Grades: Trail Blazers add Evan Turner as $70 million back-up plan
This is one pricey back-up plan.
The Blazers have agreed to sign unrestricted free agent guard Evan Turner to a four-year contract worth $70 million, according to Yahoo Sports and ESPN. Turner, 27, averaged 10.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG and 4.4 APG while earning $3.4 million in Boston last season.
Two major conditions influenced Portland’s decision to spend big on Turner, a 24.1% three-point shooter who was used off the bench last season by the Celtics and who has never posted an above-average Player Efficiency Rating during his six-year career.
First, Portland needed to quickly spend its available cap space before turning its attention to its three major restricted free agents (Allen Crabbe, Moe Harkless and Meyer Leonard). Second, Blazers GM Neil Olshey appeared to strike out on numerous other targets, including highly-coveted centers like Hassan Whiteside and Dwight Howard as well as small forward Chandler Parsons. The Blazers needed to give someone their money, opting for Turner, a former No. 2 overall pick who does a little bit of everything but nothing great.
After capping a surprisingly successful season by upsetting the injury-ravaged Clippers and advancing to the second round, the Blazers found themselves with two weaknesses to address: the center position and perimeter defense. Turner’s size relative to Portland’s small backcourt tandem of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum should help to a degree on the second front, but he’s hardly a cure-all on that end, especially if Portland’s defensive hole in the middle goes unfilled. What’s more, his weak outside shooting, deliberate style and desire to have the ball in his hands makes him a questionable fit alongside the ball-dominant Lillard and McCollum.
To make this work, Blazers coach Terry Stotts will likely need to get creative with his minutes staggering, giving Turner opportunities to work on the ball against second units. Such an approach could make life easier on Lillard and McCollum, who are both effective scorers whether on or off the ball.
In Olshey’s defense, whiffing completely in free agency would have made the Blazers a prime regression candidate. Portland’s key players enjoyed good health last season, many enjoyed career years, and injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin helped boost them past the first round. Without some kind of talent infusion, a backslide for the Blazers was more likely than not. Turner’s arrival also helps hedge against the possible departure of either Harkless or Crabbe, should their asking prices balloon, and the contract doesn’t extend too far into possible decline.
For a signing of this magnitude, though, a franchise should want to feel like its biggest weakness was resolved. That didn’t happen here, likely forcing the Blazers to continue to rely on Mason Plumlee in the middle. Similarly, one would hope that $70 million, even in this climate, would land an above-average starter. It’s not clear that Turner qualifies on that front, either.
If Turner can’t settle into the right complementary role on offense and if his outside shooting struggles continue in a system that relies heavily on the three, this move, which rightfully raised eyebrows on Friday, has serious backfire potential.