Raptors’ Vasquez: Toronto ‘changed my life’

After his 39-point performance on Wednesday night, it's hard to believe Kyle Lowry needs any help. But it's Toronto's balanced attack that prevents teams from keying in on their star. (Photo: Frank Gunn/CP)

Greivis Vasquez has been in Toronto for less than six months but he already feels like he has found a home in the NBA; going so far as to say he’d be “heartbroken” if he wasn’t back with the Raptors next season.

The passionate and personable point-guard held court for nearly twenty minutes on Monday afternoon, chatting with the media about the 2013-14 season and Toronto’s recent loss to the Brooklyn Nets in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series. As far as exit interviews go, it was an all-time classic. Vasquez appeared close to tears at times as he spoke about his love for the city and the respect he has for the Canadian fan-base.

But as a restricted free agent this summer, there’s a chance that he could be on the move again. He hopes that’s not the case though.

“I really want to be back,” he said. “I truly love this city. I love our fans, my family loves Canada (and) my kids love school…I’m really committed to the team, to the city (and) to this franchise.”

Vasquez began this past season with Sacramento. After a career-year in New Orleans in 2012-13 – finishing third-overall in the NBA in assists-per-game – the Pelicans (then, Hornets) traded the Venezuelan guard to the Kings in exchange for Tyreke Evans.

At that time, Sacramento general manager Pete D’Alessandro said he was excited to have Vasquez in northern California, adding: “He established himself as one of the league’s most talented young point guards last season and we’re confident he’ll continue this trajectory in Sacramento.”

But surgery on both ankles last summer impacted Vasquez’s start with the Kings. When training camp opened in October, the ankles hadn’t fully-healed and he began the regular season far from 100 percent, health-wise.

“I was very down,” Vasquez reflected. “I was like…I was not happy. I was losing my joy of the game. I was like, ‘Where am I?’ I was lost. I was really lost, man. Nothing against Sacramento, it was just…it wasn’t really a good fit for me. I wasn’t being myself. I couldn’t really develop my game. It was a really tough locker room.”

And then it changed – for the better – on Dec. 8. Vasquez, barely six weeks into his first season with the Kings, was traded to Toronto along with Chuck Hayes, John Salmons, and Patrick Patterson. It was, personally, a new lease on life and as it turns out, it was a fresh-start injection for the Raptors organization as well.

“I got a call from my agent and he told me Masai (Ujiri) was trying to get me and I might be involved in a trade and I was like, well, ‘God is really watching out for me’,” said Vasquez. “Then I got traded (to Toronto) and I just got my joy back. I was really happy.”

That happiness came as a result of playing relevant games again and contributing to winning basketball. As the Raptors gradually – and then rapidly – began to turn their season around, en route to 48 wins and an Atlantic Division title, Vasquez found his sporting soul once again.

“My whole mentality changed,” he said. “By December, beginning of January, I was like, ‘I’ve got a great opportunity to prove myself and get back to what I was in this league’. I thought they gave me an unbelievable opportunity.”

Though the fourth-year guard went from starting in Sacramento and New Orleans to coming off the bench for the Raptors, the desire to win and to establish a home and an identity again trumped everything else.

“Toronto really changed my life,” he said. “It actually recuperated my career because I was very down. I was sad.

“So hopefully everything works out. I want to come back. I love Toronto. I love this city. I love this country. I want to be back.”

If Vasquez is back with the Raptors next season it will likely be in a backup role given that the organization is almost assuredly going to try and re-sign free agent starter, Kyle Lowry. In fact, a decision on Lowry could impact Vasquez and other free agents on Toronto’s roster if there isn’t enough cash in the cupboard at the end of the day. But the Maryland alum is keeping is fingers crossed and hoping to be part of the long-term plans in whatever capacity or role.

“It’s not about being a starter (and) it’s not about me being the main guy,” said Vasquez. “It’s about winning and I think we all understand that.

“Money won’t change me at all. Money might change people around me, but no, it’s not going to change me. I love this game so much and I respect the game, and I’m going to do whatever it takes, whether I have to play defence on Joe Johnson or whether I have to get 10 assists or whether I have to hit a big shot. That’s not going to change me.”

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