Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan had a dinner date Wednesday night with free-agent forward Hedo Turkoglu, amid a growing sense around the league that the courtship will lead to Turkoglu making a verbal commitment to sign with Blazers this month.
Turkoglu and his agent, Lon Babby, are also scheduled to travel to Oregon for a Thursday tour of the Blazers' facilities and meetings with Portland general manager Kevin Pritchard and assistant GM Tom Penn. The team confirmed the meeting. But Babby insisted Wednesday that suggestions of a done deal were premature, describing them as "ahead of the process."
What's clear is that the 30-year-old from Turkey is by far the Blazers' top free-agent target and potentially the first marquee free-agent signing of Pritchard's reign, with Portland projected to have between $8 million and $10 million in salary-cap space this summer -- with firm figures not known until the league announces next season's salary cap next week -- and with the Orlando Magic lacking the financial flexibility to re-sign Turkoglu after trading for Vince Carter last week.
Teams and free agents were permitted to strike verbal agreements on new deals as of 12:01 a.m. ET Wednesday but new contracts can't be signed until the cap figure is announced and the NBA's moratorium on signings is lifted on July 8.
Babby said that he has received inquiries from four other teams, some with cap space and some without, although the Detroit Pistons -- initially expected to be a leading suitor for Turkoglu with more spending money than any other team in the league -- were not one of them. The Pistons instead reached verbal agreements on Wednesday night with guard Ben Gordon and forward Charlie Villanueva.
The Toronto Raptors were known to be one of the teams with enough cap space available to make Turkoglu a respectable offer, but the Raptors would have to renounce their rights to Shawn Marion and Anthony Parker in order to do so without trying to acquire him via sign-and-trade.
Turkoglu is seeking a five-year contract in the region of $50 million after turning down a four-year offer from Orlando, worth approximately $36 million, before the Magic pulled the trigger on the Carter trade.
Babby said he had not heard from the Magic within the first 12 hours of the free-agency period.
"But I don't think that door is closed, although everyone realizes it has gotten harder to do something there," Babby said. "I haven't talked to [Orlando GM] Otis Smith since the process started, but I will."
The Blazers were the first team to express interest in Turkoglu. The (Portland) Oregonian newspaper reported that Pritchard first made his Turkoglu plans known to Blazers cornerstones Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, both of whom are eligible for contract extensions this offseason.
Turkoglu, 30, averaged 16.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists last season in helping Orlando reach the NBA Finals for just the second time in franchise history. He averaged 15.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 24 playoff games, shooting 42.7 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from 3-point range, and won NBA Most Improved Player honors in 2007-08 after averaging 19.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists for the Magic.
"I'm excited for him," Babby said Wednesday regarding the Blazers' aggressive pursuit of Turkoglu. "They've communicated their interest and we'll see where it goes from here."
Portland is one of just five teams this summer projected to be sufficiently under the salary cap to sign free agents outright, along with Detroit, Memphis, Oklahoma City and Sacramento. If the Blazers complete the signing of Turkoglu, that could lead to the departure of a swingman or two from Portland's current roster, with Travis Outlaw, Nicolas Batum, Martell Webster or the reportedly disgruntled Rudy Fernandez potentially affected.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.