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Lewenberg: Augustin, a low-risk addition for Raptors

Josh Lewenberg
7/23/2013 9:07:48 AM
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TORONTO - When Masai Ujiri and the Raptors called to inquire about the services of free agent point guard D.J. Augustin, a player they had been monitoring since the signing period began, his stock was lower than it had been at any point during his five-year NBA career.

Augustin had been a starter in the league -- albeit for a mostly terrible Bobcats club -- and his eight-month stint with the 49-win Pacers, a Conference finalist, should have theoretically increased the 25-year-old's value.

But it didn't.

"I think he went from a starting point guard [in Charlotte] to playing some kind of a [smaller] role in Indiana," Ujiri said of Augustin, who averaged career lows of 4.7 points and 2.2 assists, playing just 16 minutes per night in 76 regular season contests with the Pacers last year. "Sometimes guys struggle to find their feet that way."

Despite appearing in 19 postseason games and earning the first playoff win of his pro career, 2012-13 was a campaign Augustin will happily put behind him.

After putting up a career best 14.4 points to go along with 6.1 assists with the Bobcats in 2010-11, Augustin took a step backwards the following season when he battled knee injuries en route to signing a one-year deal in Indiana last summer. Playing back-up minutes behind George Hill he shot just 35 per cent from the field and occasionally fell out of favour in Frank Vogel's defence-first system.

For Ujiri, Augustin's consistency -- or lack thereof -- was what stood out looking back at last season. The fit, as he put it, was never right for Augustin in Indiana but that wasn't enough to scare the Raptors' general manager away from giving him another opportunity to get his career back on track.

"That's the past and we're trying to create a new beginning for him here," Ujiri explained after Augustin was signed and introduced at the Air Canada Centre Monday afternoon.

"We're taking a chance," he continued. "One year, and we'll see how it goes."

The Raptors are taking a chance that Augustin can provide leadership off the bench as that young veteran they coveted. They're taking the chance he can become a more efficient shooter, addressing a glaring need for the club, while taking pressure off starter Kyle Lowry. They're chancing that he will bounce back, which would grant them another asset to work with, something from nothing so to speak. Signed for one year, at a reported $1.2 million price tag (via Yahoo! Sports), Toronto assumes little risk in adding a player that could pay dividends if he performs.

"He's still young, still trying to find his feet in the NBA and find stability so I'm sure he'll find a way to figure it out," Ujiri said. "He's been a starting point guard in the NBA. [He] struggled a little bit at times last year but [he's] a good outside shooter for the most part and he can run a team. We like that about him."

Augustin has impressed at every level he has played. A star in high school, Augustin went on to earn first-team All-American honours and first-team All-Big 12 honours during his two-year collegiate career at the University of Texas. He was drafted ninth overall by Charlotte in 2008 and was named to the All-Rookie Second Team following his first pro season.

He comes to Toronto on his second consecutive one-year deal, presumably with something to prove.

"Yeah it's hard," the Raptors' point guard admitted, "but we're all playing basketball and making money, no matter what amount it is, it's what we love to do and I'm very blessed to be doing this as a job."

"The NBA's a business," he said. "You've just got to represent yourself well. It's a job, you've got to take every day serious[ly] and go practice hard, play hard and things will work out."

HAPPY WITH SUMMER LEAGUE, HAPPIER IT'S OVER

Toronto wrapped up its involvement in this summer's Las Vegas Summer League tournament on Saturday after being eliminated by the Phoenix Suns in the quarterfinals of the events' revamped format.

"We grind through it," Ujiri said of his team's experience in the Summer League this past week. "We start making a list of players we're going to watch in the future and we analyze the players that played for us and see how they did. So I think it was very productive."

More than anything else, Ujiri was elated to escape the tournament without any serious injuries to the team's key roster pieces.

The most important of those players, soon-to-be sophomore Jonas Valanciunas, sat out of Saturday's game with a sprained left index finger although the extent of the injury is believed to be minor.

For many, Valanciunas was the revelation of Summer League. His overpowering strength on both ends combined with a wide array of post moves and pump fakes drew league-wide praise throughout the competition. In four games, Valanciunas averaged 18.8 points (fourth in the Summer League) and 10.0 rebounds (fifth) on 56 per cent shooting.

"He made good progress and he's an ever-willing kid to learn and plays hard," Ujiri said of Valanciunas. "It's not very easy to find that in big guys so we're happy with his progress and I think he'll continue [to work] very hard over the summer."

Terrence Ross, the Raptors' eighth overall pick in 2012, earned mixed reviews after a series of underwhelming and passive performances.

"Up and down a little bit," was Ujiri's assessment of Ross in Vegas. "We're excited about teaching him the game [and] see[ing] where it goes from there. He's obviously very athletic, he's got good shooting abilities [but] we feel he needs to attack the rim a little bit more [and] get to the free throw line."

"I think it was a good experience just to see him play games and he's one of those types of players that will probably get better playing with even better players. A little bit inconsistent but we're satisfied and we're happy he got that experience."

Recently signed point guard Dwight Buycks appeared in three games for Toronto, impressing Ujiri with his quickness and ability to get into the lane. Without any NBA experience under his belt, Buycks is expected to enter training camp third on the depth chart behind Lowry and Augustin but could earn playing time as a result of his unique skill set.

"They complement [each other] because Dwight will pick up full court, he's aggressive, he's got very good speed but he's yet to do it on an NBA court so we had to find a little bit experience and balance it out."

FILLING OUT THE ROSTER

Although Ujiri is still looking to put the finishing touches on the roster, it's unlikely that the team will make any more major acquisitions prior to the start of the season.

Following the Augustin signing, Toronto's roster stands at 14 and still includes forward Quentin Richardson, whose status remains uncertain. No decision has been made regarding Richardson, who was acquired from New York earlier this month in the Andrea Bargnani trade, but he is not expected to remain with the club heading into the season.

Ujiri indicated that the team may have interest in adding another wing player but would likely address that need with an inexpensive training camp invitee. One option could be athletic forward Chris Wright, who was a member of the Raptors' Summer League team and attended camp with the team last season.

The Raptors may choose to go into the season with fewer than the maximum, 15 players on their roster.

COACHING STAFF IN PLACE

Ujiri confirmed that Dwane Casey's coaching staff is set and an official announcement should be made over the next few days.

Bill Bayno and Rockets' assistant Jesse Mermuys are expected to join the already appointed Nick Nurse on Casey's staff this season. Tom Sterner and John Townsend will return to the Raptors' bench.

The team is still waiting for a resolution to be completed between Bayno and the Timberwolves, his former team, before making the hirings official.

"We're all set, we're all good," Ujiri insisted. "No announcement has been made because you want to pay respect to the other teams and make sure everything is done the right way.

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