The Orlando Magic will turn most of their attention this offseason to re-signing Hedo Turkoglu, their star small forward who plans to opt-out of the final year of his deal, guaranteed at $7.3 million, on July 1st. Due to the Magic's successful season, in which they reached the NBA Finals for the second time in the franchise's 20-year history, team management has relaxed its stance on paying the league's luxury tax, realizing that investing in Turkoglu could pay off, in the form of an NBA Championship, in the near future.
Despite regressing from his Most Improved Player award-winning 2007/2008 season, Turkoglu is still highly regarded around the league as a playmaking forward who, at 6'10", presents matchup problems for his opponents. Additionally, his three-point marksmanship and clutch performance have enhanced his reputation. So, of course, he'll have his fair share of suitors when the negotiating period begins July 1st. As an unrestricted free-agent, Turk can sign anywhere he pleases; the Magic cannot retain him simply by matching an offer another team makes.
The Portland Trail Blazers are the team most consistently linked to Turkoglu in free-agency rumors. Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com was, to my knowledge, the first NBA reporter to get the story. From June 13th:
Some sources, while cautioning against Portland's proclivity for subterfuge, are saying the Blazers covet a point guard upgrade from Steve Blake more than they covet a small forward upgrade from Nicolas Batum. If that's the case, they might decide to swing an uneven trade, salary-wise, in which they use their cap space to bring in a top-tier point guard rather than Turkoglu or another small forward.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports picked up on the story two days ago, in an item which sparked much discussion between Magic and Blazers fans alike here at 3QC:
Ultimately, it's thought that the Blazers are trying to clear cap space - perhaps as much as $10 million - and multiple league executives think Portland is determined to sign Orlando Magic free agent Hedo Turkoglu.
And today, Tommy Dee of The Knicks Blog published this item, citing "a source close to the Blazers braintrust":
"Hedo and the point guard are the targets," the source told me. "After whiffing at the trade deadline, they are primed to make some things happen. I don't know if they are the right things, but they have a plan in motion."
So what's clear, based on these reports, is that Portland covets Turkoglu. What's less clear is why, as point guard seems to be a more pressing need, and with shooting guard Brandon Roy doing most of the ballhandling anyway. After the jump, a look at what Turk could bring to Portland if he were to sign there.
At first glance, Turkoglu would appear to be an odd fit in Portland's offense. As Blazers fans commented at this site, Blazers coach Nate McMillan prefers his small forwards stay in the weakside corner in order to keep opposing defenses honest. Turkoglu is at his best when he's on the move, creating himself and for others, which doesn't jibe with what McMillan normally asks of his small forwards. Plus, Portland's offense led the league in efficiency last season, which would indicate its most pressing need is defense, a category in which it ranked 13th in 2008/2009.
But there's more to it than that. The Blazers struggle to draw fouls--they're 17th in free throws per shot attempt--and their current small forward tag-team of Batum and Travis Outlaw don't do much to help that cause. Batum is a standstill shooter, drawing fouls on only 6.5% of his possessions; Outlaw fared better, at 10.4%. Turkoglu, however, bests them all in foul-drawing at 13.1%. Furthermore, his slippery drives to the rim could draw defenders away from the Blazers' outside shooting threats, and even budding franchise center Greg Oden at the rim. Sure, Roy already does much of those things himself, but delegating some of those tasks to Turkoglu would lighten his load. It could even shift Roy to a more conventional combo-guard role.
A bit more on that front: the Blazers will almost certainly have to jettison reserve point guard Sergio Rodriguez if they hope to clear space for Turkoglu, leaving them with only the veteran starter Steve Blake and the second-year prospect Jerryd Bayless to man the point. Shifting Roy from a swingman--he played one-quarter of the team's small forward minutes and nearly half of its shooting guard minutes--to a combo guard would allow the team to run a tall lineup featuring the 6'06" Roy at the point, if the need arose. On the downside, it would cut Bayless' minutes and, assumedly, stunt his development. But if the Blazers hope to win now, they'd be better off adding a veteran, which is why Turkoglu, as well as point guards Andre Miller and Jason Kidd, are high on their wish list.
But if defense is the Blazers' concern, I'm not sure what Turk can bring them that they don't already have, apart from height. He's not as good a defender, at least not in my estimation, as Batum. He probably has Outlaw beat. However, it's hard to tell if Portland's defensive problems are due to the personnel or to McMillan's system itself. In 9 seasons as an NBA head coach, McMillan's teams have finished, in order, 24th, 17th, 17th, 27th, 27th, 30th, 29th, 17th, and 13th in defensive efficiency.
Now, some Magic fans have wondered why Hedo would up and leave Orlando, taking his wife and three-month-old daughter with him, to join a team on the complete other side of the country. There's also the issue of ceding fourth-quarter touches to Roy, who is unquestionably the Blazers' closer. My answer is that several millions of dollars can go a long way toward making players more receptive to moving, and toward massaging egos if they believe they should be the alpha dog.
Ultimately, Portland will have to make some tough personnel choices in the coming days if it hopes to make Turk a competitive offer. Orlando has the advantage in this respect, as it would not need to clear any salary. Additionally, the Magic are a better team, can offer just as much money as Portland, and have a clearly defined role for Turkoglu. His chances of leaving Orlando dropped precipitously when the Magic announced they would pay the luxury tax to keep him. Still, put nothing past Portland GM Kevin Pritchard, who is crafty with personnel moves and has a blank check from team owner Paul Allen. We could well see Turkoglu in the Pacific Northwest next season--if not for the sole purpose of drawing more fouls--but I rather doubt it.