After the Philadelphia 76ers traded him in a last-second deal at the deadline, the objective and role for Turner changed in a flash.
In Philadelphia, Turner was one of the best talents on the roster. Along with that came certain privileges, like buffet-style shot attempts in a run-and-gun offense and plenty of opportunities to handle the ball.
Because losing was often a foregone conclusion in Philadelphia, Turner was free to play like a basketball mercenary, boosting his own stats first and foremost.
That's not to say that Turner was overly selfish, but rather to point out where the priorities were. The writing on the wall was fairly easy for everyone to see, after all. First-year general manager Sam Hinkie was rebuilding completely, and the former No. 2 overall pick in the draft wasn't a part of the future plans.
That point was of course reiterated when Turner was shipped out for Danny Granger (who was later bought out) and a 2015 second-round pick. The evaluation of Turner by other teams couldn't have been much higher, as you'd have to assume that Philadelphia would have taken a better pick if it was at all available.
It emerged shortly after trade deadline that San Antonio tried hard to make deadline-day play for Evan Turner. Funny how things work out— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) March 12, 2014
While it's not atypical for a trade deadline acquisition stepping into a big role to stumble, you have to understand how drastic of an adjustment period Turner must be going through.
Going from a young, terrible team to a more veteran, elite squad must be quite the culture shock in its own right, but what Turner is being asked to do has changed dramatically as well, despite what he told Fran Blinebury of NBA.com recently:
“It’s definitely the kind of situation you want to be in, playing real meaningful games late in the season,” Turner said. “It’s not like I’m coming in trying to change anything about my game or about this team. It’s about me keeping my eyes and ears open to learn about the culture here and trying to fit in.”
Turner's comments are a bit contradictory, aren't they? He's not trying to change anything about his game, but yet he's trying to fit in. The issue is that Turner's game as we grew to know it in Philadelphia requires massive changes in order to fit in with what Indiana does.
No longer is Turner playing with D-League fodder. He's playing with a championship caliber roster. No longer can he fly the ball up and down the court, as Indiana is 19th in pace compared to Philadelphia, who ranks first in the category. No longer can he simply take possessions off defensively, either, which is something he was awfully prone to do in Philadelphia. That simply won't fly in Indiana.
Honestly, if you were to make a Venn diagram of what Indiana and Philadelphia have in common, there would very little overlap.
So while the sentiment of Turner not wanting to do anything different is a nice one, it's also completely out of touch with reality. He has to change just about everything, from his attitude to his style of play to his role, all on the fly.
That's not the worst thing for him, though. As Bradford Doolittle explains at ESPN.com (Subscription Only), Turner has had a rough start to his career, even with his gaudy average of 17.9 points a game in Philly this season:
(...)Turner just hasn't been very good as an NBA player. Among those with at least 5,000 minutes played since he came into the league in 2010, his 12.2 career PER ranks 171st of 184 players. It's not that he lacks talent, but in basketball, it's not so much what you can do, but what you actually do. In Turner's case, his above-average volume was a liability, given his level of inefficiency. It has been the story of Turner's disappointing career, and it's a problem that throws a wild card into the well-established atmosphere of the Indiana locker room.
Turner shouldn't be made a scapegoat for Indiana's recent struggles, but the Pacers are just 5-4 with him in the lineup.
As it stands right now, the narrative surrounding Turner is overwhelmingly negative. There was nothing he could do to shake the opinion that was he was putting up empty stats in Philadelphia, but at least now he has a chance to flip the script on a contending team.
For the sake of his career and upcoming contract, it's an opportunity that can't be squandered. It's dangerous to write him off so early, but his recent play hasn't inspired much confidence. Here's Fran Blinebury again on NBA.com:
The trade was made, at least in part, to eventually give the Pacers a hedge for the future when Stephenson becomes a free agent next summer. But it will only be judged by what it does to either solidify a bid to win it all or create new problems. When the playoffs begin, it’s likely that Turner’s opportunities to have the ball in his hands and make something happen will shrink. It will then be more about being a complementary part, not a role with which he’s ever been comfortable.
It may still be early in the adjustment period, but it already feels late.
Truth is, the general opinion of a player can change in just a few short games when the spotlight is brighter and everyone is watching. If Turner catches fire against, say, the Miami Heat? His value will skyrocket, and teams will start to talk themselves into his pedigree and talent this offseason.
Why that's particularly important for Turner is because his future is so uncertain. It would seem that Indiana's first priority will be re-signing unrestricted free agent Lance Stephenson this offseason, and to do so, it may swallow up all of Indiana's room under the luxury tax line.
Does Evan Turner help or hurt the Pacers' chances at a title?
Assuming that Indiana wants to stay out of the tax, as almost all small market teams do, that might put Turner on the back burner. Because he'll be due a qualifying offer of $8.7 million just to become a restricted free agent, Indiana may end up passing altogether on offering that, again depending on what happens this postseason.
Whether it's restricted or unrestricted, Turner will be headed to free agency this offseason. We've seen less-heralded players earn big contracts after great playoff performances in the past (James Posey and Jerome James, for example), and it's not out of the question that Turner will find a way to do the same. Given his pedigree, teams may also be a little more willing to believe their eyes this postseason rather than rely on all the data available.
There is no denying that there is definite talent present. Finding a way to properly channel it into consistent production has proven to be difficult, but helping an elite team get even better would go a long way in changing popular opinion.
Many general managers have probably wondered whether Turner could help them get over the top. This is his best chance to show them that he can.