PHOENIX — A year ago Hedo Turkoglu was the prize of the free agent market, a player who left Portland fans steaming for jilting them at the altar and Toronto fans rejoicing upon his signing.
Turkoglu was supposed to be the missing piece in a high-scoring Toronto offense that finally had the punch to make a playoff push in the Eastern Conference.
“Sometimes the best-laid plans go amiss,” said Lon Babby, the Suns’ new president of basketball operations and Hedo’s former agent. “I’m not sure he was quite where he needed to be when he arrived in Toronto and then I think there were issues that arose in Toronto, the way they used him and other things. It’s just one of those things that didn’t work out.”
Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt’s marriage ended more gracefully than Hedo in Toronto. He wasn’t happy with his situation, and nobody in Canada seemed to be able to stand him either.
He wasn’t happy with how he was used and the situation soon snowballed. Then a few non-basketball incidents irked the Toronto fans, and next thing you know Turkoglu was willing to waive guaranteed money to get a trade done, something he didn’t even think twice about because he said his happiness is more important than the extra millions.
When he heard the Suns were interested, he had one simple message for his agent Jim Tanner: “Just make it happen.”
“Right now I’m in the best situation,” Turkoglu said. “Who wouldn’t want to be here? I’m glad we worked it out. I’m glad that it worked out for both sides.”
Of course, a year ago Babby was telling ESPN.com that “he simply decided Toronto was a better fit,” so it would be difficult to judge the Suns’ acquisition of Turkoglu on this very day that he was announced.
From speaking with Hedo today, he truly seems ecstatic to be playing in Phoenix with Steve Nash and a squad whose chemistry should rival the good vibes felt by Hedo’s successful Magic teams. He said all the right things and seems to truly want to fit in to the culture the Suns developed last season.
There are many reasons to believe Turkoglu and the Suns will be a match, but I have three major questions that will largely determine whether this was a savvy move or a major mistake:
Will Hedo be happy with his role?
One of the biggest reasons Turkoglu was unhappy in Toronto reportedly was because he did not get to handle the ball and be a playmaker as much as he would like.
Suns head coach Alvin Gentry spoke at length today about wanting to move Steve Nash off the ball more, saying, “He’s so great with the ball, but I think everyone forgets that he’s probably one of the two best shooters in the league.”
This is true, and a two-pronged attack with Nash and Turkoglu creating and spotting up with each other could be lethal, but what if Hedo decides too much of the playmaking responsible falls with Nash and Goran Dragic?
This won’t be an issue if Hedo exhibits the attitude he spoke of this afternoon and Nash is so good at keeping everything happy that perhaps there should not be much reason for concern. Plus, Hedo referred to Nash as the best point guard in the league and he figures to command more respect from Turkoglu than Jose Calderon did.
Gentry also plans to take advantage of his unique talents in so many different ways that it would be hard for him to complain about being underutilized.
“He’s such a versatile player that we can use him as a ball handler, we can use him as a screener, we can use him as a spot-up shooter, we can isolate him on the elbow and take advantage of a lot of things that he can do,” Gentry said. “I just think that he’s one of those players that can keep us at the level that we were at last year.”
Can he play the four?
This perhaps is the biggest question mark of all. Although Gentry asked a reporter how he’s so sure Turkoglu will be logging more time at the four, common sense and the Suns’ roster glut of small forwards dictates that Hedo will be seeing significant time at the power forward spot barring another move.
Turkoglu himself said he “doesn’t mind” playing the four, and Gentry said he expects Turkoglu to play the two, three, four and maybe even the five in certain situations, describing him as a “utility infielder” type of player.
“Whatever you need at that particular time I think you can plug him in,” Gentry said. “That’s why we were so excited about having him.”
Added Babby, “I think one thing that happens with Hedo is you watch him on the floor and you watch how well he handles the ball and how fluid he is with his movements and how talented he is and you forget he’s 6-foot-10. He’s a big guy with a lot of length.”
Turkoglu will cause matchup problems as a four on the offensive end, that much I’m sure of. But as a player not exactly known for his defense to begin with, I shudder at the thought of him defending the Pau Gasols and Andrew Bynums of the world.
Perhaps a trade will take care of the Suns’ glut at the three and allow them to play a more traditional lineup, but Turkoglu at the four defensively does not figure to be pretty.
The World Championship in Turkey
You could see the pride welling up in Turkoglu when I asked him about representing the host country as Turkey’s captain in the upcoming FIBA World Championship.
This will be his last World Championship, and you know how much that tournament will mean to him.
At the same time, representing his country was one part of the busy summer that Babby said set Hedo back entering last season.
Here’s Turkoglu’s response to why him playing in international competition should not cause the same issues this season:
“Because of the timing. I didn’t have the time for resting and recovery. I played Finals until almost end of June, and that time I had the contract situation and right after that I start with the national team, so I don’t really have time to recover, relax, be out of the basketball, so added all together I don’t have time to do the things in a good way because I wasn’t really feeling that good, but right now I’ve had a good rest throughout the summer, I’m feeling great.”
The Suns better hope he’s still feeling great once training camp rolls around because Turkoglu will be a key part of the Phoenix Suns next season.
At his best, he’s a capable playmaker who can relieve some of that burden from Steve Nash, a matchup nightmare and a player who thrives in the biggest moments of the games.
But he’s also coming off a horrid season and faces questions about accepting his role better than he did in Toronto, defending power forwards and coming back from the World Championships more prepared for the season than he did last year.
So while I’m overall optimistic about how Turkoglu’s talents will mesh with the rest of the Suns, there are enough question marks to be a bit leery of the fit.
Tags: Hedo Turkoglu