As the Trail Blazers prepare to square off against the Celtics tonight at the TD Garden, the local Boston media welcomes back a friendly, familiar face: Portland guard Evan Turner.
The former No. 2 overall pick out of Ohio State in 2010 registered two of the most productive seasons of his eight-year career with the Celtics, bouncing back after a tough 27-game stint in Indiana in 2013 prior to playing out his rookie contract with the Sixers and failing to live up to lofty expectations in Philadelphia.
In two seasons with the Celtics from 2014-2016, however, he found a place not only as a multi-purpose wing on the court, but also a personality who endeared himself to the fans, players, local media and coaching staff.
ESPN’s Chris Forsberg wrote yesterday that more than a few Boston locals are eagerly awaiting Turner’s first game back in the Garden:
It goes without saying that Boston reporters miss Turner a whole bunch, too. Beyond his love of crafting outrageous stories -- like an entire telepathic conversation he had with Avery Bradley, or comparing himself to Michael Jordan after assisting on a game winner -- Turner accepted his role as team spokesman, in good times and bad. He allowed teammates to focus on basketball while he hypnotized those of us with microphones.
Early in the 2015-16 season, beat reporters started to realize Turner was making up stories. It somehow only made him more endearing. Turner made even the most mundane game seem interesting and had an answer for any topic you threw at him.
Turner took on a leadership role in the Boston locker room and served as an ambassador of sorts to reporters and fans, always keeping everyone entertained with his quirky, light-hearted quips:
Sometimes Turner's fibs led to sheer hilarity. Like when he told reporters that [Boston coach Brad] Stevens was so mad at halftime of a game last season that he went on a tirade and threatened to take away the snacks on the team flight that evening. The story spread quickly and Stevens got a call from his wife, Tracy, demanding he return the in-flight snacks to his players. A confused Stevens didn't know what all the fuss was about until learning about how Turner exaggerated his halftime rant.
"I don’t know that everything was 100 percent true. But I always laughed," Stevens said. "I remember the plane/food thing. I looked at him when he walked on the plane and I was like, ‘You know I didn’t say that! Now I’m going to have to answer that tomorrow.’ But maybe he had conjured up in his mind that I had said that. I wasn’t happy at halftime but I didn’t say that I would hold the food back."
Forsberg reports that the Celtics’ 40-year-old coach couldn’t say enough good things about Turner when asked about his time in Boston.
Added Stevens: "I thought Evan did a great job of representing what we wanted out of our guys and that is, he had a great passion for the game, he worked really hard to get a lot better. He didn’t care with regard to starting or coming off the bench, whatever the case may be. He just wanted to help the team in any way that he could. I think everybody valued him as a great teammate and a guy that made us better."
In the midst of a surprisingly difficult season with the Blazers, Turner hasn’t quite earned the same reputation with fans and media as he did with the Celtics. His numbers with both teams, however, aren’t too far off from each other:
Turner still has over three seasons to earn a place in the hearts of Portland fans, and Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey seemed to echo what many in Boston have said about Turner when he inked the 28-year-old to a $70-million contract in July:
"Evan's skill set on the court and character off the court are ideal additions to our team and the culture we are working to build in Portland," said Olshey. "We expect him to be an impact player on both sides of the ball and are very pleased he chose our organization as his home for the next four years."
To his credit, Turner hasn’t lacked wit this year when speaking to reporters. Back in November, Oregonian Trail Blazers beat reporter Joe Freeman spotted him rocking a flashy fur coat after a game in Brooklyn and asked him about it:
"You've got to bring it in New York. I was just in Soho yesterday, and everybody out there was fresh. I was like, 'I've got to really pick my (stuff) up. That was pretty much it.'"
As Turner sat in front of his stall in the visiting locker room at Barclays, fur coat around his shoulders, pinkie ring attached to his finger, perhaps the only thing missing was a gold crown.
"The little accents that make me a king," he said, joking. "I come with it, you know what I'm saying. In New York, you've got to bring it."
Blazers coach Terry Stotts opted to insert Turner into the starting lineup Friday night against the Sixers, who struggled on his way to just four points and one rebound in the loss, shooting 2-for-10 from the field in 28 minutes. Still, he gathered five assists, and can rest assured knowing he’ll get a warm welcome tonight from not just Celtics players, coaches and media, but the fans, too.
—Chris Lucia | @ChrisLuciaPDX
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