The Toronto Raptors will get their first look at their most-important off-season acquisition tonight - but what they see won't be what they hope they get.
Not yet at least.
It has a little do with Hedo Turkoglu's slow acclimatization to the Raptors after signing as a free agent from the Orlando Magic for five years and $53-million (U.S.). He'll be in the starting lineup when the Raptors play Boston in Hartford tonight, but not based on his performance so far in the preseason.
"Does he deserve to [play]because of the amount he's practised? No," Raptors head coach Jay Triano said. "But you know what? We only have four more preseason games; I need to put him on the floor with guys he's going to be playing with the majority of time [in the regular season]"
After spending most of July, August and early September with the Turkish national team - after competing into June at the NBA playoffs - Turkoglu asked for, and received, permission to rest and recover during the first two weeks of Toronto's training camp.
Another factor in minimizing the 30-year-old forward's role for now is to make sure the team's approach doesn't become too focused on its new playmaker at this stage.
At critical times in most games, NBA offence typically comes from some variation on a screen-and-roll - and Turkoglu is an expert at the two-man set. The last time he played in Boston it was the seventh game of the Eastern Conference semi-finals and Turkoglu used the set to perfection, leading Orlando to a win on the road with a 25-point, 12-assist gem of a night.
The Raptors want him to have the same freedom to create with the ball - but not until the team has gotten to know each other better.
"Right now, all of our offence is continuity-based," Triano said. "We haven't put in our screen-roll stuff yet. ... We need to get everyone involved right now, just because if we can sacrifice and make one or two more passes in the preseason, I think that will expedite how fast these guys learn about each other, rather than having three guys watch two guys play.
"Will we get into screen and rolls? Absolutely. But right now the idea of our training camp and our long-term project throughout this month is to get these guys acclimated to each other."
It's an approach Turkoglu understands perfectly.
"[Triano]wants us to move the ball, share the ball and let everyone touch it and feel the ball and get it on their hands," said Turkoglu, a 6-foot-9 forward who has averaged five assists a game the past two years.
But he still expects to be the person with the ball in his hands late in games - most likely running a pick-and-roll - just not tonight against the Celtics in his first minutes of meaningful action for Toronto.
For the Raptors, it's something to look forward to. While veteran forward Chris Bosh is an effective scorer, he's struggled at times late in games because teams can double-team an inside player more effectively than they can one who starts with the ball on the perimeter, as Turkoglu does.
How it gets sorted out will take time, allowing for the proper chemistry to develop, but Bosh has been pleased at the prospects so far, if only in practice.
"We don't want him to change his game at all," said Bosh, who will likely be a regular screen-and-roll partner with Turkoglu. "He's a very good passer, he can rebound the ball and he can shoot the ball and he's going to spread the floor out a lot more.
"We're still working on it [our chemistry]" Bosh said. "Today, it was, 'I'm going to pass it to you here, you cut there,' things like that. We're working on how we can read each other and make quick moves to the basket that are to our advantage."
Turkoglu is confident his time will come and he will be able to put all his skills to work, if not tonight.
"When the time comes I'll be ready, when they call those plays, to take those shots," he said. "They called me, for a while, Mr. Fourth Quarter [in Orlando] hopefully, here too."
Notes The Toronto Raptors will tonight be without Antoine Wright (knee), who will remain home for treatment. ... The Boston Celtics have been encouraged by the play of veteran forward Kevin Garnett in training camp. The anchor of their 2008 NBA championship team played just 57 games last year - just four in the last two months of the season, including the playoffs. He had knee surgery to remove bone spurs in late May, and is projected to ready when the Celtics open the 2009-10 regular season.
Next game Today, at Boston Celtics, at Hartford, 7:30 p.m. EDT
TV None Michael Grange
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