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Lewenberg: Raptors reunite with familiar faces in Dallas

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Josh Lewenberg
12/20/2013 4:20:01 PM
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DALLAS - Mavericks guard Jose Calderon was barely two minutes into his post-shoot around assembly with the media before he was blindsided by the first of many hugs from his former cohorts.
 
Mavs shoot around had just let out and the Raptors were slowly filing onto the court at American Airlines Center when DeMar DeRozan ran straight to the far baseline, surprising his former teammate with a hug.
 
Amir Johnson was next, followed by Jonas Valanciunas and several other Raptors players until finally, he was greeted by his old coach and good friend Dwane Casey.
 
"It's always going to be a little bit of a different game for me after all those years in Toronto," Calderon said with a big smile on his face, which of course is nothing new, ahead of Friday night's contest against his former team.
 
"I still have a lot of friends on the other team."
 
Listen to all the action live on TSN 1050 Radio in Toronto, beginning at 8:30pm et.
 
Traded to the Pistons in the three-team deal that netted the Raptors Rudy Gay last January, Calderon had spent his first seven-plus NBA seasons in Toronto. He remains the franchise all-time leader in assists and free-throw percentage, ranking second in games played, fourth in minutes and fifth in points.
 
At the time it seemed like an inevitable, albeit saddening breakup. Bryan Colangelo had just acquired Kyle Lowry to pair with and eventually replace Calderon, whose contract was expiring. The trade was hardly a surprise but it's one the Raptors are regretting nearly 11 months later.
 
Gay's time in Toronto was short-lived for obvious financial and stylistic reasons while replacing Calderon's quietly dependable production has proven to be a challenge, one the Raptors hope Greivis Vasquez may help solve. The Raptors recorded 20 or more assists in 22 of 23 games with Calderon starting prior to last year's trade however, they accomplished that feat in just 21 of 56 contests with Gay in the lineup.
 
A lot has changed in 11 months, as Calderon noticed when putting together a list of dinner guests on Thursday. 
 
"Yesterday, I was trying to put together a list of guys who could come for dinner," he said. "And it was like okay, there are not so many guys."
 
The point guard, who ended up hosting Valanciunas and seven members of the Raptors staff at his new home on Thursday night, has played with only six current Raptors. Only two, DeRozan and Johnson, were teammates with Calderon for more than a couple months (they played with him for just over four seasons.)
 
"That happens all the time," the nine-year vet said. "That's how the NBA works, even more now with the new GM in Toronto and all the new management. You knew changes were coming."
 
For those who had the opportunity to play with him, to coach him, Calderon has been missed.
 
"That was my point guard coming into the league," said DeRozan, in the midst of a career year. "And in the early stages of my career he really helped develop me into the player I am now. He helped me understand a lot and I commend a lot of my success to Jose."
 
Inking a four-year deal with the Mavericks over the summer, Calderon and his family are getting comfortable in Dallas. In 24 games this season, the Mavs' guard is averaging 11.9 points and 4.5 assists, making more threes per game (2.6) than he has before while shooting a career-best 47 per cent from long range. At 32 years of age, Calderon was the old man in Toronto, but in Dallas he fits right in.
 
"I think it's making my job a little bit easier playing with guys like Vince (Carter) or Shawn (Marion) or Dirk (Nowitzki)," he said. "They know how to play. For a point guard, being with guys who know to play all the time is easier, so I feel really comfortable out there with them for sure."
 
As Mavs coach Rick Carlisle pointed out, it's hard to believe how long Calderon has been in the league, especially for those that remember him as a raw, timid rookie out of Spain back with the Raptors in 2005.
 
At that time Carlisle was coaching the Pacers and remembers the words of Lithuanian guard Sarunas Jasikevicius, who was familiar with Calderon having played against him overseas.
 
"He came to me one day and said, that guy Calderon is a very resourceful player, he's better than you think he is," Carlisle recalled.
 
"And he was right."
 
"Jose's had a really strong and solid career in the NBA," the Mavs coach continued. "He'll go down as one of the top European players ever."
 
Both teams got their greetings and reminiscing over with early: Calderon with his old teammates, Carter with the Raptors' media and staff and Casey with Carlisle, his former boss in Dallas. Once the ball is tossed up it's all business for the Raptors, who are coming off a last-second overtime loss and are beginning a daunting four-game road trip.
 
"Not [for] me," DeRozan said, asked if it will be difficult to face a player that has meant so much to him. "Not me personally, not at all. I understand that once we step on this court I could be playing against my mom and I'm going to go out there and try to win."
 
At 11-2, the Mavericks own the second-best home record in the Western Conference and have won 12 of the last 13 meetings with the Raptors in Dallas.
Jose Calderon (Photo: Canadian Press)

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(Photo: Canadian Press)
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