The Los Angeles Clippers ended their flirtation with free agent Hedo Turkoglu, recently waived by the Orlando Magic, signing the once-versatile forward to a veteran's minimum contract for the remainder of the season. Turkoglu is accompanying the team on their seven game road trip, and given how enthusiastic Doc Rivers was to sign the guy, one can only assume that he'll play, perhaps as soon as tomorrow night in New York.
The Clippers also signed Darius Morris to a second 10 day contract and waived Maalik Wayns, who was on his first 10 day contract with the team.
Turkoglu's signing brings the number of guaranteed contracts on the team to 14. They still have the flexibility of one available roster spot, but while Chris Paul is injured they are choosing to use that spot for an emergency backup point guard. I can tell you that Doc likes Morris, particularly his size and defense, but the fact that they opted for Morris over Wayns may not be very significant. A team can only sign a player to two 10 day contracts before that player must be signed for the rest of the season, and Morris is clearly a short term rental. Getting his second 10 day contract is more or less the equivalent of being notified that his last day as a Clipper is 10 days from now. Paul won't be back at that point, and the Clippers will have to do something else until he is. They could bring back Wayns at that time or they could look elsewhere.
Apparently, Turkoglu was quite impressive when the Clippers brought him in for a workout last week, making "shots from everywhere" according to Rivers. If it's true, it was the first time Turkoglu was impressive on a basketball court in a very long time. The last time he played in an NBA game was February 3, 2013, almost a year ago. He hasn't scored in double figures in an NBA game since April of 2012. And the last time he played competitive basketball he shot 5-28 in three games for his native Turkey in the European Championships in September.
Turkoglu was once an underrated gem in the NBA. He was arguably the second most important player on Orlando's Eastern Conference Championship team in 2009 and was a key in their defeat of Doc's favored Boston Celtics in the EC semifinals. (Like all humans, Doc is not impervious to being disproportionately impressed by first-hand observation.) But the $50M contract he signed with Toronto after the Finals was simply too much (and even before that contract he had an unfortunate misstep that damaged his reputation when he changed his mind about a contract in Portland). When he went from being a little underrated to being a lot overpaid, everything seemed to change for Hedo. His new contract was an albatross from the moment he signed it, and he was a bust in both Toronto and Phoenix before Stan Van Gundy sent him a lifeline and brought him back to Orlando.
Back with the Magic, he tried to settle back into his point forward role. Unfortunately, the Dwightmare surrounding Dwight Howard's impending free agency enveloped the team shortly after he'd returned to Florida, and once Howard left, Turkoglu was an unwanted veteran making eight figures on a team building from the ground up. Orlando would have amnestied him had they not needed to use their one time amnesty on Gilbert Arenas (who remains the second highest paid player in the NBA today). Without amnesty as an option, the Magic did the next best thing -- they just told him to stay away this season.
So for the past season and a half he's been in a terrible situation, and for several seasons before that things weren't much better between the Dwightmare and the perception that he was now overpaid. He also dealt with various injuries during that time. All of which no doubt contributed to his poor on-court performance.
The Clippers clearly are hoping that he's healthier, happier, whatever: that something is left in the tank for the 34 year old (he'll turn 35 in March). Perhaps they're right. He no longer has the weight of significant expectations, no longer has a $12M salary weighing him down. In theory he's as healthy now as he's been in years, and his game was never one that relied heavily on athleticism. Rivers watched him play last week and decided to sign him: that says something.
It's also clear that Rivers is wildly dissatisfied with his current front court options. At 6'10, Turkoglu is well suited to play the four in a small ball lineup. He's a career 38% three point shooter and a great ball handler and passer. In the absence of Paul, the Clippers are looking all across the roster for playmakers, and Turkoglu would give Doc another option off the bench. But this isn't just a "Paul is out, we need a playmaker" move -- or rather if it is, it's a mistake. Paul will be back in a month if his rehab goes according to plan, but the Clippers just played a seven man rotation in a close game -- they can't waste roster spots on guys who can't contribute for the rest of the season and in the playoffs.
Hedo's never been a good rebounder or defender and that's going to be an issue, but the Clippers were defending Dirk Nowitzki with Jared Dudley whenever Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan rested Wednesday night because Rivers realizes that Antawn Jamison, Ryan Hollins and Byron Mullens are not viable options. Is Hedo Turkoglu any more viable? I'm dubious; but we'll find out soon enough.
As I pointed out earlier in the week, signing Turkoglu is not the last move available to the Clippers. They don't have much flexibility, they don't have much money, but they certainly have the option of signing another veteran's minimum deal. And if they are willing to cut some guaranteed players loose, they can free up additional roster spots. I am fairly certain that there will be at least one more veteran big man on the playoff roster -- but with Paul out and a need in the backcourt, it will probably be another month or so before we find out who that is.