The Toronto Raptors have some big names that could decide to pack up and leave in free agency this summer, with Chris Boucher and Thad Young topping the list. Those two need to be taken care of, but Yuta Watanabe can’t be forgotten in the shuffle after his rise from the G League to the playoffs.
Watanabe is entering restricted free agency. If he turns down Toronto’s $2.2 million qualifying offer, he could test the waters. While he will likely try to shop around in search of a better deal, Watanabe seems to favor a return to the Raptors above all else.
Watanabe told Japanese outlet Sports Hochi that he “really loves” the Raptors and wants to return to Toronto, but he does not know if he is going to come back or what teams are going to show interest in him on the market. Watanabe wants to show that he can stick in the pros.
“It was a season that proved a lot,” Watanabe said. “It was a shame that I couldn’t play in the game at the end of the game, but I was confident that I could still do it in the NBA world.” Watanabe is of the mindset that Toronto is the right place for him to develop as a player.
Will Yuta Watanabe return to the Toronto Raptors?
Over the last two years with Toronto, Watanabe has averaged 4.3 points and 2.9 rebounds per game while making 42.5% of his shots and 37% of his 3-pointers. While he has taken strides to become a quality offensive player in this league, his primary value will come as a defender.
Watanabe plays like his hair is on fire and has constantly proven capable of defending multiple positions at the professional level. With the 3-point shot also in his toolbox, the idea of a multi-year deal that locks him in as a bench performer might have some appeal for Masai Ujiri.
While Watanabe could be a funky piece that adds some uniqueness to some bench lineups, he fell out of the rotation in the middle of the season due to performance-related issues. Teams will need to see if Watanabe’s dip resulted from a poor run of form or a broader concerning trend.
When he’s at his best, Watanabe is a high-energy defender that could bring some grit off of the bench for a team with eyes on a playoff run. Toronto has already shown that they are willing to accommodate him in the past, and it seems like Watanabe wants to stay in Canada.