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David Aldridge

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Turkoglu makes verbal commitment to Raptors

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst
Posted Jul 4 2009 10:37AM

An already crazy free agent period in the NBA got downright bizarre on Friday, with the supposed sure deal between Orlando free agent forward Hedo Turkoglu and the Portland Trail Blazers falling apart late in the afternoon, and the veteran, late Friday evening, making a verbal commitment to the Toronto Raptors on a five-year deal that will pay him in excess of $60 million, according to league sources.

Turkoglu's change of heart -- he was in Portland Thursday and Friday, meeting with team officials along with his agent, Lon Babby -- came after the Raptors decided to do what they had been reluctant to do until then -- renounce their rights to several of their own free agents, including forward Shawn Marion and guards Anthony Parker and Carlos Delfino, in order to create the more than $10 million in cap room necessary to make a superior offer to Portland's.

A league source divulged late Friday that Portland's offer to Turkoglu was actually $57 million over five years, not the $50 million that has been reported. But by deciding to renounce their rights to the free agents, the Raptors can give Turkoglu a deal averaging more than $12 million annually. They only have a little more than $48 million committed for next season, including the first-year salary of rookie swingman DeMar DeRozan, taken ninth overall.

The final amount of the deal won't be known until the league officially sets the salary cap figure for the 2009-10 season. The cap is expected to drop from its current $58.7 million, though perhaps not as much as teams had initially feared. A source with knowledge of the auditing process currently underway between the league and the Players' Association that will determine next year's cap figure said this week that the cap may fall by less than $1 million.

Earlier Friday, ESPN.com reported that Turkoglu had reached verbal agreement on a deal with the Blazers, and numerous other media outlets reported the same thing within minutes. But a Portland team official cautioned TNT's David Aldridge later in the day that a deal was not yet done, and after several hours of discussions between the team, Turkoglu and Babby left the Blazers' facility. Within a couple of hours, Turkoglu had committed to Toronto.

In the end, Turkoglu, who spent the last two days in Portland, seemingly with every intention of agreeing to terms on a deal, simply changed his mind, deciding that he and his family would be more comfortable in Toronto, with its international makeup and large Turkish population. When the Blazers realized that Toronto had a superior offer on the table, they didn't try to change Turkoglu's mind, disappointed that Turkoglu didn't want to take a little less money in order to play with a better team.

"He won't be coming" to Portland, a league source said late Friday, closing all doors to a potential revisiting of the issue after the Fourth of July weekend. The Raptors looked into keeping Delfino, the guard who left Toronto last summer to sign a lucrative deal with a Russian team. But Delfino wants to come back to the NBA, and Toronto had a strong interest in bringing him back; he was considered a key part of the team's attempt to bring more talent to surround All-Star forward Chris Bosh. Bosh can terminate the last year of his contract next summer and become an unrestricted free agent. But Delfino had to go, too, though a source indicated late Friday that the Raptors may explore a sign-and-trade deal with Orlando that would send Delfino to the Magic.

Before Turkoglu's change of heart, numerous league sources believed early Friday afternoon that the Raptors had reached an agreement on a three-year extension worth $24 million with Marion, who was acquired from Miami in February in a package for forward Jermaine O'Neal. But a Raptors source categorically denied that Friday afternoon.

The Blazers had cleared a little more than $8 million in cap space to sign Turkoglu, whose veteran presence and outstanding playoff performance for Orlando this year was exactly what Portland management thought could most help its core of young, talented -- but inexperienced -- players. The Blazers made the postseason this year for the first time in six years, falling in the first round to Houston. But their future is bright, with All-Star guard Brandon Roy, forward LaMarcus Aldridge and center Greg Oden all under 25.

Now, Portland will have to go in a different direction. The Blazers could, potentially, become players for another multiple-use forward like the Lakers' Lamar Odom, who has been expected to ultimately re-sign in Los Angeles. Or they could try to sign one of several veteran free agent point guards, from Dallas' Jason Kidd -- whom Portland has long coveted -- Philadelphia's Andre Miller or Atlanta's Mike Bibby. Bibby was, according to league sources, close to re-signing with Atlanta on Friday, and Kidd was taking the weekend to decide between three-year offers from the Mavericks and the Knicks, with Dallas in the driver's seat.

However, the Blazers feel that consistent perimeter shooting is a must for whomever they add, which would eliminate all the point guards other than Bibby, and make Odom less of a fit. That was why they quickly zeroed in on Turkoglu, a career 38.5 percent shooter from three-point range who shot almost 39 percent behind the arc in this year's postseason. Almost none of the remaining significant free agents available are great shooters; among the better ones is Denver forward Linas Kleiza -- whom, ironically, Toronto has been working hard on signing.

Turkoglu opted out of the final year of his six-year, $36 million deal with the Magic, which would have paid him $7.34 million in 2009, after the Finals. While the Magic said it would pay the luxury tax in order to keep the team together, Turkoglu's desire for $10 million annually was far too much for Orlando to bear, and the Magic quickly went to work, acquiring Vince Carter from the Nets on draft day. Carter's remaining three years and $51.9 million in salary precluded any hope of a Turkoglu re-signing in Orlando.

Signed by Orlando as a free agent in 2004, Turkoglu had gradually assumed a leadership role on the Magic, winning the league's Most Improved Player award last season. This past season, he averaged 16.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists, and after Jameer Nelson was lost for four months with a shoulder injury, Turkoglu assumed much more command of the ball. Down the stretch of games, it was Turkoglu who ran screen-and-roll plays with Dwight Howard, either taking last-second shots himself or creating for others.

He hit the game-winning shot against the 76ers in the first round, in the key Game 4, with Orlando down two games to one. Against Cleveland in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, he temporarily gave the Magic a lead with one second left after hitting a jumper, only to see LeBron James knock in a three-pointer at the buzzer. He had more good moments against the Lakers in the Finals.

Along with possibly losing Turkoglu, the Magic may lose backup center Marcin Gortat, who has agreed to an offer sheet with the Dallas Mavericks. The sheet can't officially be delivered until next week, and Orlando would have seven days to match it upon receipt. But general manager Otis Smith told the Orlando Sentinel Friday that he did not think he'd be inclined to match an offer to Gortat for the full mid-level exception.

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