SALT LAKE CITY — The "Money Man" has decided it's time to cash in his chips and go home for good.
Mehmet Okur, the lovable Turkish big man who turned in the best seasons of his 10-year NBA career from 2004 to 2010 as a member of the Utah Jazz, officially announced his retirement from basketball on Thursday.
Okur was a 6-foot-11, 260-pound center/power forward whose 3-point shooting proficiency earned him the nickname "Money Man," a phrase coined by Jazz play-by-play announcer Craig Bolerjack who often made the familiar courtside call, "Memo for 3 — money!"
"Tremendous guy, man," Jazz coach Ty Corbin said when informed that Okur had decided to hang up his high-tops. "We wish him well.
"I really, really, really enjoyed Memo the person, working with him on and off the floor. He's a good guy, he listens, he understood who he was and the things that he needed to improve on to have a chance to help us win games here, and he did those things every year.
"He can really shoot and spread the floor," Corbin said, "and he understood that was a great asset for him. But he wanted to expand and play on the post some, to be able to defend and rebound, and he was a tremendous asset for us here and we wish him well."
Okur averaged between 12.9 and 18.0 points and between 7.1 and 9.1 rebounds a game for the Jazz from 2004-10, when he never played in less than 72 regular-season games and, in his first two seasons, started all 82 of them. In 2007, he was named to the Western Conference All-Star team — the first Turkish player to ever be selected — and was a key contributor in Utah's march to the Western Conference finals.
But in the 2010 NBA playoffs, Okur ruptured his Achilles tendon in the series opener against the Denver Nuggets, and he was never the same after that. He tried to come back for the 2010-11 season, but wound up playing in only 13 games and averaging just 4.9 points and 2.3 rebounds a game in very limited playing time due to a variety of injuries.
Last December, shortly after the NBA lockout ended, Okur was traded to the New Jersey Nets for a 2015 second-round draft pick and a trade exception, a deal which eventually allowed the Jazz to land point guard Mo Williams last summer.
"He meant a lot to us," said his former Jazz teammate, Paul Millsap. "The Money Man, that's his name, the Money Man.
"I've got a lot of great memories and I'm sad to see that he's retiring right now because you want to see him succeed and you want to see him do well. But that's the choice he made, and you can't help but respect it.
"I'm sure our fans miss him dearly and I miss him, and he was a good teammate, a great teammate to us," Millsap said. "He was a great guy, a great guy off the court. He comes in, he has his jokes, keeps to himself, and he's going to be missed. He was a great locker room guy, a great guy to have in your locker room."
During the last decade, Okur served as a terrific role model to young guys growing up in Turkey, including current Jazz center Enes Kanter.
"He was a great player, and Turkey loves him," Kanter, the kid they call "Big Turkey," said. "He did so much for Utah Jazz, for Turkey, and when I was growing up I watched him a lot. I was Utah Jazz fan because of him; I watched every game of Utah Jazz because of him.
"You just can't do anything about it. I was kind of sad because he was a great player and I like still wanted to watch him. I learned a lot from him, so it was kind of sad."
Playing center at the Pepsi Center
Speaking of Jazz big men of foreign descent, when Utah takes on the Nuggets tonight in Denver, they'll see a somewhat familiar face starting at center for the home team — Kosta Koufos.
Yes, Utah's 2008 first-round draft choice, who was traded away to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the deal that brought Al Jefferson to the Jazz in 2010, is the Nuggets' starting center.
Through Denver's first four games of the season, Koufos was averaging 7.3 points and 6.0 rebounds a game for the Nuggets. He was also averaging more than a blocked shot per game and shooting 50 percent from the field.
"Kosta's a good guy, man," Corbin said. "He's an extremely hard worker, and he wants it really bad. He worked his way into a good spot for them and I'm happy for the success that he's continued to have in this league, and we wish him well. But we need a win on the road, so we're going to go after everybody on their team.
"I think he understands the game a little more now. I think he's figuring out who he is in this league on their team, what's gonna make him have a chance to be successful and get minutes on that team. They're an up-tempo team and he can certainly rebound the ball, block some shots and run the floor for a big, and I think those are things that he's looking to do to get minutes and win his coach over and put him on the floor."
Chest-bumping — or not
After Jazz guard Randy Foye drilled three consecutive 3-pointers in the fourth quarter of Wednesday night's victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, L.A. called a timeout and Foye came flying off the court, all fired up and full of energy and adrenaline.
As he neared the Jazz bench, he even tried to jump up and chest-bump his coach, Corbin, who didn't quite play along.
"I just was running," Foye told co-hosts David James and Patrick Kinahan on 1280 AM "The Zone" on Thursday morning. "Everybody laughed and joked. He handled it the way he's supposed to. A coach is not supposed to chest-bump a player. I just was so excited.1 comment on this story
"There was a lot of emotions in the game. We'd lost three in a row and we understood who we was playing, probably one of the best teams in the league. Their record doesn't show it now but we understood they've got Kobe (Bryant), Dwight (Howard), (Pau) Gasol and Metta World (Peace), so we understood. I felt like it opened up the game once I hit those 3s and he (Lakers' coach Mike Brown) called the timeout, so I was just real excited and I just jumped on whoever — but it was just coach that was there.
"He's got to save that for the playoffs, he can't do that now," Foye said of the Jazz head coach. "He's got to save that for the playoffs, in the locker room."
Corbin had his own version of what happened.
"He did a good job," he said of Foye. "I just couldn't get off the floor."