A star in Europe, the Turkish guard has seen no playing time in the NBA. But instead of being upset, he's working to improve his game.
Even knowing what he knows now, Ibrahim Kutluay would do it all over again.
In Turkey, he was Michael Jordan. At least that’s what countryman Mehmet Okur, the Utah Jazz center, once said.
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After a decade starring in European leagues, Kutluay decided to cash in on his fame and status. He signed a two-year, $3.4 million deal with the Sonics last summer, hoping the “big fish in a small pond” analogy wouldn’t apply.
But nearly two months into the season, he has yet to play in a regular-season game. The rotation for the 18-5 Sonics appears set, so barring injury, Kutluay will only play in lopsided victories and defeats.
Still, Kutluay maintains that given a chance to do it again, he’d leave his stardom in Europe behind for the anonymity in Seattle.
“When you come here younger, of course, you grasp things quicker,” he said. “But I’ve played in Europe for 10 years as a professional and there is a big difference between Europe and here. Of course, basketball is the same, but there is some (different) rules and the mentality is different. I need some (time to) adjust for this.”
Orlando Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu, another Turkish player, and Okur each began their pro careers here slowly. But the noticeable difference between them and Kutluay is age Turkoglu and Okur are both 25; Kutluay, a 6-foot-6 guard, is 30 and closer to the end of his playing days than the beginning.
“We had (general manager) Rick Sund talk to him before he came over about who we had and what was his role would be,” coach Nate McMillan said. “Basically, he’s the 12th guy, and somebody has to go down for him to have an opportunity with us having the number of the guards that we have.”
Last season, Richie Frahm held a role similar to Kutluay’s with the Sonics, and he was able to make an impact when he led Seattle to a 115-106 victory against the Nuggets last December, scoring a career-high 31 points.
“It’s possible that Ibo could do that, but all of that was due to injury,” McMillan said. “We were in Denver and we had eight or nine players, and Richie had to start and play. I was drawing up plays for Richie Frahm and they were working. So yeah, that could happen.”
Before Kutluay joined the Sonics, Kaan Kural, a commentator for NBA games on Turkish television, told The Seattle Times: “Kutluay is a one-dimensional player. He is a streaky shooter, and when his jumper is on, it is on. But in other areas, in my opinion, he might struggle. He can’t create his own shot.”
So far, Kural’s assessment has been accurate. And McMillan said that “defensively is where he can get better.”
Kutluay recently admitted that he needs to improve at creating his own shot and becoming a better defender, which is why he is usually one of the last Sonics to leave the court after every practice.
Still, he does not lament his situation, nor has he approached the coaching staff about playing time. He says he’ll continue to be patient. He talks about his girlfriend, former Miss Turkey Demet Sener, and their plans to wed soon and perhaps start a family.
He says he’ll return to Turkey after proving to himself that he can play in this league.
“Everyday I learn something,” Kutluay said. “I love my life and everything is fun for me now. No complaints. No worries. This is good. This a good place for me and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
The Sonics and Storm will make their annual visit to Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center today.
Rashard Lewis will host a holiday shopping trip to Toys ‘R’ Us in the Northgate Mall for children staying at Seattle’s Ronald McDonald House tomorrow. After a 15-minute trip in a limousine with Lewis, each child will select a toy, compliments of his foundation.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org