Evan Turner’s high school coach was a legendary sort, working a half-century at St. Joseph just west of Chicago. Gene Pingatore died last week at 83.
Pingatore’s relationship with his players could be paternal and profound. “He was a pillar of safety and love,” Turner recalled.
Yet the coach’s maxims — the words echoing past his death — could be quite simplistic and portable. “He always said, ‘You’ll never win with jerks,’ ” Turner said.
On that proper note, Turner was introduced Friday as a Hawk, acquired from Portland in a trade that sent Kent Bazemore west. Besides being the last survivor from and key contributor to the Hawks 60-win, 2014-15 team, Bazemore was a popular figure out there where the athlete and the real world intersect. That’s nothing to be lightly dismissed.
“Baze, to his credit, has done a lot for the city,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said Friday. “That’s what you’re going to miss, a guy who did a lot not only for our organization but for the city of Atlanta. We’re not asking Evan to come in and replace what he did for the city. We’re asking Evan to come in and be his own version of what he can be for the team and the organization.”
By all accounts, the Hawks got in return a player who understands the importance of not being a jerk. They and the Trail Blazers exchanged players of similar exorbitant pay (Bazemore making $19.3 million, Turner $18.6 million, both contracts expiring at season’s end). And similar solid temperament.
Portland bid Turner farewell with stories of his generosity toward his younger teammates and his willingness to play whatever role the Trail Blazers required. He didn’t always like how coach Terry Stotts deployed him, but he kept a lot of that to himself. And, meanwhile, he paid forward the gestures that veterans had shown him when breaking into the NBA with Philadelphia — like picking up the tab for informal team meals and even having a couple rookies measured for new tailored suits that he bought them.
As he sidled up to the media gaggle around Turner Friday, Pierce threw out a question of his own for his new player: “We hear you take players out (to dinner). But do you take coaches out?”
In response, Turner had a question of his own for Pierce: “I was about to ask you to give me 15-20 shots a night, and to be the focal point of our offense.”
“Evan’s got personality. The locker room will be live. I want that,” said Pierce, who worked with him those first years in Philly.
Explaining his approach in Portland, Turner said, “I was just being who I was. Make sure I’m a decent person. Try to make sure I’m an accountable teammate. When you try to do better it impacts others. I think sometimes people appreciate it. Bigger picture, it’s always about winning (which Portland did, all the way to the Western Conference final).”
He’ll have an opportunity to show off his largesse when he goes out for a brief, get-acquainted visit to the NBA Summer League (July 5-15). It will be a one-day thing, that’s all he said. Vegas just doesn’t suit his personality, another reason to believe him a dependable sort.
“I don’t like being finessed,” he said.
That and the climate. “You’re walking around with swamp (butt) as soon as you get off the plane,” he said.
The skill sets that the Hawks and the Blazers exchanged make up the real difference that defines the trade. Portland hopes for more punch from the perimeter — Turner, who shot just 21 percent on 11-of-52 from beyond the arc last season — has not shown himself a particularly enthusiastic or effective 3-point shooter. Yet, at a nimble 6-7, Turner perhaps can find more roles to fill in Atlanta — all the way from backing up Trae Young at the point to playing power forward in certain small, quick alignments. Coming off a career-low in minutes played last year, he should respond well to any chance to get on the floor.
Asked what he might be able to show in Atlanta that he didn’t at the end in Portland, Turner said, “When it comes down to not being one of the focal points you have to show it in waves. So, there are times when I show my defense, times when I show my play-making abilities, times when I show my scoring. Here, we’ll see how I’ll be used. But I guess maybe I can show it all at once, as opposed to certain parts. All that doesn’t matter unless you win.”
Turning 31 at the start of the season, Turner will be on a roster overflowing with first and second-year players. There’s value to his experience. “I’ve seen a lot. My poise and approach to the game can help out a little bit,” he said. “I’m not going to come over and try to overly big-brother people, just be a great teammate.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to win. Whenever you have team-oriented guys it helps you get way better.”
Just a hunch based on first impression, but let’s go ahead and declare that the Hawks are going to like Evan Turner. The fan base will, too.