There is no reason for optimism around the Toronto Raptors right now.
The star player is playing some of his worst basketball of the season at the worst possible time, and worse still, seems determined to share the blame as widely as possible.
The star free agent signing has been a bust and has four years and more than $40-million remaining on a contract for a player in the midst of his worst statistical performance in six seasons at age 31.
Worse still - and there's a lot of worse to be had here - that's only part of the problem.
Treated with velvet gloves by management to start the season and allowed to sit most of training camp and six of eight exhibition games, Turkoglu was seemingly empowered to embrace what appears to be a broad perfectionist streak, which is to say, if he don't feel perfect, he don't play, or practice.
This was not a deal-breaking issue (and oh how Bryan Colangelo probably wishes it could be) until the "Turkoflu" hit last Wednesday.
It's the virus that keeps on giving.
Hedo quit - I mean, stopped playing - at halftime of the Utah Jazz game last Wednesday, didn't practice Thursday, met with team doctors Friday, who apparently agreed he should be kept out the game against Denver. He also didn't make it through practice Saturday.
Now, sick is sick, though four days off for an upset stomach seems like a stretch for an elite athlete paid absolutely enormous amounts of money to be in the peak of health and fitness at all times. And as I wrote last week, sick or not, Turkoglu has a credibility problem. By not giving the impression that he's living or dying with every win or loss, or even suggesting he notices, he's given license to people to go: "Ya right" whenever he's sick or hurt or whatever.
Which makes it all too perfect that Friday night Turk is feeling a bit peckish, and heads out to Yorkville for a bite to eat after the Raptors get what heart they have broken by the Denver Nuggets, only to be seen by some fans who wonder why someone too sick to work is out for dinner, and respectfully inquire about the issue, raising the question through some media and team management.
Enough's enough, apparently. And Turkoglu gets fined and benched for the Raptors collapse in Miami last night.
And for what it's worth, when I asked him about it before the game, Turkoglu denied he was out and then started complaining about how he's been getting targeted for this stuff all year.
Sigh. Where do you start with this? Seriously.
It's apparent Colangelo and Triano screwed this up from the start. Both are smart, dedicated people, but they chose the wrong guy to give the benefit of the doubt to in the early going, and have been paying for it ever since. The word out of Orlando was that Turkoglu needed to be constantly poked, prodded, pushed and pulled to get him to deliver his best. It's not clear that's what's happened here.
Turkoglu? He should be ashamed of himself. He's taken the money but at no point has he given the impression he's determined to prove he's worth it.
I was talking to him before the game last night and it took about 30 seconds before he began complaining about his role and the system.
And you know what? He's right. It is different here than in Orlando. Everything goes through Bosh, who holds it, or Bargnani, who holds it, and this is usually after Calderon has pounded it for a few seconds. So when Turkoglu does get it it's often late in the clock and let's face it, he's not LeBron, Wade or Kobe.
But it's on him to be fit, ready and healthy, and if necessary impose his will, I think. Hasn't happened.
He's been terrible since the All-Star break, and whispers around the team attribute it to everything from his new and New York-based girlfriend having his ear to him going to Dallas for All-Star and coming back having decided to move on and going into "protect my numbers and don't get hurt mode". Or maybe he's preoccupied with getting his tattoo finished.
In any case, for years he was cautious about calling out his teammates and his coaches, preferring to lead by example. Now that the example isn't so good he's doing it casually.
Last night, in about 90 seconds, he blamed his teammates for failing to man up and hit shots going down the stretch after he kicked it out and the coaching staff for improperly scheming Wade down the stretch.
And Jay Triano? Not his finest hour. He had to have known he was going to be asked about benching Turkoglu, but when I did, this is how it came down. The relevant exchange is at the two minute mark. Here's the text:
So you gave him a seat tonight?
"He was active, it was a coach's decision to not play him."
But you could use him in a close game in the fourth quarter?
"If he's 100 per cent healthy and able to go, he's helped us in those situations, yeah."
So was the coach's decision to more to send a message to your group, or because of his health?
What was message?
You know what? That's the wrong answer. Colangelo said the matter was handled internally, which can safely be interpreted as Turkoglu was fined.
But when the second-best player on the team - or the guy paid to be the second-best player - gets benched, it's not an internal matter. It's very external. Everyone knows something is wrong, and I think they deserve a better answer than was given.
And the whole Calderon fouling Arroyo to extend the game strategy - a totally legitimate strategy, by the way - you can't, as a coach, say that you don't really have an opinion about what happens on the floor with 25 seconds left in a two-point game.
Not when your point guard is 10 feet away from you. Chris Bosh had an opinion. His opinion was to foul and extend the game, which is what he told Calderon to do, and Calderon did it. Ideally it's your point guard giving instructions, not vice-versa, but whatever.
To be fair Triano might have been trying to protect Calderon by saying that what he did wasn't wrong. But if you can't assert your will as a coach when you point guard is 10 feet away in the dying seconds of a crucial game, then when?
I'm not a gambling man, but I'd place this bet, with confidence: The Raptors aren't going to make the playoffs and in fact, will flame out in their final 10 games quite spectacularly. This team is 4-13 in their past 17, and deservedly so. Jay Triano will soon become the first Canadian ex-head coach in the NBA, and Chris Bosh will soon after be a former Raptor.
The question is will Bryan Colangelo have a chance to try and make sense of the shards that remain, and should he?Report Typo/Error
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