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Kelly Dwyer

At whatever cost, Hedo Turkoglu's Orlando reunion is working

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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You'd like to think we could wait a little longer than a year and a half before we start revising history, but this is the NBA. Everything's wacky, nothing makes sense and everyone's got their own take about what's right and what's really, really right.

Like, for instance, Hedo Turkoglu's(notes) place on the Orlando Magic.

He's been fantastic, since coming back to Orlando a few weeks ago. He's averaged 12.5 points, 6.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds in 35 minutes a game while shooting over 40 percent from the 3-point line. The Magic are 9-2 since trading for Hedo, Jason Richardson(notes), Gilbert Arenas(notes) and Earl Clark(notes), and Turkoglu seems to have picked up where he left off when he left the Magic in July 2009.

Actually, that's revisionist history. Because he's playing way, way better than the player who suited up for Orlando in 2008-09. Hedo is shooting better and playing a more efficient style of ball overall than the guy Orlando saw dominate the rock after Jameer Nelson(notes) went down in February 2009. The current version is a clear step up from both the regular season and playoff version of the Turkoglu the Magic enjoyed that season. He's older, better paid and better. Somehow.

And because everything is going so well, now's the time where we have to start telling people that they've done a terrible job.

Take ‘er away, Mike Bianchi:

Now that Turk is back and meshing marvelously - just like he did two years ago when he was the second-most important player on a Magic team that went to the NBA Finals - Smith actually said these words: "Yes, I was wrong."

But, of course, he added a qualifier.

"In its simplest form - Hedo's gone and now he's back - you could say we made a mistake, but there's more to it than that. We made a deal to fill a hole based on what we knew the economics would be down the road with Hedo."

Frankly, I never understood the Magic's "down the road" mentality. The Magic were in the NBA Finals. They were thisclose to winning a championship. And when you're thisclose to winning a championship, you don't worry about down the road, do you?

Well, yes. You kind of worry about down the road. Because entire organizations have been shot to hell for half a decade or so at a time because personnel chiefs calculated incorrectly in the warm afterglow of a near-championship. Or even an actual championship. Win now, if you have the chance, but that doesn't mean you stick with the status quo just ... ‘cause.

Now, Mike isn't telling us that Otis Smith did a terrible job in passing on re-signing Turkoglu back in 2009, and Otis Smith isn't telling us he did a terrible job, but the idea is there. The idea that not matching or exceeding the five-year, $52.8 million dollar deal (with a massive trade kicker) that Toronto signed him to that summer was an awful move. When, in fact, it was the right move.

The Magic's payroll will come close to $90 million this season, and only down to $74 million next year if the team decides to let Richardson go for no return. This is a small-market team that is capping itself out a dozen times over just to win now. And in letting Turkoglu go a year and a half ago, the Magic secured a chance to become the league's deepest team while piling in the sort of trade assets that would allow them to, well, trade for Hedo's terrible contract a year and a half later.

It's not Smith's fault that Vince Carter(notes) decided to turn into 70 percent of the player he was in 2008-09 during 2009-10 and this season. Kind of the same way Turkoglu did, if we're to be up front about all of this.

Turkoglu is playing with a bad contract. That is not a deal commensurate with his abilities. Yes, he fits ably into Stan Van Gundy's schemes offensively, but it's Smith's job as a GM to find players who can fit in nearly as ably without costing twice as much (quite literally) as what they should make. Passing on Turkoglu wasn't a mistake. It's just a weird thing that happens when you have an overreaching GM (or two, because Portland's Kevin Pritchard tried to sign Hedo to the same terrible deal Bryan Colangelo did), the warmth of a lot of time spent on national TV, and a player who works off talent alone while not taking care of his body.

Raw talent, and comfort with a system, is the reason Turkoglu is playing so well in Orlando. And sometimes unorthodoxy (like paying an eight-figure yearly salary to a 29-year-old who shot 41 percent that year) helps, but I'm not going to kill Otis Smith for this. There are so many other things to criticize Smith for, but not this.

He made the right move, it didn't work, and somehow (as has been the case quite a few times in Smith's Orlando tenure), he's backed into the right move gone wrong and working out. Or the wrong move, gone right, and working out. Like Billy Donovan turning Orlando down and Stan Van Gundy stepping in. Or Rashard Lewis'(notes) ridiculous contract that still allows him to run circles around the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2009 Conference finals. Where Hedo fits in all this remains to be seen, but the early returns are encouraging, to say the absolute least.

Let's just enjoy a very good team playing very good ball without having to get all black and white about it, OK?

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