In an unsurprising development, Hedo Turkoglu told the Orlando Sentinel's Brian Schmitz that he will opt-out of his contract with the Orlando Magic next summer and explore free agency. Schmitz promises more information tomorrow.
It's logical that Hedo, who will turn 30 next spring, will look to score a big contract. Turkoglu's production last season far exceeded his pay: $6.3 million, which was part of the mid-level exception deal he signed in 2004. Per Larry Coon's indispensable Salary Cap FAQ, the mid-level is calculated to be worth the average NBA salary. Obviously, Hedo is a far above-average player in Stan Van Gundy's offensive system, and he wants to seize the opportunity to sign a lucrative deal, likely the last big-money one he'll get as an NBA player.
The Magic have two options: they can try to re-sign Turkoglu to a long-term deal next summer -- and, in so doing, likely pay the NBA's Luxury Tax -- or they can instead look to "sell high" by trading him for a package of players.
I've gone back and forth on this issue for months, as it became apparent around the All-Star break that Hedo was having a terrific year and might end up playing himself out of the Magic's price range. And after all that consideration, I still don't know what I want the team to do. But I'm probably in the minority. Most Magic fans I've talked to, including several commenters (whom I'll hear from in this post, I hope) at this site, believe the Magic should trade Hedo Turkoglu this season to avoid the prospect of losing him outright next summer.
According to the highly regarded ShamSports.com, the Magic six players under contract for roughly $54 million for 2009/2010, and another three players with options due another $8 million; they'll be strapped for cash. Paying Hedo next summer likely means exchanging a handful of players from Orlando's already thin bench for an expiring contract before the trade deadline. Complicating matters is the fact that two prime trade candidates (Tony Battie and Brian Cook) both play power forward, the Magic's weakest position.
The San Antonio Spurs have won 4 titles in the last decade with a policy of paying their three best players handsomely, then surrounding them with inexpensive role-players (see the fifth box on this page). The Magic have committed to Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Jameer Nelson as their three main players. The decision to do so, though wise at the time -- nobody could have predicted Hedo's emergence last year -- may end up costing them their best playmaker.
It's a sticky situation, and at this juncture there is no right or wrong way to resolve it. How Magic GM Otis Smith eventually proceeds in doing so will cement his legacy as either savvy or bone-headed. There likely won't be any middle ground after it all plays out.