Hedo the Hero

hedo

One glance at Hedo Turkoglu’s face and you instantly recognize that this is more than a simple man from Europe. This is a man beseeched by his own talents to perform at a high level, the best player to ever cross the Atlantic from the glorious nation of Turkey. A father that plays better on the road than at home because of the noise the baby makes during the night. A 6’10” forward who is more than comfortable with bringing the ball up the court and has a streaky shot that can light up a scoreboard.

At times, a smile will grace the face of Hedo, with a grin stretching from one ear to the other. Other times, a look of boredom bordering on depression covers the mug of Hedo. After a big shot, Hedo will jog down the court with his tongue hanging out like a dog in Texas heat. It seems fitting; after all, he has been called the Michael Jordan of Turkey, with no other viable candidates to compete for the honor.

With a face only a mother could love, Hedo was drafted in the infamously bad 2000 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings with the 16th pick. His first year with the Kings was rather forgettable to put it nicely. Playing in 74 and starting 7 games, Hedo averaged just over 5 PPG, less than 3 RPG, and less than 1 assist, steal, and block per game. The Lakers, the Kings’ chief competitor in the Western Conference, would go on to defeat the Allen Iverson led 76ers for the NBA Championship.

The 2001-02 season would prove much more fruitful for the Turkish-born player. His minutes would increase from nearly 17 a game to almost 25 per game. With the increased playing time, Hedo would also boost his production. He averaged just over 10 PPG and increased his rebounding and assist numbers. He drew considerations for Sixth Man of the Year honors with his increased numbers and play. His height and skill allowed him to come off of the bench for any of the Kings’ players. He could play the power forward spot if Chris Webber needed a breather, or if Peja Stojakavic needed some time to recuperate. However, the Kings would fall short again of reaching the Finals, as the Lakers would repeat as champs once again, this time against the New Jersey Nets.

Even with his increased production, Turkoglu was not given access to the starting lineup. His production decreased in the 2002-03 season with all critical categories dropping off. His points dipped down to under 7 PPG, and his rebounding and assist numbers were nothing to write home about. The Kings again failed to make it out of the Western Conference, this time the San Antonio Spurs would defeat the Nets in the Finals.

The ensuing off-season would bring a change of scenery for Hedo. The Kings, seemingly not needing the versatile big man, traded him to the defending champion Spurs in a three-team deal. The Kings would receive “center” Brad Miller in exchange for Turkoglu and Ron Mercer. Indiana was the third party involved, receiving Scot Pollard and Danny Ferry for their troubles. Playing in a new city, Turkoglu would find the most starting time in his still short career; starting in 44 games out of the 80 he played that season. His numbers were largely uninspiring, with only 9 PPG and 4.5 RPG. However, his 3-point shooting percentage was the highest in his career, nearly 42% of his shots finding the net.

With his newly recognized ability to stroke the ball from outside the arc, Turkoglu entered free agency looking for a new place to call home. He would find that place in Orlando with the Magic and #1 overall pick Dwight Howard. Finally, Hedo would find statistical success with Orlando. Although he only started in 11 games, Hedo averaged 14 PPG and over 2 APG. The juvenile Magic would fail to reach the playoffs that season, hoping to improve for the next season.

The 2005-06 season would prove the best yet for Hedo. His production allowed for him to crack into the starting lineup for 59 of the 78 games he played in. His minutes spiked to a then career high 33.5 minutes per game. He boosted his points to nearly 15 points a contest and had averages of 4.3 RPG and 2.8 APG. However, the Magic failed yet again to reach the playoffs.

With Turkoglu improving and stepping up to comply with the Magic’s high standards, and Dwight Howard emerging from his own baby-faced appearance, the Magic had their best shot of competing since Tracy McGrady left a couple of seasons before. Undaunted by higher expectations, Turkoglu would start in each of the 73 games he played in during the 2006-07 season. He averaged a steady 13.3 PPG and helped to lead the Magic to a playoff appearance. With each new stratosphere of success the Magic reached, so did the spotlight of Hedo’s improved play and matchup difficulty.

Orlando was eliminated from the playoffs in short order and was sent back to Magic Kingdom. With the Magic looking to rebound from a disappointing exit, the 2007-08 season would be their best yet. Turkoglu would heighten nearly all of his career best averages with his best season in his career. To start with, Hedo would play and start in all 82 games in the regular season. His scoring would amplify to 19.5 PPG, while his rebounds increased to 5.7 RPG and assists expanded to 5 APG, respectively. His field goal percentage was a more than respectable 45.6%. Coach Stan Van Gundy utilized his combination of size and ability to handle the rock. He would be responsible at various times in the game to bring up the basketball and run the offense. The point-forward position yielded excellent results for Turkoglu as he earned the Most Improved Player Award for the season. Even with all of his individual successes, Turkoglu couldn’t lead the Magic past the second round of the playoffs.

The next season would prove to be the most successful for the improving Magic. Hedo would see his averages dip below the highs that he achieved the season before; however the Magic earned the #3 seed in the East, behind Boston and Cleveland. They performed well against the teams that every analyst had chosen to reach the Finals (Lakers, Cavaliers, Celtics) but were still doubted in the playoffs. Dwight Howard would mature as a player and center, earning Defensive Player of the year, edging LeBron for the honor. A midseason trade would bring in Rafer “Skip to my Lou” Alston to help replace the injured Jameer Nelson. Van Gundy would lead the Magic into the playoffs to climb the steep mountain they faced. Turkoglu helped create matchup problems for the opposing team, allowing the Magic to use 3 players over 6’10”. In addition to the height problems, Hedo had the ability to run by defenders who were larger than him and able to post up defenders who were quicker.

The Magic defeated the 76ers in the first round, even clinching the final game without the help of the suspended Howard. Turkoglu’s play was noticeably different from game to game. He played marvelously while on the road, but his home games were at times disgusting. The helpless crying of his newborn child kept Hedo up at night and caused some of his struggles on his home court. His only respite was to go on the road and get some peaceful sleep in the hotel nights before games.

The next problem for the Magic was the defending, but injured, champion Boston Celtics. The series would stretch to 7 games, pushing each of the teams to the limit and tested their intestinal fortitude. The teams traded punches with one another, each hitting game winning shots. The deciding game 7 would be played at Boston, now the heavily favored team.

The Magic was a strange team that would at once amaze and thoroughly disappoint. During the course of a game, they made it a habit to trail by obnoxiously large deficits, and then roar back into contention to hit buzzer-beating shots. Hedo took this team personality as his own. He would sway back-and-forth from despicable shooting that yields hardly 10 points, or he would catch fire late in the game and score 15 points in the 4th quarter, 2 of those being from the game winning shot.

Orlando would defeat the Celtics rather convincingly. They would advance to the playoff undefeated and heavily favored Cleveland Cavaliers. The Magic would “shock” the NBA world by winning game one on Cleveland’s home court (where they had only lost 2 games all season). The Cavs would come back in game 2 and storm ahead of the Magic by a commanding margin. The Magic would steadily claw their way back from the depths of inconsequence. They would even take the lead late in the fourth quarter, 1 second to be exact. Then King James would take the inbound and just paint the net with a beautiful long-range jump shot to win the game for the Cavaliers. It was all over, the Cavs had the momentum and renewed faith in their leader and ability. The media assumed that the unproven Magic couldn’t muster enough bravado to come back from the crushing defeat.

But, the Magic was a weird team. Hedo was blasé by the “miracle shot” that dashed Orlando’s hopes of taking two from the King’s court. He would respond by leading the resurgent Magic to two straight victories with the help of some Rashard Lewis clutch shooting and Dwight Howard’s unimaginable dominance over the weaker Cleveland big men. Cleveland would win game 5 on their home court, again cries of resurgence by Cleveland and Orlando’s impending defeat rang out from the national media. They claimed that Cleveland could steal game 6 at Orlando and the Magic’s spirits would be deflated like a week old birthday balloon. This was not to be the case, and Hedo made sure of that. The Magic dismissed Cleveland from their “destined” journey to the Finals, defeating them in game 6.

The Finals were a different story entirely. Hedo and the Magic ran into a man and a team on a mission: Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Familiar foes for Hedo from his days with Sacramento, he knew all too well the capacity for winning that Kobe has. The Magic were thoroughly dusted by Los Angeles despite some at times sordid play by Kobe, whose bright spots were games 1 and 5. Even though his season was done, Hedo was not done sparking debate and controversy in the Association.

Hedo decided to opt out of his contract, instead searching for a big payday by some team in the league. Originally thought to remain with the Magic, rumors sprouted like weeds on an unkempt lawn that numerous teams in the Association were courting Hedo. Teams like the upstart Portland Trailblazers and the struggling Toronto Raptors were whispered to have a major interest in acquiring the Turk, with teams like the Cavaliers and Pistons having minor interest in Turkoglu. Before free agency began, the Magic made a major shakeup to their roster, trading away Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee, and Tony Battie for former Slam Dunk champion Vince Carter. Seeing as how Carter plays the same position as Hedo, the move surprised most of the media. Realizing that the Magic had put their eggs in another basket, Hedo decided to move on. His choices were Portland and Toronto, each offering a unique set of benefits for Hedo and his family. His wife preferred the international atmosphere of Toronto and its large Turkish sect to the Oregon based Trailblazers.

Hedo initially agreed to terms with Portland and was set to join Brandon Roy and Greg Oden on their journey upwards in the Western Conference. However, after some deep thought and a change of heart, Hedo abandoned his agreement and has since decided on signing with the Raptors. Subject to further changing of the mind by Hedo, the move weakens the strengths of the Magic while increasing the talent level of Toronto. The man from Turkey has left his mark on the Association and has made a whole nation proud to call him one of their own.

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