It's just the beginning for Toronto Raptors forward Yuta Watanabe.
After the news of his signing a standard NBA contract was made official on Monday, both Watanabe and head coach Nick Nurse talked about the transaction on Tuesday, one day ahead of the Raptors meeting with the Brooklyn Nets.
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Watanabe, who joined the team on a two-way deal ahead of the 2020-21 NBA season, inked the standard contract following Toronto's win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. After going undrafted in 2018 and spending the better part of his first three NBA seasons on two-way deals with the Raptors and Memphis Grizzlies organizations, it had been a long time coming for that moment.
"I'm very excited. This is what I've been working for," Watanabe told reporters, per Blake Murphy of The Athletic. "I'm very happy, I'm motivated more than ever, and I'm ready to work."
The Athletic's Eric Koreen also reported that Watanabe provided context for his signing, indicating that talks of a standard NBA deal had been ongoing for about a week prior to things becoming official. Per Murphy, Watanabe's deal covers the remainder of the 2020-21 NBA season and is fully non-guaranteed for the 2021-22 season.
When asked about how his parents responded to the news, Watanabe shared that their excitement was possibly greater than his.
"Just like me, they are super happy," Watanabe responded, per TSN's Josh Lewenberg. "My mom was almost crying but I told her this is just the beginning. They said they were very proud of me so I'm very happy."
If his performance during the week of negotiation is any indication, the best is yet to come for Watanabe, who posted averages of 14.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in the three games leading up to his signing, including a career-best 21 points (on 7-for-11 shooting) in a win over the Orlando Magic on Friday, April 16.
Given Watanabe's non-guaranteed status for next season, the move is a reward for his recent play that also allows the franchise to maintain flexibility moving forward, a point reiterated by Nurse.
"We thought he deserved it. We had the roster spot to do it with," Nurse shared, per Murphy. "He's certainly under consideration to be part of this team going forward."
As Watanabe has already said he views this milestone as just the beginning, his eagerness to continue to work - and his recent play - should bode well for him and the team moving forward as he looks to etch a long-term role in the years to come.
He and the Raptors are back in action on Wednesday, April 21, as they host the Nets at 7:00 p.m. on TSN.
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