Each February and each summer in recent years, the 6-foot-11 former Texas star would hear and see his name linked to a new deal. Virtually every time, Turner explained his preference was to stay with the team that drafted him in 2015 and help chase a championship.
Now he could be getting three more chances to achieve his dream. On Monday, after a month of negotiations, Turner signed a two-year contract extension that takes him through the end of the 2024-25 season — and perhaps finally ends all the distracting speculation.
“Definitely there’s a sense of relief knowing there’s some security and you can just play the game,” he said following the news conference. “It (the trade rumors) is something I’ve been through my entire career. But I wanted to be here in Indy.”
The two-year extension, plus a renegotiated contract for the rest of this season, gives Turner an additional $60 million and is salary-cap friendly to the Pacers.
Indiana was under the salary-cap floor this season, a situation that would have required additional payouts anyway, and with the next two years and all five of this year’s starters locked into deals for next season, the Pacers now have even more flexibility heading into the Feb. 9 trade deadline and offseason.
One big factor in Turner’s decision to sign now rather than test the free agent market this summer was that he had returned to his natural position following last February’s swap that sent All-Star forward Domantas Sabonis to Sacramento for point guard Tyrese Haliburton.
The trade, coupled with Haliburton’s presence, has helped the 26-year-old Turner post the best season of his eight-year career. He’s averaging 17.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks while shooting 54.4% from the field and 39.3% on 3-pointers. Plus, he’s still one of the NBA’s top rim protectors.
“As a staff, we were hoping this day would come very desperately,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Over the last year and a half, since he transitioned back to his natural position, the 5, we’ve seen tremendous things.”
Still the rumors persisted, with the Los Angeles Lakers being the focus of the most recent speculation starting last summer. Turner helped fuel the discussion in October when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi asked Turner to assess a possible deal involving himself and two potential draft picks.
“If I’m the Lakers, I take a very hard look at this with the position that you’re in,” he said.
That possibility now appears dead even though Turner realizes there are no guarantees in the NBA.
The move, Pritchard said, spurred “100 conversations” between himself and Austin Brown, Turner’s agent, as the two sides negotiated. Pritchard declined to provide specifics about those discussions.
Since then, it appears things have changed.
Pritchard believes the evolving bond between Turner and Haliburton could create a stronger foundation for a franchise that has all five starters under contract through next season and most of its key rotational players locked up through 2024-25.
And with more certainty about his future, Pritchard thinks Turner will continue thriving.
“It’s disappointing because a trade rumor can come when a team calls you about a player and somehow you get offered,” Pritchard said. “It hurts players, it does. We’ve had two players come up in the last week and ask, ‘Am I getting traded?'”
But after walking into a Gainbridge Fieldhouse lobby filled with teammates, coaches, Pacers employees, a speaker set blaring calls from Turner’s career and a large video board posting a slide show of some of Turner’s favorite moments, the longest-tenured Indiana player seemed right at home back where it all began as the No. 11 overall draft pick.
“I think it made it easy, when given the full-time position at the 5. That’s something I was definitely what I was looking for,” Turner said. “Given the situation I’m in now where I do get to see expanded minutes at the 5, that was one of the main things I was looking for.”