Saying goodbye to the Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes era in Philadelphia

Andrew Unterberger

Yesterday afternoon, Sam Hinkie close the books on an era of basketball you won't read about in too many history books. It began in the summer of 2010, when the Philadelphia 76ers would make two moves that would play a large part in shaping team for the next four seasons. In June, they traded veteran (and well-compensated) center Samuel Dalembert to the Sacramento Kings for their much-hyped (though mostly disappointing) young center Spencer Hawes. Then only half a week later, they selected Evan Turner with the #2 overall pick in the 2010 draft, having lucked into the lottery selection with just the sixth-worst record in the league the previous season. 

Turner and Hawes were expected to couple with recent rookie breakout point guard Jrue Holiday and intriguing tweener forward Thaddeus Young--as well as veterans Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams and Elton Brand, to a lesser extent--to form a young core the Sixers could grow into something, with the recently hired Doug Collins chosen as the softened disciplinarian to get the young kids marching in unison. It worked, to a point---the Sixers made the playoffs each of the next two years and even won a compromised first-round series in 2012, all well ahead of their rebuilding schedule. 

But then veterans were shed, the young talent never quite coalesced as hoped, an over-the-top trade for Andrew Bynum proved a disaster, and the team was again lottery bound in 2013. Suddenly Collins was out, Hinkie and new coach Brett Brown were in, and the 76ers quickly began to embark upon a new era. Hawes and Turner were not the first casualties of the change of administration, but they would be the last and the most gleefully received of the team's veteran dismissals, as the duo were traded yesterday to teams with May and June aspirations, for a trio of second-round picks--the same haul, incidentally, that they got merely for agreeing to take on a couple years and millions' worth of Eric Maynor and Byron Mullens off a couple cash-strapped teams' hands. 

Hawes and Turner deserve to be associated with one another for reasons far beyond the close proximity of their respective arrivals in and eventual departures from the city of Philadelphia. Off the court, they were close friends and somewhat kindred spirits, going to WWE RAW togetherengaging Twitter in their Backstreet vs. NSync debates, even sharing center stage in ex-teammate Jrue Holiday's wedding photo album. When Spencer made headlines just this week as it was revealed that he used toilet paper with President Obama's visage on it, it was Evan "Mudbutt" Turner whose investigative journalism broke the story on Instagram. The two were such obvious peas in a pod that I really hoped that if they were traded at this deadline, that they would at least be traded in a package together--as they nearly were for Josh Smith at last year's deadline--so that they'd be guaranteed to have someone on their new team to make fart jokes and sing Boyz II Men karaoke with. 

But what really forever linked Evan and Spencer was how simultaneously tantalizing and frustrating they were to watch on the court. Both came into the league with a high draft pedigree and a unique, unusual set of talents, which would flash in front of fans just often enough to confirm their existence, but would never sustain for a satisfying period of time. Both seemed to have high basketball IQ, but would still refuse to put a hand up on defense, or get T'd up for arguing foul calls, or miss an obvious rotation and give up an easy dunk or open three-pointer. Both were very skilled passers, but usually put up lousy assist-to-turnover ratios. Both seemed versatile enough to be used in different roles and positions--Collins actually planned to start Hawes at power forward to begin one season--but were so undefined in their talents that they drove coaches crazy and never really locked down anything. 

Worst of all, they would both go through stretches where they would temporarily put it all together. Hawes began the lockout-shortened 2012 season looking like the Most Improved Player front-runner, averaging 14 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two blocks on 65% shooting through his first six games. He went down with an Achilles' injury in mid-January, missed much of February and March, and limped to the end of the season upon his return, averaging just nine points and seven boards on 43% shooting in his last 20 games of the season. It's hard to remember now, but Hawes even began this season looking like an All-Star candidate, averaging 17 points and ten boards on 53% shooting--49% from downtown!!--with three assists and two blocks through the year's first three weeks, before crashing back down to earth and averaging eight and eight on just 33% shooting in his final eight games as a Sixer. 

Turner's swings were even more dramatic. He had three separate stretches as a Sixer where he seemed like he had finally seen the light: One five-game run of 20/10 play in March of 2012 that seemed like his national breakout, one month-plus in early '12-'13 where he averaged an 18/7/5 on 47% shooting (and 46% from three--a rare hot stretch from three) and appeared to have emerged as a regular contributor for the Sixers, and the first 20 games of this season, where he averaged over 21 points a game on efficient shooting, and really seemed on his way to being one of the East's best young shooting guards. Each run was longer than the one that preceded it, but each hot streak has been followed by a longer regressional march back to the mean, in which we watched all the positive developments slip away and the true Evan Turner--the inefficient gunner with countless bad habits and zero self-awarness--re-emerge. 

This was life with Spencer and Evan. They gave you reason to hope for a better tomorrow, but never enough to feel totally safe from a miserable today. When things were good with them, the elation you felt at watching your young players take the next step was always counterbalanced by the crippling anxiety of waiting for the other shoe to drop. When one of them had a bad game after a stretch of quality games, you wondered if it might be weeks, months, before you ever saw Good Evan or Good Spencer again. You got mad at yourself for letting yourself get used to them in the first place, again. You should have known better by now. 

Ultimately, it just wasn't worth it. After four years with the Sixers, with a couple different coaches, many different teammates and just about every team scenario possible surrounding them--rebuilding team, playoff team, surprise success team, tanking team--we'd run out of patience and excuses. If it hadn't happened by now, it probably just wasn't going to happen with these guys. This season was the final straw: As great as the opening season run was, with both Spence and Evan putting up electrifying numbers and hitting countless big shots as the Sixers exceeded all November expectations, to watch it slowly bleed away for both guys until now, when they're both once again putting up the same kind of pedestrian overall numbers they always have (though amplified through greater usage)...enough already. We couldn't go through this dance again. It was time to move on. 

And so yesterday, Sam Hnkie and the Philadelphia 76ers finally divested themselves of the services of Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner. The Hawes deal was fair enough--not sure why Cleveland wanted him so badly, considering they already have Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller, but whatever, they want to give up two second-round picks for him, we'll take 'em. A first-rounder would have been preferable, but one or both of the picks could be in the top half of the second round, and that's probably about as good as we could do at the deadline for him, and when you throw in a couple buy-low guys with potential remaining upside in Henry Sims and Earl Clark (who the Sixers waived immediately, why not), it's a decent haul for an average big man. 

The Turner deal bugs me a little, though. As rocky as his relationship with fans and media were over the course of his four years, he was still an important member of the last four Sixer squads, one responsible for some big moments in recent franchise history. He had some unsavory moments of entitlement, and he was often downright delusional in his bottomless self-confidence, but he was generally a good Sixers representative, and always a good teammate. He's not gonna get his jersey retired anytime soon, but he definitely doesn't deserve to be booed upon his return visit. (He might, though--he ever got booed in his last game as a Sixer when he started 1-9 from the field. We're a booing fanbase, for better or worse.)

For Evan to be gift-wrapped to the Pacers, along with big man Lavoy Allen, with zero personnel return--Danny Granger will almost certainly be bought out, and watching him on this Sixers squad would be too depressing to contemplate anyway--and only a sole, likely late 2015 second-rounder via Golden State as a future intangible, seems a little insulting to both his time on the Sixers and the fans that watched him for all those years. Yeah, the internet loves to joke about Hinkie and MOAR SECOND-ROUNDERS, but in reality, they're still fringe assets, and it'd be surprising (if not totally impossible) if it actually turned into anything for Philly. Without giving the Sixers any cap relief or opportunity to play other players--there's nobody else to play, really--it's hard to view this trade as anything but the Sixers trading Evan for the sake of trading him. 

And the sad part is, you're not likely to get much protest from Sixer fans or writers on that front. Patience had gotten so thin with Evan--Philly writer and radio personality Spike Eskin promised that he would literally be dead from sadnessif Turner survived the deadline as a Sixer--that many will see him being gone as a positive in and of itself, regardless of the minimal return. And while Charles Barkley can say this trade puts Indiana over the top in the Eastern Conference, and Sporting News can talk about the message the trade sends to Miami about Indy's title intentions, Pacer fans would be wise to take a listen to the loud, obnoxious cackling sounds of Sixer fans in the background--like, all of them--before they get too excited about what the new acquisition means for their team. 

In any event, they're both another team's enticing, enthralling, and ultimately hair-greying problem now. As in any relationship that goes on too long, you reach a point as a fan of certain players where every single thing they does starts to piss you off, and Sixer fans had long reached and breached that point with Evan and Spence. I hope that in their next stops, as reserves on (ostensibly) better teams, their fans never have to get to know them quite that well, and that if the two move on shortly after--both players are free agents in the summer, and likely to sign elsewhere--it's at least viewed by fans and management with a little more trepidation than it was in Philly. The Hawes/Turner era of Sixer basketball wasn't always great--and it was often frustrating as hell--but it deserved a little less-depressing an ending than this.