Denton: Turk Prepared For Unruly Crowd

By John Denton
April 2, 2011


ORLANDO – Like a no-look pass that ends up in the popcorn of patrons sitting courtside, Hedo Turkoglu never saw this one coming.

Earlier this season when Turkoglu was still a member of the Phoenix Suns he played a preseason exhibition game in Vancouver, British Columbia. It was his first trip back to Canada since his one, ill-fated season with the Toronto Raptors. But, hey, it was the preseason, it was Suns’ point guard Steve Nash’s hometown and Turkoglu was playing some 2,700 miles away from Toronto in sleepy Vancouver.

Whoever would remember that his $52 million free-agent signing with the Raptors started slowly, endured some controversy and ended with Turkoglu demanding a trade out of Canada?

``I was shocked and wasn’t really expecting it in Vancouver,’’ Turkoglu remembered of the chilly reception in the October preseason game. ``They announced the starting lineup and everybody cheered when they called out Grant Hill, so I thought I’d get cheered too. I was wrong. (The booing) kept going all night when I touched the ball. I wasn’t counting on being the most hated guy in all of Canada.’’

Turkoglu, again a play-making forward for the Orlando Magic, is on a seemingly ever-expanding list of players hated by Toronto’s organization for either bolting on the franchise or not playing well while there. Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter, former Magic players, have been booed upon returning to the cold, but cosmopolitan Canadian city that they couldn’t wait to flee. Chris Bosh received a similarly icy reception this season when he went back after signing with the Miami Heat in the offseason.

Now, it’s Turkoglu’s turn to face the wrath of a group of fans with a well-deserved inferiority complex because of all of the defections through the years. Turkoglu said the taunts and boos will have no effect on him either way when his Magic (48-28) face the Raptors (20-54) Sunday night at 6 p.m.

``I can’t wait. I’m just focused on getting myself going here and playing better every day. I want to stay at this level and help my team get a (win),’’ Turkoglu said. ``It’s no hard feelings or being mad (at Toronto). We made a decision and I moved on and they moved on, so I can’t be living with the past all of the time. I still have friends in the Raptors organization that I still talk to and it will be good to see them. If I get booed, I get booed and if I don’t, I don’t. It won’t really affect my game, but I’ll be as focused as I can to help my team in that situation.’’

Magic coach Stan Van Gundy took some jabs at the Raptors organization following Orlando’s defeat of Charlotte on Friday, noting that expectations might have been out of line when Turkoglu signed with the Raptors as a free agent in the summer of 2009. Toronto never won a playoff series with Bosh or Turkoglu, so Van Gundy said there should be little resentment that those players chose to leave.

``As far as Toronto’s fans, the guy (Turkoglu) was there one year and I guess Toronto’s fans have to have something to get excited about, but that won’t be a big storyline in the game,’’ Van Gundy said. ``When you look at the ones that go home, LeBron James leaves Cleveland and they had been a successful team. Turk was on a non-playoff team (in Toronto). The team didn’t achieve anything, so I don’t know why anyone would be upset that those guys are gone. They weren’t winning with them anyway.’’

Turkoglu couldn’t be happier being back in Orlando following the Dec. 18 trade that brought him to the Magic from the Suns. It was a long, winding journey from spending five seasons in Orlando, helping the Magic reach the 2009 NBA Finals, signing the monstrous deal with the Raptors, being miscast and struggling in Toronto, getting traded to Phoenix and finally returning to Orlando.

Turkoglu averaged 11.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists in his one season in Toronto – all numbers close to his career averages – but he struggled for long periods of times because he was badly miscast in Toronto. A highly skilled playmaker who thrives dictating pick-and-roll sets, Turkoglu was played mostly off the ball with the Raptors. Instead, Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack handled the ball, while the offense ran through Bosh in the high post. Even though he was given $52 million in free agency, Turkoglu was mostly playing out of position as a spot-up shooter.

``I don’t really want to talk about the past. I can’t always be defending myself or having to explain what happened. So everybody here knows what kind of player that I am and I never promised anybody that I would play different (in Toronto),’’ Turkoglu said. ``The way that I am used here now is best. Of course, people expected the way I was playing here to be the same going up there.’’

There was also an ugly incident with the Raptors that turned the fans and media in Toronto against Turkolgu. Last season, Turkoglu was unable to play a game in New York because of an illness, but he still attended the game and sat on the bench with the team, according to the small forward. Later that night, Turkoglu said he was feeling better and was invited to a bar by his teammates and he said he stayed 15 minutes in that establishment before leaving with former teammate Andrea Bargnani. He was accused of partying on a night when he missed a game – a charge he flatly denies.

``Really, I wasn’t expecting it to be the same up there (in Toronto) as I had it here (in Orlando),’’ Turkoglu continued. ``It just didn’t work out. I was eager to change things because the way I can be really good at helping the team is the way I play here. I’ve been a team guy all my life and worry about what I can do to make the team better. I’ve moved on and I have the Orlando Magic uniform on now.’’

Back in Orlando and with the ball in his hands once again, Turkoglu has once again thrived in Orlando. In 50 games, he’s averaged 11.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists a game while shooting a solid 45.2 percent from the floor and a career-best 42.7 percent from the 3-point stripe.

He had 12 points and seven assists in Friday’s defeat of Charlotte, bringing him to within two points of scoring 10,000 points for his career. But it was his three turnovers – mostly off those aforementioned no-look passes – that still drives Van Gundy crazy at times.

No one in the NBA is a bigger supporter than Van Gundy, the coach who has shown the most trust in the Turkish small forward by handing him the ball at the end of games in pick-and-roll plays. But Van Gundy just wants to see more focus and consistency from Turkoglu in this second stint with the Magic.

``Some of the passes he threw (Friday night), he was getting booed by me. What he needs to worry about more right now is that I’m not booing him and not Toronto’s fans,’’ Van Gundy said. ``He’s such a great player who can be so lackadaisical about what he’s doing. Not all of the time, but there are times when it’s frustrating for me with him because he’s so talented and I have such great confidence in him, but when you see him being causal on a possession and throwing a pass without looking and not delivering the ball on target it’s frustrating.

``When you see great players wasting talent it’s frustrating,’’ Van Gundy continued. ``Yeah, there are times when I’ll start booing him, too.’’

Tonight in Toronto, the coach will likely have to get in line to boo Turkoglu.

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.