Magic Want Hedo Back

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Hedo Turkoglu emptied his locker, shook hands with teammates and walked out of the Orlando Magic's practice facility Tuesday.

The Magic are optimistic it wasn't the last time.

Chief operating officer Alex Martins said the team is prepared to go over the luxury tax for the first time in its history, perhaps giving the Magic the space they need to re-sign the soon-to-be free agent Turkoglu and remain a contender to return to the NBA finals.

"The luxury tax won't be a hindrance," Martins said.

Turkoglu, Orlando's starting forward and a key component to its Eastern Conference title, reiterated Tuesday that he's planning to opt out of the last year of his contract to become a free agent July 1. Turkoglu would make about $7.3 million next season in the final year of a $36 million, six-year deal.

"Opting out doesn't mean I'm going to leave," he said. "I'm looking for the best opportunity for myself and my family. I hope everything will work out for both sides and I stay here because I became Turkoglu here. It's a good time for me to make a decision, and hopefully everything will work out and I'll be in a Magic jersey."

There are plenty of other questions surrounding the Magic's future.

With Jameer Nelson already named the starting point guard for next season, the team will have to decide whether it wants to keep Rafer Alston -- and his $5.25 million contract that ends after next season -- as a backup alongside reliable reserve Anthony Johnson. Alston was unhappy with his minutes in the Magic's 4-1 series loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals, with Nelson returning prematurely from a shoulder injury that had sidelined him since early February.

Even Alston isn't sure whether he'll be back.

"I always think I'm going to be traded. Absolutely I do," Alston said. "That's just the life of the business. I always think I'm going to be traded. I don't know. I think [teams] don't respect my point guard abilities. That's every team I've been on."

Backup center Marcin Gortat also will be looking for a pay raise. He will be a restricted free agent and likely will get a contract worth well more than the $770,000 he made this season, making it difficult for Orlando to retain him and Turkoglu.

Magic general manager Otis Smith said he's prepared to let Turkoglu and Gortat explore the free-agent market before making an offer.

"You're not going to buy a house without appraising it first," Smith said. "Appraise it."

The Magic have made no secret that re-signing Turkoglu is their biggest goal this offseason.

The 6-foot-10 forward from Turkey provides all kinds of matchup problems for opponents. His rare combination of size and ballhandling skills have made him the player the Magic run their offense through when it counts the most.

But it will be difficult to re-sign him because Orlando is hampered with big contracts to its All-Star core of Dwight Howard, Nelson and Rashard Lewis, who will be entering the third year of his $118 million, six-year deal.

But Martins said the team's recent success has given the franchise some wiggle room.

He said the Magic have sold about 4,000 extra season-ticket plans during the playoffs for next year, putting them at about 11,000. Their new arena, the Orlando Events Center, is scheduled to open for the start of the 2010 season and increase revenue -- which is the primary reason they can go into the luxury tax if necessary.

Turkoglu couldn't say for sure whether he'll stay.

The 30-year-old forward averaged 16.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists this season. Those were slightly down from a year ago, when he was voted the NBA's most improved player.

Turkoglu has spent the last five seasons in Orlando after four with the Sacramento Kings. He said he would like to remain with the Magic, but that securing his family's future is the most important thing this offseason. Turkoglu said he would consider taking less money to stay with the team he loves.

"Depends on how much less it is," he said. "Look, I have good stuff going on here. I'm not stupid."


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