Hedo Turkoglu is 35 years old. That sounds crazy, doesn’t it? The Kings’ first-round draft choice in 2000, he joined an organization known at the time for its shrewd and persistent poaching of overseas talent.
Vlade Divac, who signed as a free agent, was a Serb. But Peja Stojakovic (Greece), Tariq Abdul-Wahad (France) and Turkoglu (Turkey) were all first-round draft selections, the latter two becoming the first players to represent their respective countries.
History is very much on Hedo’s mind these days. The laconic 6-foot-10 forward plays for a Los Angeles Clippers team that is bringing the circus back to Staples Center for a Game 7 Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors.
Seventh-game finales also will be played Saturday between the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers. But the Warriors and Clippers will meet in prime time for obvious reasons. Not only are these two of the league’s emerging marquee teams, the Donald Sterling scandal has gripped this series by the throat. Developments and revelations are occurring almost hourly, leaving Clippers players and coaches dazed and conflicted, and visibly exhausted.
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After the Warriors evened the series at 3-3, several Clippers nonethless seemed relieved by the swift action taken by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and members of the finance/advisory committee who voted unanimously to press for Sterling’s ouster. And gone are the threats of boycotts, protests and angry crowds milling by the entrance of Staples Center.
“It was like a celebration in there (Game 5),” Turkoglu said. “Everybody was happy for us. I think it will be the same Saturday. But we just can’t get too caught up in the emotion. Seventh games are crazy.”
Turkoglu knows all about compelling can’t-miss seventh games. With Stojakovic slowed by an ankle sprain during the famous Kings-Lakers conference finals in 2002, Hedo was thrust into the starting lineup at small forward. The crushing defeat – and his missed free throws in the first quarter – left him brooding throughout the offseason. His status for Saturday’s game might be another opportunity lost; he injured his lower back in a collision with David Lee in Game 5 and was unavailable for Game 6.
He planned to undergo treatment and take painkillers if necessary to play in the finale.
“To miss this game, after everything I have gone through the last few years, would be very sad,” he said. “It’s just been a hard few years.”
After three seasons with the Kings, he was traded to San Antonio in a three-team deal for Brad Miller. When Gregg Popovich balked at a long-term contract because he had doubts about Turkoglu’s perimeter shooting, the Istanbul native signed with Orlando and went on to enjoy his most productive seasons. He was voted the league’s Most Improved Player in 2008 with averages of 19.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists in 36.9 minutes. Because of his length and combination of ballhandling and playmaking skills, he was often used as a point forward, which he still maintains is his favorite role.
Turkoglu then shuttled from Orlando to Toronto to Phoenix and back to Orlando, where he underwent hand surgery and was suspended 20 games in 2013 for using a banned substance (methenolone). Turkoglu insists he received the drug from a trainer in Turkey and was unaware the substance violated league policy. Nonetheless, he was waived by the Magic this past January and signed with the Clippers a few weeks later.
In 38 regular-season games, mostly backing up power forward Blake Griffin, he averaged 3.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
“I want to end right, get with a team, be in the playoffs,” Turkoglu said late Thursday night while walking gingerly outside the visitors’ locker room in Oakland. “We’re the better team. Hopefully we can let go of all the stuff going on and just play basketball. Our fans supported us like crazy the other night, but Game 7s are different. We have to keep our poise and composure, not get too caught up in everything else.”
Asked if the mood inside Staples will be reminiscent of Game 7 of Kings-Lakers, he shook his head.
“No, no,” he said with a slight smile. “Nothing could be like that. I told the new owner (Vivek Ranadive), ‘Thank you,’ for keeping the Kings in Sacramento. That community is the best.
“For us, this will be different. We know the fans will be on our side, but there is just so much going on. It will be hard. We just have to stay together and get it done.”