Pacers’ Myles Turner remains focused despite Lakers, Clippers trade rumors

LOS ANGELES β€” When Indiana Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard sunk a 3-point win over LeBron James to stun the Los Angeles Lakers 116-115 on Monday, the win seemed to lift the Pacers’ spirits. It gave Indiana its 12th win of the season; Only six teams have more wins than the Pacers when the 2022-23 season hits their quarter poles.

Pacers center Myles Turner, whose missed 3-pointer was rebounded by Tyrese Haliburton to put Nembhard on the dagger, celebrated the walk-off victory.

As the Lakers game began, Turner and teammate Buddy Hield have been the focus of ongoing trade rumors and trade discussions this offseason, which Turner addressed directly on media day in September.

Just 24 hours earlier, the Pacers faced the Clippers, another team that could have the assets to take on the 26-year-old Turner. I asked Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle how his team stayed together despite trade talks over Turner and Hield.

“Both set a tone of tough play, selflessness and accountability in the dressing room,” Carlisle said the athlete. “I know we’re in LA. I know there will be questions about trade speculation and things like that.”

Turner’s matchup with the Clippers was unsuccessful on Sunday as the Pacers were on the wrong end of Ivica Zubac’s career day (31 points, 29 rebounds, three blocks) and a 114-100 Clippers win. After Sunday’s game, Turner spoke up the athlete about what it’s like to play against teams like the Clippers and Lakers who might be interested in him.

“Nothing changes,” Turner said the athlete”Just go out there and focus on winning for this team. That’s exactly my focus. You can’t listen to outside noise… changes nothing bro. All I can do is go out and play my game.”

Turner is in his eighth season with the Pacers, a tenure that began in 2015 as a Texas lottery winner. When Turner arrived in Indy, Paul George was leading the team, Frank Vogel was the head coach, and Larry Bird was running the front office. Now, having played with 75 different teammates and under four head coaches, the Pacers center is in the final year of his rookie-scale contract renewal, which was signed in October 2018.

Indiana has been going through tough times lately. Turner’s Pacers career began with five consecutive postseason quarterfinal eliminations. In 2021, the Pacers did not make it out of the play-in tournament and Turner missed the end of the season with a partial tear of the plantar plate in the big toe of his right foot. The Pacers didn’t even qualify for the Play-In tournament last season and ended up with their worst record (25-57) in 37 years.

After the season, Indiana signed Phoenix Suns restricted free agent center Deandre Ayton to a maximum offer term of four years. The Suns matched the bid sheet, which kept Ayton in Phoenix and Turner in place as the Pacers’ starting center for now.

Turner was also in trade rumors last season. The Pacers were due to visit the LA Clippers on MLK Day when he suffered a left foot stress reaction that ended his season early. On Sunday, Turner’s first game in LA in three seasons, Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue noted the career year Turner was under.

“He’s a great shot blocker on defense,” Lue said of Turner, who is third in the NBA this season at 2.6 blocks per game. “When you go to the basket you have to make sure you know where he is at all times because he’s a great shot blocker. But for me he shoots 46 percent of 3 offensively, so he can pick and pop. But he also digs into roles where he can get behind defense and catch lobs and finish around the hoop. When he’s healthy, the dynamic of their team changes. He played well.”

Turner has nearly as many dunks this season (19 in 437 minutes) as he did all of last season (22 in 1,235 minutes). He averages career bests with 18.0 points, 5.1 free throw attempts, 8.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.5 3s per game. Even after missing 11 of his 13 3s against the Clippers and Lakers, Turner is shooting career-best percentages from the field (54.4) and from 3 (39.7) and the free-throw line (82.9).

“Just being healthy, going out there to play my true position,” Turner said the athlete when asked about his career year to date. “It’s been fun so far.”

This is the first season since 2016-17 that Turner is not playing with Domantas Sabonis, who was traded to Sacramento in February in a deal that brought Haliburton to Indiana. Of all of Turner’s Indiana teammates, he played the most alongside Sabonis with 276 games together over five seasons. Now that Jalen Smith starts as a power forward, Turner feels his game has been streamlined.

“I’ve played fourth position for the last three or four seasons,” Turner explained. β€œOf course I feel better with the five. Things just opened up for me. There are more options out there on the ground.”

Turner also officially joined CAA Sports, changing his representation in the middle of a contract year. It’s a similar midseason move taken by former Clippers center Isaiah Hartenstein, who joined CAA Sports midway through last season before signing with the New York Knicks as a free agent last offseason. Several current Clippers are with CAA Sports, including Turner’s former Pacers teammate George. But Turner has downplayed the change as it relates to his focus this season.

“Whatever suits me best,” Turner said of his new proxy. “I just feel like I made the best decision for me.”

As Turner and the Pacers leave Los Angeles to continue their longest road trip of the season, he knows questions linger about his near-term future. A season that began with Turner missing the first week of the season with an unusual ankle injury he sustained while warming up on opening night and the Pacers starting 1-4 has instead turned into Turner and the Pacers starting get the best out of yourself. And right now, Turner is just focused on that.

“Just win games bro,” Turner said between losing to the Clippers and beating the Lakers. “That’s really all I want to be attached to, winning games, being a part of winning games. That’s the most important thing for me at the moment. Just help this franchise so what can I do.

(Top Photo by Myles Turner: Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)