Two summers ago, after being one of the key pieces of Orlando’s run to the Finals, Hedo Turkoglu got his five-year, $53 million payday and faded into oblivion in Toronto. His numbers dived. He beefed with the organization. The fit just never seemed as true as it did in Orlando, when he was the tall, big-shot hitting matchup problem.
The Raptors realized the poor fit and they dealt him to Phoenix in August. The Magic realized they made a mistake letting him go, and brought him back to Orlando last week in a whirlwind of deals that also brought in 1,000-watt names like Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson.
The Celtics know how much of a difference Turkoglu makes. With him, the Magic bounced the Celtics in the second round of the 2009 playoffs. Without him, the Celtics manhandled the Magic last season in the Eastern Conference Finals.
“In some ways, I think to basketball people, he’s the key part to that trade,” Rivers said.
Turkoglu averaged 16 points a night in the 2009 playoff series against the Celtics and dropped 25 points and 12 assists in Game 7. Paul Pierce is the first person to admit how much of an issue he creates.
“I’ve always said he’s one of the more difficult matchups for me at that position because of the way he shoots the ball, the way he handles, play-makes,” Pierce said. “It doesn’t hurt that he’s 6-10, so it’s hard for me to get to his shot.”
Some of the defensive principles have changed and the offense has some new wrinkles, so Turkoglu is still getting adjusted. But there’s an advantage to returning to a place where he’s thrived.
“It helps him,” said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that it’s easier for him than it is for Jason and Gilbert. Stuff comes back really quick. They’re all really smart guys, so if any of them had gone back to a team they had been with, which Hedo is, the stuff comes back pretty quickly.
“Plus, he’s not as worried about fitting in. He’s played with Jameer and Dwight and JJ. He’s played with those guys. He’s got relationships. He’s not feeling his way. He knows me. So nothing I do is going to shock him. Those other guys are in brand new situations. Hedo’s got an advantage.”