The nature of the NBA means that teams like the Toronto Raptors often have to say goodbye to fan favorites to get cheaper alternatives. Yuta Watanabe made himself a marquee attraction when he was on the floor, but Toronto thought it was time to say goodbye.
With youngsters like Christian Koloko arriving via the NBA Draft and veterans like Otto Porter Jr. jumping over in free agency, Watanabe was deemed non-essential and allowed to test the free agent market. He played his past success into a minimal contract with the Brooklyn Nets.
Watanabe, one of just three Japanese players to have suited up in an NBA game, had mentioned that he wanted to return to the Raptors. Unfortunately, Toronto decided that signing Porter and giving Josh Jackson a non-guaranteed contract was a better use of their money than a third season of Watanabe.
Yuta said goodbye to Toronto as he officially cleaned out his old room, according to a story he posted on Instagram. It’s sad to see Yuta leave, considering how he willed himself into the rotation for brief periods of time. All we can do now is hope the momentum he picked up in Toronto transfers over to Brooklyn.
Yuta Watanabe has officially left the Toronto Raptors.
The fact Watanabe is still in the NBA, given the hardships he has had to overcome, is impressive enough. After coming into the league as an undrafted free agent who was mired in the G League after latching on with the Grizzlies, Watanabe stood out in the Tampa bubble as an energetic two-way wing.
Watanabe averaged 4.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 0.7 assists per game during his career with the Raptors. While not the most impressive numbers, his effort on the defensive end and gradually improving 3-point shot were part of the reason he was on the fringes of the rotation for most of last season.
While he had his moments last year, especially that 26-point, 13-rebound performance against the Cavaliers during the COVID-19 shortages, he ultimately saw himself relegated to spot duty by the end of the year. At least he’ll get the chance to compete for a spot on a championship-caliber team.
Watanabe may not have left the biggest footprint north of the border, but seeing No. 18 trot onto the court and nail an open 3-pointer always made Raptors fans feel nice, especially during that cursed Tampa season. Let’s hope the fans in Brooklyn appreciate him as much as we did.