Who would have thought when the season began that Evan Turner would end up becoming one of the most indispensable players for the Boston Celtics?
No, Turner was far from being the best player on the team, while some would argue he may not even crack the top-5 on this roster. Turner's value stems from his ability to contribute in ways that few others on this team can.
Turner's 10.5 points per game isn't particularly impressive, but it was enough to make him the leading scorer on a deep Celtics bench. His primary instinct isn't usually to score, but he's the only one on this team, outside of Isaiah Thomas, capable of creating his own shot when he needs to do so.
One of Turner's most valuable assets is his versatility. He can guard multiple positions and fill a variety of different roles on the other end of the court. Often times the Celtics entrusted him as the primary ball handler when Thomas wasn't on the court, as he was the team's best option to run the offense when their All-Star point guard needed a breather.
When Avery Bradley went down with an injury in Game 1 of the Celtics' first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, it was Turner that stepped into the starting lineup to take his place. Starters are leaned on more in the postseason, which made it easier for coach Brad Stevens to stagger the minutes of Turner and Thomas to ensure at least one of them was usually on the floor to run the offense.
When the two did share the floor, Stevens looked to Turner mid-way through the series to bring the ball up. When it was Thomas handling the ball we saw the Hawks attacking him with as many as three defenders, blocking his path to the basket and choking the life out of Boston's offense. Having Turner take care of the ball-handling duties allowed Thomas to play off the ball, where he could slip around screens and get open without being suffocated by double and triple teams. This made Thomas's life easier, while also improving the spacing for the offense by having him floating around the perimeter, which became essential with Bradley out and Kelly Olynyk hampered by a shoulder injury.
Turner is a jack-of-all-trades. He doesn't dominate in any particular area, but he's solid in pretty much all of them. The one area he struggles with is his outside shooting, but he's deadly from mid-range and quietly produced an efficient season, shooting a career-high 45.6 percent from the floor.
The Celtics find themselves at a cross roads with Turner as he enters free agency. It's clear that his coach is a fan and would be in favor of bringing him back.
"I love Evan Turner," Brad Stevens told the Boston Globe's Adam Himmelsbach. "I think he's a great teammate. I think he's a hard worker. I think he loves basketball. I don't think you can overvalue that."
Turner proved to be a valuable commodity off the bench, finishing 5th in the voting for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award. On the other hand, if the Celtics are going to take the next step, they are going to need to upgrade this roster with star-caliber talent. As valuable as Turner has been, he's not that guy. Ideally the Celtics will target a wing player that does a lot of the same things Turner does, only better. Preferably one that can be a go-to scoring option and a more reliable shooter.
Boston could attempt to swing a trade for an All-Star like Jimmy Butler or Paul George. Or they may hang on to that valuable Brooklyn pick if it helps them land a stud prospect like Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram. If you're an extreme optimist, perhaps you're still holding out hope that Kevin Durant is an option. There are numerous possibilities for Danny Ainge to explore this summer, but if he does manage to add one of these targets then it could mitigate Turner's role or make him expendable.
The Celtics would probably like to have Turner back if they can get him to sign a reasonable deal, but the rising salary cap ensures there will be plenty of teams flush with cash this summer. With a limited number of top-tier players to spend it on, the lower tier guys are bound to benefit from the trickle down effect. A team that strikes out on their top free agent choices may offer Turner a deal the Celtics aren't comfortable matching simply because that team has to spend their money somewhere.
If the opportunity to bring in a max-contract player or two comes along, Turner could become a cap causality. If not, then the Celtics will consider re-signing him, but the goal should be to look for an upgrade.