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Hedo Turkoglu, the first player born in Turkey ever to play in the NBA, officially announced his retirement on Friday, capping a 15-year career during which he became one of the game's top frontcourt playmakers.
Turkoglu logged 997 career NBA games after being drafted with the 16th overall pick in the 2000 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings, and played a reserve role off the bench for Doc Rivers' Los Angeles Clippers over the past two seasons before entering free agency. He'd reportedly hoped to get over the 1,000-game mark, which only 115 players in NBA history have reached, but evidently found no suitors. He will assume an as-yet-unannounced role with the Turkish Basketball Federation, according to CNN Turkey.
“I am very thankful and grateful for the opportunity to live out my dream and play in the NBA,” the 36-year-old Turkoglu said in a statement released by the Magic, with whom he spent parts of eight seasons. “I will always remember my teammates, coaches, staff members and all of the fans who made my career so wonderful for myself and my family.”
After beginning his career as a reserve swingman for Rick Adelman's running/gunning/passing/glorious early-2000s Kings, Turkoglu was shipped to the San Antonio Spurs in a three-team deal, playing a rotation role on a 57-win club that bowed out in the Western Conference semifinals. He signed a six-year, $39 million offer sheet with Orlando in restricted free agency in the summer of 2004, and would play well on the wing for coaches Johnny Davis, Chris Jent and Brian Hill.
It was the arrival of Stan Van Gundy in the 2007-08 season, though, that unlocked Turkoglu's full value. He was a canny enough reader of defenses and a willing enough passer to work as a point forward capable of running the offense. At 6-foot-10, his size created mismatches against opposing small forwards; his craftiness off the dribble made him a tough cover in space for opposing fours. His ball-moving and knockdown 3-point shooting helped create space on the interior for young bull Dwight Howard. Van Gundy recognized all that, and put it to use.
Unleashed and emboldened, Turkoglu averaged 19.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and five assists in 36.9 minutes per game that season. He earned recognition as the NBA's Most Improved Player on a surprising 52-win team. The following year, he'd team with Howard and Rashard Lewis to lead Orlando to the NBA Finals, where they'd lose in five games to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Turkgolu ranks in the top 10 in Magic franchise history in a slew of statistical categories, including games and minutes played, made field goals, 3-pointers and free throws, points, rebounds, assists and steals. He recently attended the Magic's home opener against the Washington Wizards, reportedly receiving "a warm ovation" when he appeared on the Jumbotron. On Friday, Zach Oliver of Orlando Pinstriped Post called him the "best small forward in [franchise] history," and while Our Fearless Leader didn't put him on the All-Time Starting Five this summer, there's no arguing what he accomplished in a Magic uniform.
The Magic plan to honor Turkoglu during a special ceremony on Friday, Dec. 18, when Orlando hosts the Portland Trail Blazers at Amway Center. There is, of course, a bit of irony in Turkoglu's career being celebrated during a game against the Blazers.
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When the 2009 free agency period opened, a Blazers squad chock full of young talent — Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden, Rudy Fernandez, Travis Outlaw, all 25 or younger — looked at the 30-year-old Turkoglu as the sort of floor-spacing, pick-and-roll-running, versatile and playoff-experienced frontcourt veteran who could push Portland from up-and-comer to contender. He'd agreed to terms on a five-year, $50 million deal with the Blazers ... only to back out of his commitment and sign a five-year, $53 million contract with the Toronto Raptors, a reneging that reportedly had to do with Hedo's wife preferring Toronto, "a far more European-style city," to Portland.
Blazers fans never forgot or forgave, and booed Hedo every time his NBA travels brought him back to the Rose Garden, even a half-dozen years later. (Which is to say: strap in, DeAndre.) As it turned out, Turkoglu's about-face didn't work out super well for either him or the Raptors.
In the first season of that new deal, his scoring numbers dropped off, he got the foul line less often and his defensive struggles were magnified playing without Howard behind him in the paint. What was left was a pretty average player making star-level money, underperforming his contract for a club that struggled mightily. He soon found himself on the hot seat after eschewing pizza parties in favor of something a bit stiffer — and he reportedly wasn't alone there — mere hours after missing a game due to a stomach virus.
The highlight of Turkoglu's Toronto career: a 26-point, 11-rebound performance in a win over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden that resulted in one of the more delightfully absurd post-game interviews in recent memory:
Just one year after pushing his way to Toronto, Hedo wanted to take his "ball" and go home. He didn't quite get that wish, but he got out, dancing his way to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Leandro Barbosa and Dwayne Jones. A hoped-for rejuvenation in the desert playing alongside two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash never really materialized; less than two months into the season, Turkoglu found himself back in Orlando as part of a six-player deal aimed at kickstarting a Magic club that had lost six of seven and wanted to convince Howard they were still a title contender.
Back in his point-forward playmaker role, Turkoglu played well, but Orlando bowed out in the first round to the Atlanta Hawks. Turkoglu's play declined the following season, helping turn the deal into a disaster for Orlando — one of the outgoing players, Howard's backup, Marcin Gortat, turned into a strong starter in Phoenix, and the future first-round pick the Magic sent out would later be used on current Chicago Bulls starter Nikola Mirotic.
Injuries and a 20-game suspension for a positive steroid test limited Turkoglu to only 11 games in the 2012-13 campaign. (He denied knowingly taking an illicit substance, saying "he received medication from his personal trainer to treat a shoulder injury and didn't check with Magic medical staff to ensure the medication didn’t violate the league’s drug policy," according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel.) He remained sidelined for the first 32 games of the 2013-14 season; the Magic waived him in January 2014. He'd catch on with the Clips, making 100 appearances in a limited role over the last two seasons.
While Turkoglu declined sharply after age 30 and spent his last few seasons struggling to reclaim the fire of old, Peak Hedo was an oddly intriguing player — a herky-jerky dude without great quickness or athleticism who always seemed to get where he wanted to go on the court; a frequent chucker who still always seemed to know just how to get his teammates the ball where they wanted it; a warm-hearted goof with a sneering swagger who always seemed comfortable stepping into a big shot. He served as something of a stylistic precursor to many of the ball-handling, floor-spacing big men littering the landscape today, and he was pretty fun to watch, to boot.
Vaya con dios, Hedo. Have a slice for us, for old times' sake.
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