Commentary

Hedo could be headed elsewhere

Originally Published: June 13, 2009
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

Hedo TurkogluNathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesAfter a very good playoff run, Hedo Turkoglu could be heading for a big free-agent payday.
ORLANDO -- Attention Magic fans: You may want to savor the sight of Hedo Turkoglu wearing an Orlando uniform Sunday night in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, because it may be the last time it happens.

Why?

Because the Magic may not be able to afford to keep him.

Turkoglu has a player option for the 2009-10 season for $7.36 million, but sources have told ESPN.com that Orlando's 30-year-old starting small forward is 100 percent certain to exercise his right to terminate his contract, which will make him an unrestricted free agent as of July 1.

At that point, it will become a question of what kind of contract Turkoglu can command -- and it will likely be five years at an annual price significantly higher than the $7.36 million he is forsaking. And then it will become a question of whether the Magic can move enough salary through trades to pay Turkoglu his market value while staying beneath the luxury-tax threshold, which was $71.15 million this season but could drop into the high 60 millions for the upcoming season.

"We're not a team that would relish being in the tax, and with that said, we have our work to do, and we'll do our due diligence in doing our work. We like Turk, and we want to keep Turk here in a Magic uniform, but there are some challenges in doing that," Orlando general manager Otis Smith told ESPN.com on Saturday. "Management doesn't want to be a tax team, but that doesn't mean it won't happen. We haven't been a tax team in three years, but that doesn't necessarily mean we won't be going forward."

Smith went on to say it'll come down to a question of what is reasonable and what is not.

And that is where his own history could come back to haunt him.

Almost every summer, there is one NBA free agent who ends up with a contract of eye-popping size.

Last year, it was Monta Ellis getting $66 million from Golden State. Three years ago, it was Ben Wallace getting $60 million from Chicago. The year before, it was Larry Hughes getting a $70 million offer from Cleveland as a restricted free agent -- an offer that Washington was unwilling to match.

And two years ago, it was Smith who opened the Magic's checkbook to Rashard Lewis, granting him $113 million for six years in a sign-and-trade deal with the Seattle SuperSonics.

Lewis is due to make $18.01 million in 2009-10 and Dwight Howard is on the books for $15.1 million, the two of them combining to take up more than half of Orlando's cap space. Also under contract are Tony Battie ($6.3 million), Jameer Nelson ($6.1 million), Rafer Alston ($5.2 million), J.J. Redick ($2.8 million), Anthony Johnson ($2.1 million) and Courtney Lee ($1.3 million), while Marcin Gortat will be a restricted free agent and Tyronn Lue, Adonal Foyle and Jeremy Richardson will come off Orlando's cap.

In order to clear the funds to re-sign Turkoglu and stay under the tax, the Magic may need to look for ways to move Alston, Battie and/or Johnson without taking back equal salary in return -- an extremely tall order in an NBA economy in which several teams will be looking to shed salary.

"We have a plan, we're in motion on the plan. Yeah, it would be a key loss to lose Turk because he's been such a vital part of what we do for a number of years," Smith said. "But that doesn't necessarily mean we're going to break the bank to keep him or not break the bank to keep him, it's just that he's a vital part of what we do."

The work Smith must do to keep Turkoglu will begin after the NBA Finals end and will continue through June 30, when the draft will have passed and teams have a better idea of what the leaguewide financial picture looks like going forward. This year, the moratorium on signings has been shortened from eight days to seven, and July 8 is the date that pen can first touch paper.

Based upon conversations with numerous league sources, ESPN.com has learned enough information to lay out the most plausible scenarios regarding Turkoglu moving forward:

Staying in Orlando

How much space can the Magic clear and what do they consider a reasonable price for Turkoglu? Anything too far north of a $10 million starting salary might tilt the scales toward unreasonable for their situation. Furthermore, what remains to be seen is whether Turkoglu would stay in Orlando at a price below market value.

Signing with Detroit, or going to the Pistons in a sign-and-trade

Detroit has Allen Iverson ($21.9 million) and Rasheed Wallace ($13.7) coming off the cap, and would like to get as far as $23 million under the cap, which would give the Pistons the ability to acquire two high-level free agents. Impacting their financial equation will be Kwame Brown's decision this month on whether to pick up his player option of $4.1 million for next season, and Joe Dumars' efforts to move Amir Johnson's expiring $3.6 million deal without taking back an equal contract in return.

If the Pistons find themselves stuck with both of those players, their best option to make a pair of impact acquisitions would probably involve moving Tayshaun Prince (owed $21.5 million over the next two seasons) as part of a sign-and-trade deal for an unrestricted free agent, whether it is Turkoglu, Carlos Boozer, Lamar Odom or someone else.

Signing with Toronto, or going to the Raptors in a sign-and-trade

The recent Jason Kapono-Reggie Evans trade took $1.2 million off the Raptors' cap commitment for next season, and they could get roughly $10 million under the cap by shedding Patrick O'Bryant (who has only a partial guarantee). If the Pistons yearn for another free agent more than they covet Turkoglu, the Raptors become more of a factor. Toronto also still holds the NBA rights to Carlos Delfino, who could be used in a sign-and-trade.

Signing with Portland, or going to the Trail Blazers in a sign-and-trade

Because Darius Miles went back on the Blazers' books for $9 million midway through the 2009-10 season, their cap space for the upcoming season has shrunk to somewhere around $7-9 million, depending on whether they renounce their rights to overseas players Petteri Koponen and Joel Freeland.

Some sources, while cautioning against Portland's proclivity for subterfuge, are saying the Blazers covet a point guard upgrade from Steve Blake more than they covet a small forward upgrade from Nicolas Batum. If that's the case, they might decide to swing an uneven trade, salary-wise, in which they use their cap space to bring in a top-tier point guard rather than Turkoglu or another small forward.

Going somewhere else

Possibilities include such teams as Sacramento (where Turkoglu began his NBA career), which could acquire Turkoglu via a three-team sign-and-trade that would be brokered by Memphis or Oklahoma City, two teams with an abundance of cap space. The Grizzlies and Thunder themselves are not expected to be interested in Turkoglu, given that they have his position filled and are undertaking youth movements.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Sheridan, click here.