It has become apparent to many NBA fans that Orlando, The Contender, owes as much of its success to its unsung players as it does to Dwight Howard’s defensive beastliness or Stan Van Gundy’s perimeter-based attack. It’s no surprise to those who’ve watched the Magic this year that a lot of buzz has recently begun to settle on one Orlando starter as deserving particular attention for the team’s success: 9th-year small forward Hedo Turkolgu.
In the 159 regular season games played across his Most Improved Player-winning season and this year’s campaign, Hedo’s averaged 18 points, 5 assists, and 5.5 rebounds. In that time, he’s also earned a reputation as a clutch player who’s both capable and comfortable with taking and making big shots late in a game. He’s been a 38% shooter from behind the arc in those two seasons and posted multiple game winners and other 4th quarter heroics.
Perhaps most importantly, Turkoglu has also emerged as one of Orlando’s most consistent ball-handlers – especially in the absence of Jameer Nelson – and has demonstrated a knack for setting up an offense and finding shots for his teammates, a quality that’s rarely seen in a player of his size.
Hedo Turkoglu Photo Credit: Icon SMI
But Orlando, with too many dollars allocated to outsized contracts (Rashard Lewis), midlevel rotation guys (Mickael Pietrus and Rafer Alston), and player looming extensions (Courtney Lee), is looking less and less likely to be counting on Hedo Turkoglu as a part of the Magic’s long-term plans. Though he’s due $7.3 million next season, Turkoglu has every reason to exercise his early termination option and become a free agent this summer. While the current economic clime will prevent him from getting an over-inflated deal, it’s just as likely that if he waits things will only get worse and belts will only tighten further. Additionally, Turkoglu will likely want to avoid becoming just another face in the superstar free agent crowd of 2010, and will certainly be best be served as sought-after commodity in 2009 rather than an afterthought the next year.
At 30 years old, Hedo would actually be one of the more desirable options available amongst this year’s pool of available talent should he opt out of his current deal. So, with this being perhaps the last, best chance to get signed for his proper value (in, say, the $10-$13 million/year range), we can see at least a few teams with both the money to sign him this offseason and the need for a player with his particular skills.
Here are three of those potential destinations for Turkoglu this summer…
Detroit Pistons: With both Rasheed Wallace and Allen Iverson coming off the books, few teams are faced with so many potential roster configurations next year as the Pistons. While it’s tremendously unlikely that both will be re-signed, there’s still a chance that either player could start their last significant NBA contract in Detroit.
Should the team retain Wallace, Hedo’s place in the rotation might not seem clear at first, but GM Joe Dumars has made it largely clear that the old-guard Pistons (centered around their 2004 championship core) will not go forward. Turkoglu would almost certainly be just one of the pieces assembled with the money saved when Iverson’s $22 million and Sheed’s $13.7 million officially come off the books.
In such a post-Iverson configuration, Turkoglu could be seen as sort of an insurance policy on young Rodney Stuckey, whom the franchise had hoped would step into the lead guard role after the Chanucey Billups trade. Stuckey was up-and-down for much of Detroit’s season, and having another qualified ball-handler would be welcome on a roster whose next option at point is the explosive, but far-from-dependable Will Bynum. It would take a few moves, for sure, but Hedo could be a valuable part of Detroit’s mid-term rebuild.
Hedo Turkoglu Photo Credit: Icon SMI
Toronto Raptors: By thankfully dumping Jermaine O’Neal’s anchor of a contract on Miami, Toronto got the added benefit of trying out another potential candidate to fill their need for a wing scorer in Shawn Marion. Seeing his rather disappointing 08-09 run continue even after the trade deadline, it’s looking less and less like Marion’s declining abilities would be worth the money he’d likely demand. This might have actually saved the Raptors from offering Marion too much based on reputation and past performance. With the nearly $18 million he frees up from the books, Toronto should make enough room to bring on a player of Turkoglu’s quality (who’s actually a year younger than Marion anyway.)
Apart from being another ball handler to help out Jose Calderon, the prospect of targeting another international player who (presumably) wouldn’t mind playing in an international city like Toronto is surely not insignificant to the Raptors either, given the franchise’s notorious trouble attracting and keeping big-name talents up in the Great White North.
Signing Hedo would also help Toronto maximize the value of their draft pick, reserving the 9th slot in the lottery for “best player available” rather than reaching for marginal talents because of a need. If they’re lucky, the Raps could see a talent like DeMar DeRozan or Tyreke Evans slip to them just inside the top 10, and having Turkoglu on the roster would provide either a young point or swingman at least a few years of cover to develop.
Portland Trailblazers: This could be the best fit possible for both Hedo and the Blazers. With Nate McMillan unable to establish a clear first option at the 3 between Nic Batum and Martell Webster, and the franchise still noncommittal to Travis Outlaw, Portland can turn a major question mark into a strong suit, trading out of a position filled by the team’s youngest players for a playoff tested veteran with enough good years left to stay productive while the rest of the team matures around him. This would also free up Portland for a number of possible options, such as moving Webster/Batum or letting Outlaw leave in free agency (rather than shell out a bigger payday for the athletic, but inconsistent, swingman.)
And, just like in Toronto and Detroit, Turkoglu could also compensate for the backcourt shortcomings of the Blazers, who currently rely on mercurial guards Steve Blake and Sergio Rodriguez. Adding Hedo makes another guy for the Blazers with range to the 3-point line that sees the floor like a point. Having another consistent option to carry the ball up court takes pressure off of Blake (or, if the franchise commits to him, Jerryd Bayless) and let’s them focus on making open shots. Hedo would also further free up Brandon Roy to play more as a true off guard while both players are on the floor. The added elements of versatility and experience would be invaluable to the Trailblazers.
Brendan K. O’Grady writes about fantasy basketball and the NBA at-large full-time at his own site, 2nd Round Reach. He has a single-digit vertical leap.