Toronto Raptors fan favourite week: Leandro Barbosa

Toronto Raptors- Leandro Barbosa (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors- Leandro Barbosa (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

Leandro Barbosa’s tenure with the Toronto Raptors was short but memorable. With the team in transition, The Brazilian Blur quickly established himself as a fan favourite with his electrifying plays and dazzling smile.

Coming into the 2010-11 NBA season, the Toronto Raptors were facing a difficult rebuild following the departure of star player, Chris Bosh. With a team full of mismatched parts, young talent and malcontent personalities, team president and general manager Bryan Colangelo swung a trade for Leandro Barbosa. He quickly established himself as a fan favourite, bringing excitement to a reeling fanbase starving for positives.

Knowledgeable Toronto fans had always liked Barbosa from afar. Prior to his arrival, The Brazilian Blur had established himself as an entertaining sparkplug off the bench for the Phoenix Suns.

Barbosa had played an important role during the Sun’s renaissance alongside Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash under head coach Mike D’Antoni. In 2007 he won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year after averaging 18 points and shooting 43-percent from three in nearly 33 minutes per contest.

Barbosa’s impact

While several years removed from that individual success, Barbosa was still in the prime of his career and perfectly capable of contributing. Considering his defensive limitations and the shambled state of this franchise, nobody really had high expectations for him— he’d provide an energy boost off the bench and be gone before long to a contender.

So what exactly made Barbosa a favourite in Toronto? Always known for his blistering speed and savviness, he used this ability to get around defenders on a dime, in the half-court or transition, to score the basketball in creative and acrobatic ways. More often than not, he could create his own shot out of nothing.

Barbosa also provided excellent veteran leadership to a relatively young Raptors team slogging through a 22-60 record in 2010-11 and 23-43 a year later (a season cut short by the NBA lockout). With his infectious smile, he kept things afloat for a squad looking for a new identity in the post-Bosh era.

Slotted in as a point guard and shooting guard, his individual stats were solid but not particularly spectacular. In his brief stint (100 games to be exact), Barbosa averaged 12.8 points per game, 36 percent from three in just under 23 minutes of playing time.

Most of the positive feelings directed towards Barbosa weren’t necessarily because of his play (at least not initially) but because of the man he was replacing. In acquiring him from the Phoenix Suns, the Raptors had saved a lot of money and severed ties with Hedo Turkoglu.

It is a severe understatement to say that Turkoglu remains one of the most hated players to have ever played for the Toronto Raptors. As a 6-foot-10 forward with versatile skills to shoot from three and a playmaker, he was brought in to ease the offensive burden on Bosh and entice the latter to resign with the team. Obviously, that part did not work out.

Things went south for Turkoglu almost immediately. After signing a five year, $53 million deal, he struggled on offense, horrified on defense and pouted incessantly. At one point, he was benched and fined during the season by the team after going clubbing after a loss to the Denver Nuggets, a game me missed because of an apparent stomach virus.

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The team and the fans needed to move on from this debacle. Barbosa represented the perfect opportunity at a reset. In his brief time here, he competed with Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack for minutes, offered the team a different play style, and most importantly, allowed fans to heal emotionally.

Like a blur, Barbosa was traded late in 2012 to the Indiana Pacers but his mark on fans’ hearts was made.