Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images
I’m tired of making 2009 comparisons. Yes, the Dwight-centered offense was clicking in 2009. Yes, guys were playing to (and beyond) their potential in 2009. Yes, Jameer Nelson shot the lights out from just inside the three-point line in 2009. Yes, the Magic were true contenders in 2009.
So this is my final plea. No more complaining and moaning about how this team has somehow fallen from grace and made more administrative mistakes than a scandalous charter school. This is it.
The guy who needs to prove himself more than anyone else this year on the Magic roster is Hedo Turkoglu. That is to say the guy who needs to come back to 2009 form is Hedo Turkoglu.
I’ll start by saying this — Hedo was a thorn in my side in 2009. Now, before the mud slinging begins, let me explain. I am first and foremost a LeBron James fan, and despite my affiliation with the Magic, I will come out now and admit that at the start of the 2008-2009 season when the Cavs acquired Mo Williams, I hoped more than anything else that it would be the year that LeBron won his first title.
I watched those playoffs closer than I’ve watched anything before, and admittedly as a straight up diehard LeBron fan.
From the very first quarter of the first game of the 2009 NBA Eastern Conference Finals, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Orlando was going to win the series. It actually wrenched my gut. There was no way around it. This team was too hot, too fluid, too zoned, and had too many leaders, the most deadly of which was Hedo Turkgoglu.
Turk was a beast. He commanded the offense with veteran vigor. He shaped the way the Magic played, and I don’t think I’m too far off in saying that he played like a captain — a leader.
It was not just his offensive threat, either. It was the fact that he was long (and confident) enough to stare down LBJ as if to say, “we don’t give flying fart about who you are and how you’ve swept every team in the playoffs to this point. We are the Magic, and we are going to beat you.”
It’s this very confidence that Turk lacks now.
That confidence that stems from being an underdog — a blue-collar freedom fighter that would take a small market team to the top. People wonder why guys like Rashard Lewis and Mickael Pietrus were so good in those playoffs. I’m not saying they lacked inspiration internally, I’m just making an argument that the 2009 Magic team was firmly anchored in the convicted, damn near cocksure attitude that seeped from Turk’s pores.
It’s that captain-esque confidence that made Turk who he was, and at the moment, he has seemingly lost it.
Quite honestly, at the end of last season Turk looked lost on the offensive end, lethargic on the defensive end, and indecisive when he had the ball. You didn’t get the sense that he might be ready to elevate for an “in your face” three when he’s on the wing. You didn’t feel him moving to the basket and trying to outwit you in the pick-and-roll. He just looked tired, bored, over the hill, and sort of like he missed his shot.
Here’s my theory. Turk has the capacity to be a great player, a smart player, a game-changing player, and a leader. The first thing he needs to do is decide that he can impact this team in unimaginable ways. We often call him a floor captain, but I think Turk needs to take on a role of team captain. And with Dwight’s future in limbo, there is no reason why he shouldn’t. He’s a veteran, and a proven leader, and when he’s in that mindset, he’s dangerous.
I tried not to mention Dwight in this article, but I’m not convinced that Turk’s play will have nothing to do with Dwight’s decision to stay or leave Orlando.
I saw that 2009 team as that team you never want to face. Why? Well, for starters, you had Dwight Howard. But he wasn’t the voice of the team. He wasn’t the front line. My picture of the 2009 Magic was a dangerous squad that you couldn’t even get to without going through Turkoglu. He was that pesky individual who made you think, “I can’t even get to the meat and potatoes of this team without getting through this guy? Never mind then. I quit.” Put differently, as a LeBron/Cavs fan in 2009 clinching my fists tightly during every playoff game, Turk was the guy I was most scared of.
Just think if he could get back to that caliber.
Now here’s a quick excursus just to say that I feel sorry for Turk. I wish he had never left Orlando, and it’s not totally his fault that he lost some of his swag in moving across the country and back. So I hope this does not come off as a condescending slam-fest where I have nothing good to say about Turk. I just see him as a key ingredient in getting Orlando back on track.
So there you have it. From this point on you will hopefully not hear a word from me about 2009 (unless it gets assigned). My final Christmas wish is for Turk to somehow get his mojo back.