When Brian Colangelo began his first year with the Raptors in 2006 he overhauled the roster with players that weren’t household names. Guys like TJ Ford, Anthony Parker, Kris Humphries and Rasho Nesterovic came aboard and changed the culture of the struggling NBA team. The Raptors took on the mentality of winners and with a developing Chirs Bosh were able to capture the Atlantic Division title.
The most important player that year , the one who contributed most to whether they one or lost, was not Chris Bosh or Jose Calderon who now continue to make up the core of the Raptors franchise. The one player that gave the Raptors the chance to win every game, that tipped the scales in their favour each night was Jorge Garbajosa.
No player in Raptors history (with the exception of maybe Charles Oakley) was able to do the little things so well that he a key component to whether the Raptors won or lost. Garbajosa rebounded, fought for loose balls, made open shots when he had them, played consistent team and help defense and was the on court and off court leader for most of that season. For much of the year you could be excused if you did not notice Garbajosa that much as he was hardly flashy and went about his business quietly. But make no mistake it was his grit and versatility that helped propel the Raptors to the Atlantic division crown.
Garbajosa’s contribution became all the more evident when he went down with a season ending leg injury against Boston that left him questioning his career. Without Garbajosa the Raptors were not the same team. They did not defend the small forward position well, their team and help defense fell apart, they had a hard time corralling rebounds and there was a question of leadership. As a result the team finished the season in unimpressive fashion and eventually were eliminated by The New Jersey Nets. One could argue that if Garbajosa was on the floor the team would have been able to defeat the Nets.
The following season the Raptors continued grasping for a Garbajosa replacement. Jamario Moon came in and faired well but wasn’t the same player. Joey Graham was given opportunities but he could not re-capture the energy, hussle and gritty play of Garbojosa either. The Raptors made the playoffs but were once again eliminated in the first round by Orlando. They played well but something was missing from the year before.
Garbajosa never returned to full time duty and was not the same player after returning from his leg injury. The Raptors were never the same team as when they had Garbajosa on the floor and won the Atlantic division. Colangelo has tried many different players in the last two years trying to find that missing element. Jamario Moon, Joey Graham, Carlos Delfino, Jermaine O’Neal and Shawn Marion all had varying amounts of success with the team but none had that missing element that Garbajosa brought.
Last year Colangelo said in an interview with NBA.com “The Garbo piece is still missing. He was a glue player for us. He provided a lot of the grit and intangibles that you just don’t measure in a box score…”. The Raptors were a team without grit last season and missed the playoffs for the first time in Colangelo’s time with the team. It was apparent that grit and leadership were key focuses this off-season.
This summer Colangelo finally found a player that could defend, rebound, shoot, play-make and lead on and off the court. A player that is built in the same mold as Jorge Garbajosa and has what it takes to win in the league. Hedo Turkoglu possesses the intangibles that Colangelo referred to. Judging by the success, or lack thereof, of the team following Grbajosa’s injury it is clear that it is these intangibles that play a major role in winning basketball games. With the addition of Hedo Turkoglu the Raptors have hopefully found the right recipe for success.
Turkoglu has had success throughout his career. He has been a major part of playoff drives with Sacramento, San Antonio and Orlando. He is a player that is looked to for veteran leadership, clutch baskets and the “intangibles” that do not show up on a boxscore. He has been a Garbajosa type player on many of the teams he has played on. One only needs to look at Orlando’s drive to the Finals this year to see how integral Turkoglu was to the success of that team. His numbers were decent but his play was better.
Ladies and Gentleman the new Jorge Garbajosa: Hedo Turkoglu.
If all goes according to plan Turkoglu will help lead this team back to the playoffs and maybe even, something the Raptors have not seen since 2001: a playoff victory and a berth in the second round of the playoffs.