Denton: Hedo Turkoglu Accepts Reality That Time With Magic May Be Over

By John Denton
May 9, 2013

ORLANDO – Hedo Turkoglu is a realist and knows that because of his age and the Orlando Magic’s youth movement that he could have already played his last game for the franchise where he’s enjoyed his greatest success.

But Turkoglu is also a dreamer, and at times he can close his eyes and drift back to when he helped lift the Magic to some of the greatest heights in franchise history. His prime years coincided with Orlando’s incredible run to the NBA Finals in 2009, and those memories are never far from the surface for Turkoglu.

So Turkoglu is content in knowing that regardless of what comes of his fate in the coming months, he will always have great memories of all that he and the Magic accomplished together in recent years.

``I’m happy I got to be a part of some of the great, great moments here in Orlando and no one can ever change history,’’ Turkoglu said recently. ``Those moments will always be there for me, and I’ll always consider myself a lucky guy.’’

It’s good to remember the happier times considering the miserable season that just concluded for Turkoglu. After showing up to training camp thin and in great shape and thriving in the preseason, Turkoglu broke a bone in the outside of his left hand in the season-opening win against Denver. After missing eight weeks of action because of the injury, Turkoglu struggled mightily to regain his shot and swagger on the court while playing with a heavily bandaged hand.

Then, things only proceeded to get worse as he was hit with a 20-game suspension by the NBA for violating the league’s banned substance policy. Turkoglu claimed he took what he thought was a supplement last summer while back in his native Turkey to get over an injury and unknowingly violated NBA rules. From there, he never played again this season as the Magic went with their young players down the stretch. It was, in Turkoglu’s own words, ``an empty season.’’ And most importantly, it was quite possibly a sad ending to a player who is arguably one of the 10 most important players in the 24-year history of the Magic.

Turkoglu has one year remaining on his contract, but it is only partially guaranteed and the Magic could seek a trade or buyout. He totally understands that the Magic are in a transition as they rebuild the foundation of the team around a promising young nucleus of Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and others. The days of Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson and Turkoglu – a fearsome foursome that made the Magic great just four seasons ago – are long gone. And Turkoglu can deal with the reality of the retooling situation in Orlando.

``I always felt comfortable in Orlando and that’s always the city that I want to live when I stop playing. It’s home for me, but this is a new, rebuilding situation,’’ Turkoglu said. ``If they want my leadership I would love to be here. If not, I totally understand the situation and the business. I just have to wait throughout the summer and see what happens and do what’s best for me.’’

Regardless of whether Turkoglu returns or not, his place in the history of the Magic as the franchise heads into its 25th anniversary season should be secure. Not even a bad 2012-13 season – one where he nearly averaged career lows in points (2.9), rebounds (2.4) and assists (2.1) – can undo all of the good times he had in his previous seven seasons with the Magic.

Turkoglu, who signed a free-agent deal with Orlando in 2004, ranks in the top 10 all-time in Magic history in 12 major statistical categories. He’s played the third-most minutes of any Magic player (16,234) and he’s sixth in games played (497) in a Magic uniform. The other statistics show off his impressive versatility as he ranks third in 3-pointers (794), fifth in scoring (7,198), fifth in rebounds (2,221), sixth in assists (1,927), sixth in free throws (1,402) and ninth in steals (425).

Turkoglu, the NBA’s first Turkish-born player, was a solid player during his first three years in Orlando, but his career went to another level under Stan Van Gundy – the first coach to put the ball in the 6-foot-10 forward’s hands and trust him to make plays. In 2007-08, Turkoglu averaged career highs in points (19.5), rebounds (5.7) and assists (5.0) and became the first player in franchise history to win the Eastern Conference Player of the Week award in consecutive weeks. His tremendous growth under Van Gundy allowed Turkoglu to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award in 2008.

He followed that season up with another strong showing in 2008-09, helping the Magic win 59 regular-season games. But Turkoglu’s best work came in the playoffs – especially in the Game 7 in Boston when the small forward authored arguably the best performance of his career. He battered the Celtics for 25 points and 12 assists – many of them leading to the 13 3-pointers the Magic drilled that day – as Orlando rolled 101-82 in Boston.

He was nearly as good in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals when he carved up Cleveland and LeBron James for 15 points and 14 assists for another Magic victory. The Magic lost to the Lakers in five games in the 2009 NBA Finals, and Turkoglu left for Toronto that summer when he received a $50 million free agent deal. He flopped with the Raptors (where they remarkably tried playing him off the ball) and didn’t have much impact in Phoenix, before former GM Otis Smith reunited him with his Magic roots.

Turkolgu’s second stint in Orlando hasn’t been nearly successful as age and injuries have eaten away at his effectiveness. But he doesn’t allow that to detract from all of the good times that he had in Orlando. And he is quick to point out that he is thankful to so many people in the Magic organization who believed in him along the way.

``I feel like a lucky guy to have put myself in such a good situation in Orlando. Mr. (Rich) DeVos, (former GM) Otis (Smith) and (former coach) Stan Van Gundy and all the way back to (former coach) Brian Hill, those guys helped to put me in the situation that I was in with the Magic,’’ Turkoglu said wistfully. ``They allowed me to reach greatness for myself and this franchise, too.

``There were a lot of people around here who helped to put me in a position to be successful individually and a part of this great franchise,’’ he continued. ``Hopefully I get to have more of those moments here, but I understand that times go by, things happen and there needs to be change. We’ll see what happens, but I’ll always cherish my time in Orlando.’’

At 32 years old and 13 seasons in the NBA, Turkoglu knows that he is in the twilight of his NBA career. Now the father of two little girls, he is happy with his legacy in professional basketball and can’t wait to tell them someday about his prowess as a player with the Magic. But he is also hopeful that his run in the NBA isn’t over and is vowing to try and keep playing next season regardless of how his future with the Magic plays out.

``I look at (this past season) pretty much as an empty season because I only played (11) games. This is the lowest amount of games that I’ve played in any career – even when I was overseas,’’ said Turkoglu, his voice rising with disgust. ``But thank God I’m past the injury situation and I’ve got a good summer ahead of me to prepare myself again. I’ll just cross my fingers and pray to God that those kinds of injuries won’t set me back again. I believe in myself and I’m a competitive guy. Hopefully when the time comes I will be ready to compete again.’’

And regardless of what the future holds for Turkoglu, he’ll always have his Magic memories.

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