Stephen A. Smith: Drafting Turner a necessary next step for 76ers

Posted: June 22, 2010

The NBA draft is approximately 48 hours away, and here's what we know about where the 76ers are right now:

They've got the No. 2 pick in the draft. Barring a blockbuster offer, the Sixers are not about to trade that pick; they will take Ohio State's Evan Turner, instead.

New head coach Doug Collins is not running the show. That responsibility still falls on the shoulders of president-general manager Ed Stefanski. But since Stefanski still hasn't received an official vote of confidence from chairman Ed Snider and his cohorts, potential chaos lurks perpetually around the corner. Stefanski is making the decisions even as he dangles in the wind.

Welcome to the Sixers' interpretation of progress.

"We're looking forward to the draft," Stefanski told me a few days ago. "We like a few people we've talked to. [Turner] is definitely one of those people. He simply knows how to play the game of basketball. Whatever decision we make, whatever direction we go in, we would hope to go in the direction of a player of his caliber. You'll have to wait until Thursday to see who that player is."

When you're the Sixers, you have no choice but to pick a player of Turner's caliber, and it has very little to do with the two triple-doubles he registered against suspect competition last season or the 20 points per game he averaged in the Big Ten.

Every NBA scout worth his salt applauds Turner's basketball IQ, his scoring ability, and the potential for him to play shooting guard, small forward, and point guard.

Almost in unison, NBA scouts have said Turner "has a great feel for the game. He's the most skilled player in the draft behind [expected No. 1 pick] Kentucky's John Wall. The question is not whether he's the right pick for the Sixers."

Essentially, it's whether they can take a talent like Turner and put the right pieces in place for him to shine.

"I have no doubt that they can and they will," Turner told me just days ago. "It would be one thing if I were some one-dimensional ballplayer, but I'm not. I consider myself versatile. I'm not a scorer or a rebounder anymore than I'm a point guard or shooting guard. I'm a ballplayer. That's what I pride myself on being. And I work on my game every single day to prove just that. Nothing will change in that regard."

Give Turner credit for this much: Evidently, he does his homework.

The Sixers' troubles are arguably the worst-kept secret in the NBA. Everyone knows they have a potential star in Andre Iguodala, who still has a ways to go before validating that status. They also know the Sixers, outside of Iguodala, have absolutely nothing else close to that right now.

Last year's rookie point guard Jrue Holiday doesn't suffice, at least as of yet. Elton Brand will never be that all-star caliber forward again, no matter how stubborn the Sixers are in reaching this realization.

Whatever potential Thaddeus Young has is, somewhat, inhibited by Iguodala's presence. If newly acquired center Spencer Hawes and forward Andres Nocioni were that much to brag about, they'd still be in Sacramento. And is there really anyone else worth talking about with these Sixers?

"Actually, that remains to be seen," Stefanski continued. "And I wouldn't rule out any possibilities. We've got our work cut out for us; there's no doubt about that. But a majority of the talent that's on this roster was in the playoffs a couple of years ago. Now we've got a great new coach, some of those parts still remain, we've added offense and toughness with the Samuel Dalembert trade [Hawes and Nocioni], and we've got the No. 2 pick in the draft. I'll say this much: I don't think things are looking down."

Hiring Collins, an astute basketball mind if ever there was one, was a step in the right direction. Keeping Stefanski on board, albeit precariously, hasn't hurt, either. Both situations, combined with Dalembert's departure, demonstrate Snider meant precisely what he said was opining: "We are not happy with this [Sixers] situation. We expected much better than a 27-55 season. We didn't get it, and we will address it. No matter who it hurts."

That statement immediately followed the end of last season. Since that time, the Sixers appear to be doing everything to make amends.

Snider said they'll "never stand pat and accept mediocrity." The cynic in us all would argue it has certainly appeared that way for far too many years.

So all we can do is wait and see. Starting Thursday.


Contact columnist Stephen A. Smith at 215-854-5846 or ssmith@phillynews.com.

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