TORONTO - Phoenix Suns forward Hedo Turkoglu brought his lolly-gagging, shuck-and-jive show back to the Air Canada Centre on Sunday afternoon. But as far as hatefests go, it was pretty underwhelming.
Yes, the fans booed the big Turk everytime he touched the ball, but the ACC was only about half full for Sunday's pre-season game against the Suns, and the fans who did show up seemed to be beaten down, possibly from the drive downtown, with all the road closures and what-not.
"Home? I have never seen a home like this," said Turkoglu afterwards, when asked how he felt being back "home" in Toronto.
Turkoglu himself seemed a little disappointed with his rather muted reception. At times during Toronto's 121-100 over the Suns, he looked towards the crowd and began booing himself, in apparent effort to work the fans up some more.
Compared to the reception given to other former Raptors who left Toronto under bitter circumstances, such as Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Damon Stoudamire, Turkoglu's was pretty mild.
"It wasn't as bad as Vancouver," said Phoenix guard Steve Nash, when asked about the fans's reaction on Sunday to the Turk. The Suns played the Raptors on Oct. 6 at Vancouver's Rogers Arena and the booing was much louder and longer there.
Still, Turkoglu did express frustration that he is considered Toronto's most despised athlete (although a case could be made for Chris Bosh).
"When I (said) that I wanted to get out of here, I think (the fans) thought I was talking bad about the city," said the Turk, who scored five points with five rebounds in 20 minutes. "But I love the city, I never had any problem with anybody.
"I never said anything about the city at all," he continued. "I was the one who wanted to come here and play. I think people were upset that I left and I guess that's why they're mad at me."
It was suggested to Turkoglu that perhaps his lack of effort last season had the fans upset, including the stunt he pulled in March when he missed a game because of an apparent stomach virus but then was seen partying at a local nightclub.
But Turkoglu blamed a "lack of chemistry" on the club last year for his sub-par performance compared to his glory years in Orlando, and insisted that, video evidence to the contrary, he always played hard.
"People have to understand it's not just my fault, it's not any coach's fault. We just had a miscommunication and things didn't work out," he said. "The system wasn't there. We had CB (Chris Bosh) and he was averaging double-doubles and it's normal that things were going through him. So I wasn't able to use the ball as much as I was before."
He added that the Toronto fans might have thought he was not giving 100%, because he plays with a smile on his face, as he did for most of Sunday's game.
"I always do," he said, when asked about his playful demeanor on the court. "That was me all my life. But when I came here people think I wasn't paying attention, I wasn't serious. But this is how I play. If you look at the past, that's how I do (it). I enjoy the game and I go out there and try to do my best. But here, I guess they misunderstand it."
Turkoglu suggested that there's a reason why virtually every former Raptors star has left Toronto under acrimonious circumstances.
"You just can't blame it on the players. You'd have to really sit down and talk to the players and just ask them why they want to leave," he said. "I'm just a random guy, Chris is an all-star, other guys are all-stars too. You'd have to ask them, what's the reason they left?"
But Turkoglu was talking out of both sides of his mouth Ń at one point suggesting that there is a problem with the organization and its star players. And then he praised GM Bryan Colangelo and the coaching staff.
As it was for most of last season, Turkoglu appears to be out of shape and was sucking wind quite frequently during Sunday's game, particularly when he hustled back to play defence. It will be interesting to see how long before the fans in Phoenix, and his teammates, turn on him.
At one point during the first half, as Turkoglu waited to return to the court, a member of the Raptors stats crew asked him how he was doing.
"Better now," he said, tugging at his Suns jersey.