Clippers Coach Doc Rivers made Hedo Turkoglu an offer over the summer.
“I told him at the end of the year, he’s back if he’s in shape,” Rivers said.
Turkoglu apparently followed through -- the best he could, at least.
“He came back in great shape,” Rivers said. “Put on some muscle, you know, for Hedo. Or a muscle. It’s all relative.”
Turkoglu, a 35-year-old 14-year NBA veteran, made his Clippers debut Jan. 18. He went on to average three points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes a game over 38 games last season.
He then suffered a big setback.
In Game 5 of the Clippers’ first-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors, Turkoglu sustained a back injury as he was knocked to the ground while guarding David Lee. Turkoglu writhed in pain on the floor before being helped to the locker room.
“That was big injury, people missed that injury with us last year against Golden State,” Rivers said. “He was starting to really help us, then he goes out and we can’t use him at all in that other series.”
In Wednesday’s 108-105 win over the Phoenix Suns, Turkoglu scored eight points on three-for-five shooting, including making two-for-three from the three-point line in 19 minutes and 39 seconds of play.
Clippers’ point guard Chris Paul said that the swingman from Turkey should be an asset to the team this season.
“Turk’s looked really good,” Paul said. “This summer, practice, preseason games, I think Turk is going to be big for us this year. Obviously Doc is going to try and watch his minutes and try to use him sparingly, but I think Turk is a huge piece of our team.”
Turkoglu has played in the playoffs 10 of his 14 seasons in the league, and adds a veteran’s knowledge and wisdom to the Clippers’ relatively young and inexperienced roster. He was named the most improved player in the league in 2008, and has a career average of 11.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and three assists a game.
“He’s not scared of the stars,” Rivers said. “He tells them the truth, and I think it’s always better when a player tells another player the truth over a coach.”
When Paul was asked what sort of advice he’s received from Turkoglu, Paul chuckled.
“Half the time we can’t understand what Turk is saying,” Paul said, poking fun at his heavy accent.
Paul, however, added that he has a lot of respect for his teammate.
“Turk has been a star in this league, he’s been to the Finals, he’s been there, so he doesn’t get rattled in it,” Paul said. “Turk can play, man.”
Rivers said that Turkoglu, who has played four positions in his career, has aged into a power forward, but Rivers added that he’s open to using him as a small forward.
“We started two practices ago, we’re making him run our skeleton at the three just in case we have to do it,” Rivers said. “I hope we don’t, but just in case we do, he knows the position.”
Both on and off the court, Turkoglu apparently makes a quiet yet palpable impact.
“He’s one of those guys who doesn’t say much, so when he does talk, you listen to him,” Paul said. “Turk is a great guy to have on your team.”