Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
|2010-2011 regular season||Hedo Turkoglu|
In 2009, Hedo Turkoglu was a big reason that the Orlando Magic reached the NBA Finals for the first time since 1995.
In 2011, Turkoglu was a big reason that the Magic failed to get out of the first round against the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs — a team they swept by a record amount just a year prior.
As the story goes, Turkoglu made a name for himself in the 2009 NBA Playoffs:
— hitting a game-winning shot against the Philadelphia 76ers on the road in Game 4 of the first round which arguably saved Orlando’s season.
— playing the game of his life against the Boston Celtics on the road in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals (finishing with 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting, 12 assists, and five rebounds).
— spearheading an assault alongside Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Conference Finals that led to a surprising 4-2 series win and a Finals appearance for the Magic.
Turkoglu did his fair share of damage against the Los Angeles Lakers as well, like memorably blocking Kobe Bryant’s game-winning shot attempt in Game 2 and delivering an almost-miracle inbounds pass to Courtney Lee for a game-winning layup on the ensuing possession that would have allowed Orlando to steal the game. Those were Turkoglu’s redeeming qualities, and there were plenty of them to be sure.
Plus, people tend to forget that an ankle sprain suffered late in the regular season slowed down Turkoglu in the postseason initially before he got warmed up against the Celtics, Cavaliers, and Lakers.
|playoffs (24 games)||13.2||.547||.481||21.6||21.2||106|
That being said, Turkoglu’s heroics in the playoffs were overblown and when it came time for general manager Otis Smith to re-sign the “Michael Jordan of Turkey” to a new contract, he decided not to outbid for his services.
Instead, the Portland Trail Blazers and Toronto Raptors vied for Turkoglu as their marquee free agent signing. After initially committing to the Blazers, Turkoglu chose to sign with the Raptors to a 5-year, $60 million contract (he would be traded to the Phoenix Suns the following offseason).
While all that was happening, Smith opted to trade for Vince Carter in a critically-acclaimed move at the time. Carter was coming off an All-Star caliber year with the New Jersey Nets in 2009 and seen by many as a better player than Turkoglu, while at the same time carrying a contract that expired much sooner. Of course, the Carter experiment barely lasted more than a season and Smith made the decision this year to reacquire Turkoglu, hoping to recapture a spark that seemed to be missing from Orlando. Let’s ignore, for a second, that Smith traded for the same bad contract that he didn’t want to dole out to Turkoglu two offseasons ago.
So what spark was that?
In a word — chemistry.
For all of Carter’s talents as a player, if there was something he never fully had with Howard, it was chemistry in pick and rolls. Smith thought that if the Magic could utilize the 3/5 pick and roll with Turkoglu and Howard all the way to the Finals, Carter could do the same thing but with an added dose of athleticism and scoring punch. That was the logic behind the Carter acquisition. The problem was that Carter almost exclusively looked to score in 2/5 pick and rolls with Howard and in a way, made those plays easier to defend. This isn’t even mentioning the height advantage that Turkoglu enjoyed at 6-foot-10 playing the point forward position in pick and rolls. That aided in Turkoglu’s pick and roll brilliance because it allowed him to survey defenses with ease.
In other words, Carter used pick and rolls to be a scorer, while Turkoglu used them to be a playmaker. Oh, and Carter never embraced the role of being Orlando’s go-to scorer in crunch time situations like Turkoglu did.
Hence Turkoglu’s return to the Magic in December.
There’s something to be said about chemistry and for a month or two, it seemed as if the synergy between Howard and Turkoglu never left. Howard and Turkoglu had more than five years of history together as teammates, which is something that Carter could never replicate.
Likewise, Turkoglu was doing an excellent job of being the playmaker for Orlando that he always was with the team under head coach Stan Van Gundy — a coach that knew how to properly utilize his talents.
However, if there’s one thing that never made sense about Turkoglu’s second stint with the Magic as time wore on, it was his unwillingness to put up shots.
For whatever reason, Turkoglu wasn’t aggressive on offense as he used to be and it’s been posited that he never escaped the mindset of the role he had with the Suns, in which he became almost strictly a spot-up shooter (though this dilemma may have started with the Raptors). Turkoglu’s passing was fine, but he wasn’t a true dual-threat player.
Another problem for Turkoglu was his inability to hit free-throws and his penchant for passing up wide open shots that invariably led to more difficult shot attempts. Needless to say, Turkoglu did a lot more bad than good with Orlando and it drove Van Gundy insane.
Turkoglu was brought in to be a savior, of sorts, for the Magic and he ended up being nothing more than another bad contract acquired by Smith.