Let's Talk Hedo

I've been following the Hedo Turkoglu story with rapt interest all day, as I'm sure you have.  Kudos to Ben Golliver for keeping on top of it.  He is indeed the man in the trenches and his work has been amazing.

The story, of course, has been twisting and turning like a belly dancer on an anthill.  Friday morning it looked like Hedo was a Blazer.  Friday afternoon it looked up in the air.  Friday evening it became apparent that though they had donned the white sport coat and pink carnation, the Blazers had nobody to take to the dance.  Obviously that's a letdown, at least for tonight.  Here are some thoughts to put things in perspective.

This isn't the first time a team has been used to establish an asking price for another team.  We talk about players as family.  In some ways they are.  But this is also a business.  What happened with Turkoglu is within the rules.  It could be that he never had serious intentions of signing with the Blazers and this was a cold move.  More likely he found it advisable to seriously consider his options and get definite salary quotes from all interested parties even if he was leaning towards one team over another.  If it were me, I'd come into Portland thinking that they'd absolutely have to knock my socks off with the atmosphere, plans, and salary in order to get me to change my mind.  But I'd still meet with them to see if they could do that.  It's called being smart and doing your due diligence.  There's no reason to hate Turkoglu for that.

One of the broader lessons to be learned here is to never lose sight of the game.  You have to be a little ruthless to operate in this league.  Sometimes you have to make difficult decisions about players or contracts the same way Turkoglu made his decision about his future team.  Kevin Pritchard has already had to take on that role.  (Anyone remember that post saying goodbye to Channing Frye?)  He'll have to again in the future.  Nobody should complain about that.  Loyalty exists, but it's bound to contracts and performance.  Don't forget that.

It goes without saying that another lesson is to not count chickens before they're hatched.  The massive swing in the story today rivals any in Blazers history.  Once upon a time Portland called a press conference to welcome Trenton Hassell to town only to have the Timberwolves match the offer and pull him back.  Today it looked like Turkoglu was a Blazer and now he's not.  Part of that may have been the team's doing.  Part of it was surely the media.  We move quickly nowadays.  I've never liked quick as much as I like right.  Obviously we all need to be careful about jumping at the first thing we hear.  Personally I'm not going to be comfortable with the idea that Hedo is a Raptor until I see a signed contract.  The only thing that would make this story more perfect (and interesting) would be another reversal of fortune wherein Toronto ended up not signing him and him having to come back for a lesser offer.  That would be part of the game as well, eh?

Here's another quasi-philosophical point:  Things like this usually work out like they're supposed to.  It sounds trite, but it's often true.  Think back now.  Does anybody really miss Trenton Hassell? 

 I'm going to be honest with you about a few things:

--Turkoglu always seemed more like a Raptor to me than a Blazer.  He fits that team's profile.  We also knew from the beginning that Toronto's offer would be bigger and he was in a position where the bigger deal was going to weigh heavier.  I was honestly somewhat surprised when the news broke this morning that he was coming to Portland.

--Part of me was also disappointed when the news broke this morning.  Granted, I was prepared to warm up to the idea.  I could see the offensive contributions Hedo can make.  I could see having another all-around stat guy next to Brandon Roy being an awe-inspiring sight.  I was more than willing to make the best of it and get excited about it.  But I was also prepared to do something I haven't had to do very often since I started this gig:  posit publicly that the Blazers might have made a mistake.  I tend to camp out on the John Hollinger side of the issue, that Hedo looked good because he was in a system that fit him (and covered for him) and even his "good" wasn't that spectacular.  I was worried that he'd need a bigger role, particularly handling the ball, than his relative talent on the team would warrant.  Most of all I was worried that we were buying high on a guy whose value wouldn't be great unless he came through in spades.  There was reward to this move, yes, but there was also risk.  The downside of that risk at least equaled the upside of the reward.  The Blazers might need to make a bold move, but I wonder if this was the one.

--The worst part of the deal by far was the five-year, $50 million contract.  Not only is that a lot of money, it's just too long.  The Blazers don't need a starting small forward for five years.  They need a guy who will start for them for two years, three tops (with a tradeable expiring contract in that last year, obviously).  If Nicolas Batum or Martell Webster panned out then Turkoglu would have been a millstone around our necks long before the final year of his contract.  By the fourth year he wouldn't have been worth a plug nickel in trade.  He wouldn't have been happy coming off the bench.  I'm not sure he would have been a capable starter at that age either.  Portland dodged a bullet here and I'm pretty convinced that the Raptors are going to find that out.  Continuing our "ditched at the dance" theme, we're all sad tonight but three years down the road when we've found our beloved (possibly standing quietly behind us all the while) and the Raptors are waltzing with a girl who's aged poorly and is causing them headaches, we'll probably be relieved.

By the way, though the story told is going to be Hedo jilting Portland I think it's entirely possible that some of these misgivings showed through on the Blazers' part today as well.  There may have been second thoughts about this deal, some not likely to be made public.  The Blazers had to make a pitch-perfect presentation to convince Turkoglu to take $5-6 million less and live in a less optimal city (by his way of thinking anyway).  Turkoglu had to show commitment and drive to justify the biggest, longest contract of his career, a contract that would certainly burden the Blazers down the road.  The most likely explanation in all of this is that neither of those things happened.

Sadly, that doesn't change the fact that the Blazers are still without a confirmed acquisition, which was probably not their "A" plan.  You can characterize today as understandable.  You may characterize it as ultimately for the best.  You can't characterize it as positive.  There have been teams in this position before who have made expensive stabs at the wrong players to compensate.  There have also been teams who couldn't use their cap flexibility at all.  Either result would be a serious blow to Portland's growth curve.  The Blazers optimal plan definitely involves adding quality help right now.  They've been building towards this moment for the last couple of years.  They now have to tread the fine line between being patient, waiting for the right move, and just letting the opportunity slip by.

In one scenario the Blazers have time.  The cap space doesn't go anywhere on its own.  They have flexibility in trade matters right up until the Feburary deadline.  In another scenario they're going to have to scramble now.  This one would be invoked if they had a domino-like plan that started with signing a free agent, continued through making a trade, and finished with extending the contracts of Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge...which is a very likely scenario.  It's quite possible that those steps have to happen in order:  the free agent signing to make full use of the cap space, the trade then being conducted under the 125%+$100,000 over-the-cap rule, and the contract extensions putting us irrevocably beyond the cap limit.  If the Blazers wanted to take back 25% more salary than they sent out in trade, for instance, consummating that deal before signing a free agent would lose them a significant amount of their remaining signing space.  If this is the case, the trade won't wait forever.  Also locking up Roy and Aldridge is a big deal...certainly the most important step in the team's future of the three listed.  You don't want that issue to linger.  One assumes that the Blazer brain trust has a Plan B at the ready.  If not they're probably burning the midnight oil as we speak.

I would not have been entirely displeased to see Hedo Turkoglu as a Blazer.  I am not displeased to see that he is not.  I am mindful, though, that we have veered off of the highway and onto the shoulder here.  I am hoping that the hand at the wheel is steady and confident in bringing us back...that we'll neither drive up an embankment nor overcorrect and swerve across traffic trying to get back.

It's going to be an interesting summer.  This may be the biggest challenge of Kevin Pritchard's career.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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