Bad NBA Contract of the Week: Hedo Turkoglu

(In the vein of the highly esteemed David Shoemaker, AKA The Masked Man’s Deadspin column entitled “Dead Wrestler of the Week”, we here at MAMBINO are going to parse our way through the worst contracts the NBA has to offer. Part dedication to the great men who have swindled their way to big checks, part commemoration to GMs that should have been fired and part commentary on the ills of a capitalist society gone wrong, we’ll be here every week with a look at the L’s worst deals)
 
Contract: 5 years, $53 million
Signed by:
Toronto Raptors
Salary this season: $11.8 million
2013 Slash Line: 2.9/2.4/2.1 in 11 games
Expires: 2014
 
Relief and regret. Two conflicting emotions that lie on opposite ends of the spectrum. With relief, you’ve dodged that bullet. It’s the sweet feeling of standing up tall after a gigantic burden has been lifted off your shoulders. You can wipe your brow and exhale, knowing damn well that for at least the moment, the crisis has been averted. With regret, you’ve done a bad, baaaaad thing. It’s that horrible feeling knowing that you’ve willing put yourself in harm’s way and could the one responsible for any and all ramifications. You rub your bleary eyes, knowing damn well that from this moment forward, the crisis is on you.
 
No current player in the NBA is responsible for those two contradictory feelings more than Hidayet Turkoglu. His friends call him Hedo.
 
The Turkish Delight began his career as an unfortunate looking, lanky wing player for the perennially contending Sacramento Kings of the early aughts. Turkoglu regularly provided solid bench production behind Chris Webber, Doug Christie and Peja Stojakovic. He was a decent rebounder for his position, a very good long range shooter and a solid passer, though many wondered if that was just a contagious aftereffect of the system he played in with some of the greatest assist men of his generation.
 
As valuable as he was to the Kings, they couldn’t help but to use him as trade bait when Indiana Pacers center Brad Miller became available. Turkoglu was shipped to the San Antonio Spurs in a three-team deal. Little did the Kings know, his averages of 7.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg and 1.4 apg from their 24 year-old swing man weren’t close to his career-bests. They would come to regret their decision to let such a solid, cheap young player go.

Hedo’s year in San Antonio was forgettable, to say the least. He averaged 9.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists, while gunning 42% from long-range, which was fantastic production considering he came off the bench and did all of that in just 26 minutes per night. Still, the Spurs stayed true to the model that had won them two championship to that point: keep properly paid role players on the roster, while relinquishing those that would require anything extravagant. The Orlando Magic swooped in that offseason and offered Turkoglu a 6-year, $36 million dollar offer sheet, which San Antonio declined to match. At the time, it was an exorbitant expense for a player that had averaged just 7.9/3.7/1.9 in just four short years. In a rare brain fart for the Spurs, little did they know that Turkoglu was just scratching the surface of his potential. They would come to regret their decision to let him go, considering he’d end up being more than properly paid.

Turkoglu’s first stint in Orlando was nothing short of spectacular. From 2004-2007 he put up 14.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg and 2.8 apg, emerging as the second-best player next to a burgeoning superstar in Dwight Howard. It was surprising to see how many ways Turkoglu could now score, including a .391% on three-pointers, but even more astounding was just how creative a passer he was. It seems that his time in Sacramento wasn’t just a case of others making him better. Orlando head coach Stan Van Gundy utilized his swingman as more of a point swing forward, often having him bringing the ball up the court as a facilitating PF next to Dwight Howard. Turkoglu’s size (6’10”) easily lent itself to the position and created an extremely difficult matchup for any defender—after all, how could you defend a lanky, athletic 4, who could put the ball on the floor pass out of double teams and drill a 30 footer…at any moment? Hedo ended the 2008 season by dropping this incredible stat line: 19.5/5.7/5.0 on .456/.400/.829 shooting . He was easily the second-best player on a very good, 52-win Orlando Magic team, which in turn helped him achieve the Most Improved Player award at age 28. Though it was unlikely for a veteran player to earn that award, there was little doubt that Turkoglu had turned himself from a mere rotation player to a borderline All-Star. Even better, the Magic were getting prime production from an undervalue contract. Though Turkoglu’s on-court achievements were significant, even more astounding was how improved his physical looks became. He went from the ugliest player in the league, to merely one of it’s top ten.

The league watched on as SVG seemingly unleashed the gifts that had long laid dormant in Hedo, though some felt that his sublime 2007-2008 season could simply be a fluke year from a glorified role player. After all, there just aren’t that many mid-level NBAers that get markedly better close to age 30. But Turkoglu proved his production was more than just one random year—he had transformed into one of the league’s best power forwards. 2008-2009 saw a small dip in his statistics (16.8/5.3/4.9), but he remained a crucial component of a 59-win Orlando Magic team that went all the way to the NBA Finals. The PF couldn’t have picked a better time for two solid years of All-Star level production—he was able to opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent at year’s end.

12 months before the Summer of LeBron, in which basketball luminaries like Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer and of course James set the internet on fire, Hedo Turkoglu was one of the elite free agents on the market. Several teams vied for his services, including the Magic who seemed sincere in keeping together their Eastern Conference Champions. Unfortunately, Turkoglu seemed to be priced well out of their budget—the 30 year-old was getting five year offers in excess of $9 million annually. Turkey’s favorite son had leveraged himself out of Orlando’s grasp, and into the coffers of the Portland Trailblazers. Or so it seemed.

The Blazers were just one of a half-dozen teams courting Hedo, which were tantalized by his ability to play as both an offensive orchestrator, as well as finish plays with his excellent shooting and willingness to finish at the rim. Portland was a team on the cusp of greatness that summer, with young stars like Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, all while still holding out hope that former number 1 overall pick Greg Oden could one day stay healthy and contribute on both ends of the floor. Turkoglu would be another large piece of the puzzle who could hopefully take some of the playmaking burden from Roy and create offense for his teammates. After a verbal agreement to sign with the Blazers, it seemed like the Turkish Wonder was headed to Oregon.

But at the last second, Turkoglu changed his mind, signing a 5 year, $53 million dollar deal with the Toronto Raptors. The Blazers were, as expected, furious that Hedo would about face just days after agreeing to come to Portland, while the player simply felt like he’d be happier playing in the ethnic melting pot north of the border. P-Town was sent scrambling, eventually signing point guard Andre Miller to a contract later in July. Beyond the public embarrassment of getting left at the altar by a player, the Blazers were understandably upset–after all, they had to regret that they wouldn’t have the point forward going into the future. Little did they know, their regret would soon turn into relief. Little did Hedo know, as many teams would soon be trying to rid themselves of his services as there were teams then trying to gain them. It might have been the high point of his career–especially compared to the steep, steep cliff he was about plummet from.

Turkoglu would go on to have one of his worst professional season in years as a Raptor, scoring just 11.3 ppg on just .409/374/.774, all declining numbers from his career apex in Orlando. Part of his performance had to be due to having his role reduced behind forwards like Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan. However, Hedo played with the type of laidback complacency that got him criticized in his early stops in Sacramento and San Antonio. Quite frankly? He didn’t look like he gave a shit. The Raptors soon felt a sense of regret whenever they thought of Turkoglu, but for completely different reasons.

But somehow, GM Bryan Colangelo was able to foist his $40 million dollar problem on another. The 2010 Phoenix Suns were a desperate crew–they had just lost PF Amar’e Stoudemire to the New York Knicks in free agency, and along with him a nightly 21/8, as well as his superstar potential. Much like Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane, the Suns felt as though they could make up for STAT’s departure by signing a bunch of different players whose statistics could measure up to their former power forwards. Out went multi-time All-Star Stoudemire, in came Turkoglu, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick. The sum of those parts did not, in any way, equal the whole. Which is like saying a shit sandwich isn’t like an In-N-Out double-double.

The 2010-2011 Suns finished under .500 for the first time in 7 seasons and neither Turkoglu, Childress nor Warrick averaged over 10 points, 5 rebounds or 3 assists. Each acquisition was a complete failure for PHX, but none more than Hedo’s deal. For the third team in a row, Turkoglu would be attached to an extremely regretful General Manager.

Somehow, after one and a half consecutive bust seasons, Hidayet still had his fans: his former employers in Orlando. Just two and a half years later, the Magic had declined from the class of the Eastern Conference to a desperate team trying to find manners in which to shake up it’s capped out core and appease center Dwight Howard, who was bound for free agency in just 16 months time. It seemed strange that the Magic would be so desirous of Turkoglu in December, 2010–after all, he was two years older and two years removed from being an All-Star-caliber player–when they were not willing to sign him when he was a free agent in 2008. Orlando gave up promising young center Marcin Gortat, Vince Carter and a first round draft choice in order to acquire the Turkish Legend, making a murky decision-making process downright mystifying. The front office believed that they had sincerely missed Hedo’s playmaking from the power forward position for the previous two seasons, and that a return to Orlando, where he had his greatest success under coach Stan Van Gundy, could revive his rapidly decaying career. What makes this an even more breathtaking achievement? It wasn’t GM Otis Smith’s worst of the day. On December 18th, 2010, he also traded for nearly $60 million on G Gilbert Arena’s contract, giving up just $40 million of a bad deal in Rashard Lewis’s deal. But that’s another bad NBA contract for another week.

Though Turkoglu’s statistics rose in almost every category after the trade from Phoenix to Orlando, he was far from the former player he was on the Magic, let alone a guy worth in excess of $10 million per year. He continued to decline the next season (10.8/3.8/4.4) in just 53 games in 2011-2012, which was in part due to his departing athleticism as a 33 year old, as well as G JJ Redick’s emergence as a playmaking wing. However, even at that point, Turkoglu was merely an overpaid player…not an out and out bad player.

This past season, Turkoglu hit career lows in almost every category, matching an ignominious set of off court activities. He averaged just 2.9 points, 2.4 rebounds an 2.1 assists, playing in just 11 games all season. This lost season was comprised of two parts: 28 games missed at the beginning of the season with a broken hand and then 20 more absences from a PED suspension (the latter of which was a much more palatable offense for the Magic. He wasn’t paid during his suspension, which led to savings of nearly $3 million). It seems that even steroids weren’t able to resuscitate Hedo’s game: breaking down his salary, Orlando paid nearly $1 million per Turkoglu game this season, $312,500 per point scored and $52,190 per minute on the court. Unbelievable.

Hedo Turkoglu had one of the most unique career arcs ever: from a properly paid role player, to an undervalued near All-Star, to an overpaid rotation guy to cumbersome cap ballast to a fringe NBA contributor. He’s been the source of relief and regret throughout his career, sometimes multiple times in a season. Like a fine rash, he’s come and gone into our public NBA consciousness…but you’ll always know he’s there. And for those uncomfortable flareups Hedo Turkoglu, we salute you.

Like this post? Check out our other Bad NBA Contracts of the Week:

Desagana Diop

Travis Outlaw

Andris Biedrins

Charlie Villanueva

Drew Gooden

Tyrus Thomas

Michael Beasley

 

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