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Lewenberg: Raptors bring back Vasquez on eve of free agency

Josh Lewenberg
7/9/2014 10:51:43 PM
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TORONTO - With just over an hour until the start of Thursday's free agent signing frenzy, Masai Ujiri delivered on a promise he made following last season's playoff run.

Greivis Vasquez, the final piece of that puzzle, joined teammates Kyle Lowry and Patrick Patterson in recommitting to the Raptors, agreeing to a two-year, $13 million deal late Wednesday evening.

Vasquez, a restricted free agent, became the latest Raptor to re-up with the team he helped lead to a franchise-best 48-win season and division title last year. Bringing him back, along with the rest of the personnel responsible for the club's resurgence, has been an offseason priority for Ujiri.

"As far as I'm concerned, keeping our core group going forward... those guys are priorities for us," the Raptors' GM had said after extending head coach Dwane Casey in May. "And if you want to build, I think a team where we have young players, we have to build continuity. When free agency comes, we have to attack our guys first."

That he did, taking care of the heavy lifting before the July moratorium period was lifted at 12:01 AM Thursday. With the league's salary cap set for next season, teams can make their signings official at this time and the Raptors are expected to do so at a media conference in the morning.

Vasquez, like Patterson, came to the Raptors in December's seven-player swap with Sacramento. The 27-year-old came into his own late into the season as he got closer to 100 percent following an offseason ankle surgery. The fiery Venezuelan sparked his new team with passion and hot shooting, anchoring the second unit and backing up Lowry, also playing alongside him in the backcourt on occasion.

"I'd use the word passionate for Greivis," Casey said back in May. "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."

The versatile fourth-year guard averaged 9.5 points and 3.7 assists in 61 games with Toronto, shooting 39 percent from three-point range, after struggling to fit in as a member of the Kings to begin the season.

Often expressing his admiration for the city of Toronto and his desire to return this summer, Vasquez has credited the move from Sacramento as a turning point in his young career.

"It would be heartbreaking if I don't come back," Vasquez said in his memorable exit interview the day after Toronto's postseason elimination. "I'm an emotional guy, so I really embrace, I'm really committed to the team, to the city, to this franchise."

Although a $6.5 million annual salary is on the high end for a backup point guard, the Raptors value Vasquez as more than that and the reasonable two-year term allows them to maintain their flexibility leading up to the summer of 2016. Vasquez has proven himself a capable starter in the league, averaging career-highs of 13.9 points and 9.0 assists while finishing second in Most Improved Player voting with New Orleans in 2012-13. Not only can he co-exist with both newcomer Lou Williams and Lowry in the backcourt, but he serves as insurance if the latter were to miss time with an injury.

With the NBA salary cap set at just over $63 million for next season, the tax level at $76.8 million, the Raptors figure to have most of their mid-level exception - roughly $5 million - to spend with three open roster spots after completing deals with Vasquez, Lowry, Patterson and rookie Bruno Caboclo, who was signed to his rookie scale contract Wednesday afternoon.

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