By: David Kay
In recent years, Toronto has become the “Euro” team of the NBA. That transformation began in 2006 when the club hired former Benetton Treviso general manager Maurizi Gherardini as the first European to hold a senior management position in the league. With his knowledge of overseas basketball, the Raptors began to stock their roster with unfamiliar names like Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Jorge Garbajosa, Carlos Delfino, and Roko Ukic. Now, Hedo Turkoglu is continuing that trend by bringing his Turkish roots to the Raptors.
After he opted out of the final year of his contract with the Magic that would have paid him about $7.3 million, everybody expected Turkoglu to join the on-the-rise Portland Trailblazers this off-season since Orlando already moved on by trading for Vince Carter. Once the free agency period began, Blazers head coach Nate McMillan wasted no time in courting the Turkish star and a deal between the two sides seemed imminent. Instead, Turkoglu spurned an all but done deal with the Blazers and agreed to a five-year, $53 million with the Raptors. This decision was reportedly made because Turkoglu and his wife preferred living in Toronto where there is a larger Turkish population.
This is a huge get for the Raptors who were desperate to land an impact wing player. Turkoglu proved to be a go-to scorer with the Magic this past season, especially during their run to the NBA Finals. His size and shooting ability make him a difficult match-up for opposing teams. Combine his versatility with Bargnani’s capability to step out and knock down the three-pointer and Calderon’s three-point range, and Toronto should be one of the most dangerous outside teams in the league.
His signing is even more crucial with the likely departure of Chris Bosh, who is entering the final year of his contract. If the Raptors decide to trade Bosh during the season (which they are likely to do as to ensure they don’t lose him to free agency and get nothing in return), Turkoglu can help fill the massive void he would leave. If somehow Bosh ends up staying in Toronto past this season, the Raptors suddenly have an effective one-two punch of Bosh and Turkoglu with productive players like Bargnani, Calderon, and first-round pick Demar DeRozan who is loaded with potential.
The one major down-size that results from this signing is how thin Toronto will be on their bench. Assuming they trot out a starting five of Bargnani, Bosh, Turkoglu, DeRozan, and Calderon, their bench will consist of Reggie Evans, Patrick O’Bryant, Kris Humphries, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Nathan Jawai, Quincy Douby, Roko Ukic, and Marcus Banks. None of those eight projected bench players averaged more than 6 points per game last season. And by signing Turkoglu, Toronto’s cap space shrinks making it more difficult to land any other free agents to strengthen their depth.
By the way, if you are a Blazers fan, you mind as well start referring to Hedo’s wife, Banu, as Yoko Ono for breaking up what could have been the missing piece in launching Portland to contender status in the Western Conference.