Doc Rivers saw what kind of veteran leader the Clippers acquired in Hedo Turkoglu within minutes of his first game.
The Clippers were at Madison Square Garden, Turkoglu had been a Clipper since the previous morning. He was wearing his blue No. 8 jersey for the first time and without hesitation he was involved in calming a situation down.
“The first game [Turkoglu] dressed D.J. (DeAndre Jordan) came out and lost his mind about some play and before I got to him, Hedo ran out on the floor and grabbed him and told him that he was wrong and said, ‘Next play, let’s move on,’” Rivers said. “I was looking at him like, that’s a stranger talking to him right now. They listen because they know he’s been around.”
Turkoglu, 34, has played on six teams. He’s been to the Finals. He’s been the focal point of an offense, a sixth man, a role player and a point forward. Turkoglu’s experience is what makes him valuable to the Clippers and it’s why he has earned the respect of his teammates.
“I forget how many teams he’s played on and everything he’s been through,” Blake Griffin said. “He was telling me a little bit about when he played for Sacramento with that team and throughout the years when he was with Orlando and Dwight [Howard]. He’s been on a lot of different teams and he’s played well and played kind of different roles in a sense on each team. He commands respect automatically from his experience.”
But experience would mean little if he was incapable contributing on the court. Through 10 games in L.A., Turkoglu, despite missing first two and a half months of this season and most of 2012-13, has looked the part. His ability to see the floor the way he did in Orlando when he served as one of the team’s primary offensive options, is still apparent. The step-back jumper is still there and so his ball-handling, which came as something of a surprise to Rivers.
“I was surprised in the first game [about] his ball-handling,” Rivers said. “Usually, you miss the amount of games he missed that’s the last thing that comes around because of the speed of the game and all that.”
But it was clear the time Turkoglu spent working out at Rollins College while his contract situation was being sorted out by the Magic paid off. Rivers said Turkoglu’s weight is down and said he’s in “great shape.”
Griffin said he believes Turkoglu will be a “big factor” for the Clippers down the road. He showed glimpses of that already. Against Utah on Saturday, Turkoglu scored six points with five assists and four rebounds in 13 minutes. In the second quarter, when the Clippers were in desperate need of offense, he knocked down a jumper a step inside the 3-point line, hit an off balance runner in the lane and flipped in a layup around Utah rookie Rudy Gobert.
The scoring is somewhat of a bonus to what Turkoglu provides as a playmaker.
“We run that 4-5 pick-and-roll which is unorthodox,” Rivers said. “And he’s making passes like he’s been playing all along.”
It seems that way more so in Turkoglu’s instant chemistry with Jordan. He’s found the Clippers’ bouncy big man for a high-low lob out of that pick-and-roll five times in just 57 minutes on the floor together.
“We definitely play well together, especially in that 4-5 pick-and-roll,” Jordan said. “Turk’s a great passer, but he’s also a great shooter. So, guys have to step up and take him and if not, he’s a helluva passer, so he’s able to make that pass.”
For Rivers, acquiring a veteran player midstream is not unusual. It was commonplace in Boston, where amidst their stretch runs they acquired the likes of P.J. Brown, Nate Robinson, Sam Cassell, and Jordan Crawford among others.
“We did it almost every year in Boston and got lucky a couple of times and sometimes it didn’t work out,” Rivers said. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the chance. I always go back to P.J. Brown [in 2008]. He was sitting literally at home and we just happened to have the All-Star game in New Orleans and we grabbed a couple of guys who were on the All-Star team, jumped in the car, and knocked on his door. He had sent out zero feelers. He answered the door and he hadn’t even been playing basketball. We told him we wanted him and we would wait as long as it takes him to get shape. But we wanted to sign him today. He made the biggest shot in the Playoffs for us.”
It took Brown nearly until the Playoffs to be a factor for the Celtics, but Turkoglu’s impact could come much sooner.
“He’s comfortable in his position and his role,” Griffin said. “We’re going to lean on him to do even more than that, I think. The faster he gets into shape, nobody’s rushing him because we obviously understand the situation, but he’s going to be good for us.”
Added Rivers: “I think Hedo will be earlier than [Brown]. He was in shape and working out and playing basketball. Hedo’s helped us already. You sign any of those guys. If somebody helps you win one game in the Playoffs, they’re worth it.”