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In Defense of Hedo Turkoglu, Kind Of

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This post isn't an easy one for me to write. My parents raised me to honor my commitments, be they verbal or written, and I always strive to do that.

Hedo Turkoglu works a bit differently, it turns out. After reaching an agreement in principle (semantic note: not "on princples") to sign with the Portland Trail Blazers for 5 years and $50 million, the free-agent small forward backed out, and will reportedly sign a 5-year deal worth $56 million with the Toronto Raptors instead. This post at Blazer's Edge, SB Nation's Trail Blazers blog, has a brilliant, must-read timeline of what transpired.

Understandably, Blazer fans are upset. The guy their team pegged as their first big free-agency signee in recent history backed out of a verbal commitment very nearly at the last second, preferring instead to sign with a worse team (he doesn't care about winning!) for more money (he's selfish!), and apparently at the encouragement of his wife (he's whipped!).

Easy enough arguments to understand, in some ways. But there's another way to look at Turk's actions.

The man is 30 years old, married, with a small child. His market value has never been higher, and because of his age, this is his last opportunity to sign a big NBA deal. He wants to maximize his earning potential, and he did that.

And here comes the oft-heard argument about how there isn't a huge difference between $10 million--the average annual salary his contract with the Blazers would have paid him--and $11.2 million, the average annual salary he'll earn with the Raptors. With either payday, he'll be richer than most people can ever dream of being, and the $1.2 million difference per year won't drastically change his lifestyle.

But the NBA is a business. By switching from Portland to Toronto, Turk has increased his annual salary by 10.7%. Now let's say your good buddy Fred is unemployed, but has a highly valuable set of skills in his particular field. He meets with the executives at Company X, which makes him an excellent offer which he accepts almost completely. The lawyers get to work drawing up a contract. But before they can finish, Company Y, which is located in a city more to his liking, comes along and makes him an offer exceeding X's by 10.7% annually.

"So, when do you start at Company Y?" you ask him.

"Never," he says. "I stayed with Company X because I already committed to them."

You'd probably never let him live that one down, would you? Damn what he already committed to, he could have made a ton more money in a city more suited to his taste had he just been willing to break off the deal.

See, Turk isn't so different from most of us. He does silly things when he's excited, he likes to eat pizza, and he wants to make his family happy. None of these are damnable offenses, unless you happen to believe all athletes should be completely noble and selfless, turning down any amount of money if it means a better chance of winning a title. We don't hold ourselves to such standards, so it's silly to hold athletes to them.

And if we're honest, Portland actually made out pretty well in this whole thing. I was never convinced that Hedo, an offensive-minded player arguably slightly passed his prime, made sense for the young, offensively-elite Blazers. They still have a ton of money to offer free agents, or--and this is an underrated aspect of having cap space--they can absorb a huge contract in a trade and land another star player, perhaps one who is a better fit for their team.

This whole situation rings familiar to Magic fans, who watched two years ago as University of Florida Billy Donovan coach signed a contract--he didn't just agree to one, he actually signed it--with the Magic, only to get second thoughts and ask out of his deal a day later. When reports of his wishy-washiness first surfaced, I (hyperbolically, in retrospect) called his decision to leave the lowest point in Magic history. The Magic wound up having the last laugh, signing Stan Van Gundy just a few days later. Van Gundy led the Magic to a 52-win season in his first year with the team, and had them 3 wins from a championship in his second campaign. Donovan? He hasn't managed to get the Gators to the NCAA tournament since his brief stay with the Magic, as UF has lost in the NIT in each of the last two seasons.

Point being? Blazer fans will never forget what Hedo did to their team, and they'll boo him unmercifully any time he touches the ball in the Rose Garden from now until his career ends. But they'll also come to realize that Turk and the Raptors did them a favor by preventing them from overpaying for his services. Portland won't rue the day it lost Hedo, nor will Hedo rue the day he left Portland. It's just that right now, only one side of the relationship has come to that realization.