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Newly signed Toronto Raptors Hedo Turkoglu is greeted by children as he arrives for his introductory news conference in Toronto on Thursday July 9, 2009. The Turkish forward signed from the Orlando Magic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Newly signed Toronto Raptors Hedo Turkoglu is greeted by children as he arrives for his introductory news conference in Toronto on Thursday July 9, 2009. The Turkish forward signed from the Orlando Magic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Grange

Raptors' salary cap puzzle fits together Add to ...

It is the biggest free-agent signing in Toronto Raptors history, and the most complex deal general manager and president Bryan Colangelo says he's done.

But it worked - and all thanks to a mild-mannered accountant from Toronto.

How uncomfortable in the spotlight is Steve Fruitman, the Raptors' so-called salary capologist? When Hedo Turkoglu was at centre stage on the Raptors' practice court yesterday, proud owner of a newly minted $53-million (U.S.) contract, having been ushered in by a hundred or so school children wearing red and black T-shirts with his name on it, Fruitman was hiding in the weight room.

"I'm not officially allowed to talk to the media, seriously," he said.

But he was thrust front and centre when Colangelo offered Fruitman "kudos" from the stage as the back story emerged about the deal landing not only slithery 6-foot-10 forward Turkoglu from the Orlando Magic, but the cap flexibility needed to add more talent around a considerable core including Jose Calderon, Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani.

The public thanks was for coming up with a strategy that would allow Toronto to sign Turkoglu, thus preserving a wide range of other options to sign players.

Under the sign-and-trade deal, the Magic sent Turkoglu to the Raptors, who in turn sent Shawn Marion, Kris Humphries, Nathan Jawai and cash to the Dallas Mavericks and a future second-round NBA draft pick to the Memphis Grizzlies, while Dallas sent Jerry Stackhouse and cash to the Grizzlies and Devean George and Antoine Wright to the Raptors, with the Magic getting cash and a valuable $9-million trade exception they can use to add a player at a later date. The Grizzlies also dealt Greg Buckner to Dallas.

Marion is expected to soon sign a five-year contract with the Mavs for about $39-million.

"No, this was not common," Turkoglu's agent, Lon Babby, said. "A four-team trade with two sign-and-trades? That's not common. And it's a credit to this organization and their creativity to find a solution."

Also yesterday, the Raptors signed their top pick in the 2009 draft, 6-foot-7 forward DeMar DeRozan (ninth overall). Financial terms were not released.

Watching it all from a distance was Turkoglu, who was on the verge of signing with the Portland Trail Blazers a week ago, before Colangelo called with a little more money and the lure of playing in Toronto. He has since been cooling his heels while the GM tried to figure out a way the Raptors could have both their most desired free agent and some additional salary cap flexibility.

Colangelo pulled it off after Fruitman showed him a spreadsheet Wednesday afternoon - though even the Queen's University graduate was skeptical it could actually work.

After the league approved the concept, "I said, 'I'm stunned, this is the first time any of my crazy ideas have ever passed muster,'" Fruitman said. "I've had a lot of them over the years and, eventually, they find something wrong with it."

The result is that while Turkoglu, 30, nodded to the benefits of Toronto's cosmopolitan nature in convincing him and his wife to come north, the efforts Colangelo made in the past week confirmed that the basketball could be special, too.

"It's a great city, a cultural city and I grew up in a big city," Turkoglu said. "[But]I just made a decision that this is team that is good and I want to be part of this organization."

In some ways the best parts of the deal - apart from the matchup nightmares Turkoglu will create running pick-and-roll attacks with the seven-foot Bargnani and 6-foot-11 Chris Bosh - are still to come.

Because Toronto didn't dip into its cap space it can re-sign its own free agents, with possible targets including Anthony Parker and Carlos Delfino. Moreover, Colangelo can still use the mid-level exception and the biannual exception to sign additional free agents to fill out the Raptors' three remaining roster spots.

In a buyer's market, they are potent tools, and player agents are lining up to get Colangelo to spend his new-found money on them.

It didn't come easily.

"He worked the phones like a mad man," Fruitman said. "I swear I thought he had eight of them going."

The roster makeover also enables the Raptors to make a case to Bosh for a contract extension later this summer, but not until the rest of the pieces are in place.

"I don't want [Bosh]to read the book before it's published," Colangelo said.

Having written a better introduction than anyone could have expected - thanks to the brainwave of a previously unsung staffer - Colangelo was as much spent as triumphant.

"I don't know how to describe it, but emotionally, it's stressful, it's a dog fight," he said.

But worth it, in the end.

 

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