm sure they're going to accept that and fit right in with us,” George Hill said.

“We'll be fine,” West added. “Andrew's been here for three weeks and he's fit in fine. Lavoy and Evan are good guys. They understand what's expected of them. Our locker room is strong. There's not going to be a lot of room for guys coming in slacking. Everyone knows their responsibility.”

Bird, who made the deals that altered the makeup, is not concerned.

“You never know, but I don't worry about that stuff,” he said. “I played on a lot of teams and we made a lot of changes. I can remember (Celtics team president Red Auerbach) called me in and traded my best friend on the team. I was upset about it until I found out who he had traded him for. Then I was very happy.”

Bird declined to say who that friend was. The best guess is that it was Rick Robey, who was traded for Dennis Johnson before the 1983-84 season. Robey and Bird were tight, but Johnson helped the Celtics to two more championships during Bird's career. Bird called him the best teammate he had ever had.

More Praise For Orlando

Bird joined the chorus of praise for Orlando Johnson, who had to be dropped to make room on the roster for Turner and Allen.

Bird had moved up in the 2012 draft to take Johnson, and gave him a two-year guaranteed contract, rare for a second-round pick. But a sacrifice had to be made to execute Thursday's trade with Philadelphia.

“It was very difficult,” Bird said. “One of the nicest kids you'll ever meet. Very hard worker. Maybe in the future we can get him back here. There's no guarantee, but you never know what's going to happen.”

Johnson sent the following tweet after his release:


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