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NBA PM: Turner Getting Acclimated With Pacers

Evan Turner is getting acclimated with the Indiana Pacers. Could he be the piece that puts Indiana over the edge this season? … Mike Woodson defends himself and says he’s still the man for the New York Knicks head coaching job

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Turner Getting Acclimated With Pacers

Evan Turner understands his role on the Indiana Pacers.

For the first half of the 2013-14 season, the former No. 2 overall pick was the Philadelphia 76ers’ go-to scorer. He was averaging a career-high 17.4 points and consistently putting up solid numbers in losing efforts. Philadelphia was putting the ball in his hands and showcasing him in an effort to raise his trade value before the Feb. 20 deadline.

Now, after being traded to the Pacers in exchange for Danny Granger and a 2015 second-round pick, he’s adjusting to the new situation. For the first time in three years, Turner isn’t a full-time starter. He’s coming off of Indiana’s bench and he’s far from the team’s top option; he’s now below Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West, Lance Stephenson and George Hill in the Pacers’ pecking order.

Turner has been tasked with creating offense in the second unit, playing passable defense, providing energy as a reserve and spelling Indiana’s starting core. The 25-year-old is thrilled with the change of scenery because he’s once again winning games, something that didn’t happen all too often in Philly this season.

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“It’s always great to win,” Turner told reporters. “That’s why you play. I’m a competitor. It’s great to win, man. I’m definitely happy. When you go through rough patches like we did in Philly, sometimes you appreciate every little one you get. … Hopefully I’ll earn my minutes and be able to play. 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. I’m just going to try to fit in and earn minutes.”

Turner’s new teammates are excited about his arrival and believe that he can help them in their quest to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy this year. The Pacers are determined to get past the Miami HEAT this year and win the team’s first NBA championship (to go along with the franchise’s three ABA titles).

“Evan Turner’s a hell of a player, man,” 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. … He is a creator and a shot maker and really he’s not even forcing shots. We are going to need everybody. One of the strengths of our team is having a bunch of guys that can make plays. … I thought we already had (the NBA’s deepest bench) and we just got a little bit stronger. We got a little more heady, IQ-wise. ET’s a high IQ guy in terms of his basketball sense. It’s just (getting better) for us.”

“He’s a creator, just like me,” Stephenson said of Turner. “When we play together, something’s going to happen. I like the second unit like that. He’s got a little shake and bake in his package. It’s going to be fun. There’s going to be a lot of highlights. As long as we do it within the game and we’re winning, Coach is all for it.”

“It’s really important,” George said of having Turner to strengthen the bench. “We went through a little struggle (scoring) last season with the second unit. It’s just tough. … It’s going to be huge for us going forward, deep into the playoffs.”

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A number of Pacers made it clear that Turner must be willing to make sacrifices, just as his teammates have done in Indiana in order to contend. Turner must put the team above his himself and accept his slightly diminished role.

So far, that hasn’t been an issue. Turner is ecstatic to be suiting up for a championship-caliber team for the first time in his career. He has played five games with the Pacers, averaging 9.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 22.2 minutes. He hasn’t been shooting the ball particularly well, but he has shown flashes. For example, in a recent win over the Boston Celtics, he contributed 17 points off of the bench.

Turner knows that he still has a lot to learn as he gets used to his new team, city, system and role. Fortunately for him, the Pacers are a close-knit team that is very welcoming. They have one focus in mind – winning a championship – and they’re very accepting of players who can help them achieve that goal.

Head coach Frank Vogel has been impressed with Turner. Having such a talented player coming off of the bench gives Vogel some options during games, and it’s something he’s looking forward to playing with.

“He’s a good basketball player,” Vogel said of Turner. “He has good savvy, good IQ, he understands his teammates and picks things up quickly. He looked comfortable. [We have] good balance amongst the starters and Evan Turner [gives] us a big lift throughout the whole game, but in particular down the stretch.”

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“He does a little bit of everything,” Pacers team president Larry Bird said. “He can play multiple positions. I like the way he handles the ball, moves the ball. … 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.”

Turner has admitted that he’s been “kind of shocked” with how often Vogel has called his number and put the ball in his hands, but that just shows how confident the head coach is in his new player.

Indiana could’ve rested on their laurels and entered the playoffs with the same team, but instead they chose to bolster their roster with Turner, Andrew Bynum and Lavoy Allen and go all-in on this season.

Mike Woodson Defends Himself

This season, New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson has been a lightning rod for criticism, and deservedly so. The team has underachieved (to put it lightly), and they currently sit at 21-40, which puts them in the awful Eastern Conference’s 11th seed. Missing the playoffs in the dreadful East with the league’s second-highest salary is almost impressive.

While Woodson admits that he has “failed” this season, he defended himself and said he still thinks the job should be his.

“I still think I was the guy for the job and I still think I’m the guy for the job,” Woodson told the New York Post.

When asked if he was no longer reaching the players, Woodson seemed to put the blame on his players, saying that his message is getting through but that the guys aren’t delivering on the floor.

“When you lose, everybody tends to reach,” Woodson said. “Sometimes you might send the wrong message. I think you learn a lot about your basketball team when you do lose. They learn a lot about each other. The character changes a little bit. We’ve had some struggle, a lot of struggles. I don’t think they’re tuning me out. They’re still listening, but just not getting it done on the basketball floor.

“That’s the frustrating part of it. We’re in games. We’re competing. Then all of a sudden we forget how to compete. That’s strange as hell from a coaching standpoint. We got to keep working through it. I’m not going to quit. That’s just not my nature. I hope these guys don’t quit. I don’t think they are quitting.”

The Knicks weren’t supposed to be a bottom feeder in the East this season, after winning 54 games last year and finishing with the conference’s No. 2 seed. That’s why this season has been so frustrating for Woodson.

“It’s a major challenge,” Woodson said. “There’s no doubt about that. You come into the season after experiencing two wonderful seasons, which the Knicks haven’t done in some years and go through a season like this, it’s been very, very challenging for me. I’m a realist. I look at all the different things that’s happened. I try to put it in proper perspective.

“I’ve tried to deal with it on a day-to-day basis and still try to get the team up to speed and where they need to be as a team on the floor. I feel like I’ve failed somewhat in that area. But again, at the end of the day, we still have a shot. My thought process will never change as far as me being a coach here.”

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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