This is a public plea for the Cavs to kick the tires on Evan Turner. To listen to most of the experts, Turner will go down as one of the biggest flops of the last decade. That’s probably a bit unfair; Turner has been starting for the past couple of years, which is more than Derrick Williams or Darko Milicic–other No. 2 overall picks–have ever been able to claim, and he has avoided arrest and attitude issues, unlike Michael Beasley, another No. 2. There is nothing in the numbers he has put up that in and of itself has been atrocious. Still, Turner has done little to separate himself from replacement-level starters at his position, which can’t be what the 76ers were hoping for when they drafted him.
Now, however, multiple circumstances have come to pass which make Turner a potential bargain for the Cavs.
First, he is coming to the end of his rookie contract, which means that Philadelphia will soon have to choose between giving him a big-money extension or letting him go for nothing.
Second, Philadelphia is in full-throttle tank mode, which means that even a marginally good player like Turner could cause them to accidentally win too many games. Teams in that situation would prefer to find truly atrocious players who are not making much money, so Turner no longer fits their plans.
Third, Turner is a wing player who has the size and athleticism to play small forward. That position has been a black hole in Cleveland since you-know-who left town. If Turner can duplicate his numbers from Philadelphia, he would be the best small forward in Cleveland since LeBron.
Of course, the Cavs would not be trading for Turner expecting him to duplicate his Philadelphia performance. Those who saw him at Ohio State still have hopes that the triple-double machine from his college days will resurface, that Turner will develop into the poor man’s Grant Hill that we expected and be a vital cog in future championship contenders. But here’s what is great about this situation: There is really no downside for the Cavs. There is nobody on the current roster right now that you feel great about playing 30 minutes a night at small forward.
Let’s say the 76ers want a first-round pick for him. Make it in some future year when the Cavs are hopefully drafting late and the draft isn’t stacked like 2014. The Cavs can bring him on, give him 30 minutes a night, and see what happens. If it turns out that he’s just a guy–nothing special–you decline the option on his contract for 2015 and hope that by then Anthony Bennett or Sergey Karasev is ready to take over at small forward. Or maybe you flip him at the deadline to a team that wants to create cap space and get an asset in return. But if Turner figures it out, especially if his jumper becomes a weapon instead of a liability, the Cavs could have another piece of the puzzle without breaking up their young core.
The Cavs are getting to the point where opportunities to help themselves through the draft are going to be less available. At least they are at the point where drafting in the top 10 would indicate that something has gone terribly wrong. Unless Chris Grant is confident that LeBron James or any other superstar free agent will jump at the opportunity to come to Cleveland, future improvements to the roster will come through finding undervalued assets and hoping that they exceed expectations. Signing Andrew Bynum was a perfect example of this strategy. Trading for Evan Turner would be another.