Lewenberg: Vasquez here to win, whether you like it or not

Josh Lewenberg
12/13/2013 2:46:51 AM
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TORONTO - Set to make his Raptors debut at home to the 76ers Friday, suiting up for his fourth team in four seasons, Greivis Vasquez has one thing on his mind.

Fed up with losing - he's done more than enough of it early in his career - the Raptors' new point guard just wants to win.

"I'm tired of losing," Vasquez proclaimed, shortly after his first practice in Toronto Thursday afternoon. "I think winning just feels so much better. I'm not looking be an all-star or anything else like that, right now I'm just looking at how I can help my team."

"It's all about fit and I think I fit in here."

Vasquez, acquired from Sacramento on Monday, was the last of the four new players to arrive in Toronto after being held up in New York for two days getting his paperwork sorted out.

He had every reason to be drained, but unlike his three Kings-turned-Raptors teammates a day prior, he did not show it. For him, this trade - his third since coming into the league in 2010 - is an opportunity for a fresh start, a fresh start he may or may not find in Toronto but one he desperately needs.

"I just want to play," the Venezuelan-born point guard said. "I just want to be happy, I want to feel like I'm enjoying what I'm doing and this opportunity is probably going to get that back for me because I was struggling in Sacramento."

"Hopefully I stay here for a long time, but you can't control that. I'm just looking forward to the opportunity. I think this is really going to be a fresh start for me."

Since playing a marginal role on the Grizzlies team that went to the Conference Semifinals in his rookie year, the 26-year-old lost 100 games in two seasons with the Hornets before being traded to the Kings this past summer.

Coming off a career season, in which he averaged 13.9 points and 9.0 assists with New Orleans, placing second in most improved player voting, Vasquez never quite found his game in Sacramento. Recovering from offseason ankle surgery, Vasquez was limited in training camp with his new team and struggled, not unlike the Kings themselves, upon his return to the lineup. A class act, Vasquez was very careful to remain thankful and respectful to the Kings organization, however he was very clearly thrilled to move on.

"The NBA is all about fit, how you fit with a team," he said. "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't work. Unfortunately it didn't work in Sacramento, nothing against the franchise or the guys that play there."

"I've (turned) the page," he continued. "I want to play for the Toronto Raptors, I want to win a lot of games and hopefully I play my whole career here."

There's something you don't hear everyday. "Hopefully I play my whole career here," spoken by a player wearing a Raptors logo on his chest. It's a nice sentiment but a bit premature for someone whose jersey is hot off the press, for a player who hasn't yet felt the anguish of being a Raptor.

Vasquez wants to win. He thinks they can and he believes they will win. That - whether by design or not - seems like wishful thinking, at least for the immediate future.

Masai Ujiri has already shipped out the team's most talented, albeit most flawed player. According to multiple reports, the Raptors' general manager is aggressively shopping Kyle Lowry, on the verge of sending his expiring contract to New York, or Brooklyn, or Golden State, or somewhere, wherever. The season of change has just begun but many fans, media-types, league executives and even players believe they know where this is headed.

"A lot of people talk about tanking and all that," Vasquez acknowledged, asked if he's willing to be patient and wait for a time in which this team is ready to win. "I'll speak on my behalf, obviously I know players, you know players in this league, I'm not going to go out there and just give the ball away and say, hey just score."

"I just want to go out there and complete and whether we win or lose at the end of the day you want to feel like you gave everything."

Vasquez's presence will win the Raptors a game or two this year, maybe more, whether they like it or not, whether you like it or not. And that's not a bad thing. He is both the perfect player and the perfect person for any organization looking to change their long-suffering culture.

On Wednesday veteran Chuck Hayes acknowledged the Raptors' long-standing reputation around the league for being a soft team. Having tough-minded players around, winning players, never hurts regardless of where you are in a rebuild.

Just ask Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady what Charles Oakley or Alvin Williams meant to their careers. The likes of Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross and even DeMar DeRozan will benefit greatly from playing alongside Vasquez, regardless of whether or not that translates to unwanted victories.

Auditioning for his future - he'll become a free agent at the end of the season - Vasquez will increase the team's watchability. He and coach Dwane Casey have already spoken about running more pick-and-roll, music to the ears of Valanciunas and Amir Johnson, and his pass-first style of play should bring back memories of Jose Calderon.

"I'm not going to score 30 points a night but I can get you 10 assists a night," he said.

"It's not about how much success you have as an individual. I want to win, that's the bottom line. I had a great season last year and I still got traded, you've got to do things on a winning team and that's what I want to do here."

Vasquez wants to win. Whether or not he succeeds in his mission as a Raptor, embrace it and enjoy the ride.

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