Lewenberg: Raptors' Vasquez lays his cards on the table

Josh Lewenberg
5/14/2014 7:21:31 PM
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TORONTO - On the eve of his memorable exit interview, Greivis Vasquez sat down for dinner with the league's most famed and influential global ambassador, carrying on his mission to secure a new contract with the team that gave him new life in the NBA.

In Vasquez time, the meal may have lasted six hours. What did he and Drake discuss?

Perhaps a certain 2013-14 MVP came up in conversation.

Thunder forward and four-time scoring champion Kevin Durant has been on the minds of Raptors fans for the better part of the last year. Could Drake help lure Durant from Oklahoma City when he becomes a free agent following the 2015-16 season? He may have found a partner in crime.

"Hopefully I get to play with him one day in the NBA," Vasquez said of Durant, his high school teammate and old friend, guesting on TSN Drive with Dave Naylor on Monday. "Hopefully it's here in Toronto."

He wasn't done.

"Imagine if we get KD, Kevin Durant in 2016 and he leads us to a championship," the Raptors' point guard added, unprompted in an interview with Bryan Hayes on TSN 1050 the following day. "I think he'd have statues right outside the ACC."

Well played, sir. Vasquez, the quote that keeps on quoting, is angling for a new deal and with the offseason barely a week old, he has positioned himself favourably.

In case you haven't heard, Vasquez is quite fond of being in Toronto.

A week ago, on a day in which Kyle Lowry's impending free agency took centre stage, it was his backup, Vasquez, that stole the show delivering an emotional 19-minute soliloquy, with the occasional question sprinkled in.

He thanked the city, its fans, his teammates, coaches and general manager. He thanked the Toronto school board. "My son cannot wake up at 8:00 in the morning, he wakes up at six because he's excited to go to school." He thanked his waiter at the local all-you-can-eat Brazilian steak house.

So, he was thorough. It was exit interview meets academy award acceptance speech, only no one had the heart to play him off with music.

"That's Greivis," GM Masai Ujiri said a day later.

The 27-year-old point guard rarely holds back on the court, playing the game with a refreshing passion that helped spark Toronto's remarkable turnaround in 2014. The same could be said about his approach away from basketball.

"I'd use the word passionate for Greivis," said newly extended head coach Dwane Casey. "He has stones. He's probably, truth be told, probably the most confident player on the team. He feels like he can score on LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan in his prime, which is great and you need that."

"If you tell him, 'Greivis, run through that window right there,' he's going to do it. Now he may look at you a little bit, but he'll do it."

Vasquez, a restricted free agent this summer, is sincere in his sentiments, he truly hopes to remain a Raptor and the way he's gone about publicizing it could go a long way in ensuring he's back with the team next season.

"It would be heartbreaking if I don't come back," Vasquez exclaimed on a Monday afternoon in the bowels of the Air Canada Centre. "I'm an emotional guy, so I really embrace, I'm really committed to the team, to the city, to this franchise."

Seven days later, there was Vasquez, on stage shaking hands with Toronto's Deputy Mayor and representing the organization as May 12 was proclaimed "Raptors Day".

After arriving in an early-season trade from Sacramento - where he says he lost his passion for the game - Vasquez averaged 9.5 points and 3.7 assists in 61 games for the Raptors, his fourth NBA stop in four years. He has not wasted the opportunity.

He's gone all in. The Venezuelan-native has established himself as an emotional leader on the team and an ambassador in the city. For good measure he's also offering up his services in recruiting one of the NBA's premier talents, should he still be around in 2016.

But will he be around? Ujiri will not be pressured, not by elaborate speeches or the promise of an endorsement in two years from now. Vasquez will be retained if Ujiri determines it makes sense in basketball terms, and it may. Still, the extracurricular incentives can't hurt, especially if the Raptors' GM values continuity and chemistry as much as he has indicated.

"We hope to get something done," Ujiri told, in reference to Vasquez's contract status. "He's one of those pieces on the team where you know that he's always going to be a great teammates and he's going to go out and compete."

As Vasquez walked off the podium, an audience of assembled media brimming after he captivated them with a season-ending speech for the ages, he left the room the same way he entered it 20 minutes earlier. The "loveable underdog" - as he once referred to himself - wore a black cap decorated with the words "We The North" on his head and a big smile across his face.

"I'm not taking this for granted," he told the city and its acting mayor on Raptors Day. "I'm saying it because I mean it."

And he does, but he knows exactly what he's doing.

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