It's been a busy offseason for Toronto Raptors forward Yuta Watanabe.
After the 2020-21 season ended in mid-May, Watanabe shifted focus to competing for the Japanese Senior Men's National Team, the host of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Though Japan was held winless through its three Group Phase games, Watanabe averaged 17.7 points and a team-high 8.0 rebounds, showcasing the growth he continues to make as a player.
MORE: Watanabe brings Raptors influence to Olympics stage
Shortly after the Olympics concluded, Watanabe made his way back to the States, joining the Raptors Summer League team in Las Vegas, providing a veteran presence on the bench and in the locker room while he remains sidelined during games for rest purposes.
Watanabe's presence in Vegas is especially important given the number of changes abound within the Raptors organization this offseason, namely the departure of Kyle Lowry, who joined the Miami Heat via a sign-and-trade.
As he prepares to enter his second season with the Raptors, Watanabe spoke with Yoko Miyaji of NBA Japan, with whom he shared his reaction to Lowry's decision to move on, saying "I miss him a lot. He was my mentor and I learned a lot.
"But the NBA is a business world, so it is what it is." Watanabe added. "I wish him the best in Miami."
With Lowry officially a member of the Miami Heat, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet are now the three longest-tenured members on the Raptors' roster. Shifting his focus forward, Watanabe continued by speaking highly of the aforementioned trio: "I still have a lot of guys to learn from, like Fred, OG and Pascal. I hope to absorb more from them to grow."
After beginning the 2020-21 season on a Two-Way contract, Watanabe signed a standard NBA contract with the Raptors on April 19. The 26-year-old averaged 4.4 points and 3.2 rebounds over 50 games (four starts) with Toronto last season, a stint highlighted by a career-high 21-point performance in a win over the Orlando Magic in mid-April.
Per the terms of his deal, Watanabe's contract becomes fully guaranteed for the upcoming season if he is on the roster on Oct. 17, which falls two days before opening night of the 2021-22 season.
After a summer of growth, Watanabe looks to position himself into becoming Toronto's latest developmental diamond.
Note: Watanabe's quotes were obtained from a translation provided by Raptors Info Japan on Twitter.
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