Rock­ets happy for Rap­tors, D’an­toni thinks they could win again de­spite loss of Kawhi ... Trip to Tokyo good for team bond­ing ... Tucker gets lost in trans­la­tion

Edmonton Sun - - SPORTS -

TOKYO — NBA vet­eran P.J. Tucker couldn’t help but think about his time in Toronto when he watched the Rap­tors win the NBA cham­pi­onship in June.

Tucker was drafted by the team in the se­cond round in 2006 and though he only lasted 21 games as a rookie be­fore be­ing cut, he would even­tu­ally re­turn via trade a decade later, bring­ing tough­ness, de­fence and lead­er­ship to that squad, fi­nally earn­ing his first play­off berth.

Tucker was happy for his for­mer team­mates, but it seems like he might have thought about a what if sce­nario too (Toronto lob­bied hard to re­tain him in free agency, but Tucker elected to join the Rock­ets).

“Wow. I was just there,” Tucker told the Toronto Sun about his ini­tial re­ac­tion, be­fore break­ing into a deep laugh. “I was just there and I knew all those guys. All those guys worked re­ally hard, good play­ers, they de­served it,” Tucker said.

Rock­ets head coach Mike D’an­toni was also com­pli­men­tary of the Rap­tors and head coach Nick Nurse, who spent time as the head coach of Hous­ton’s G League (then the D-league) af­fil­i­ate Rio Grande, win­ning a ti­tle there too.

“It’s good. Well any coach, I don’t care how long he’s been there, to win a cham­pi­onship is not easy. So ku­dos to him,” D’an­toni said. “But you know Nick has been around, it’s his first sea­son as the head coach, (but) he was with them for six years so his learn­ing curve was al­ready good. Nick’s a great coach and did a great job.”

The long-time NBA head coach doesn’t think the Rap­tors are done ei­ther, even though Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green left.

“I wasn’t sur­prise that they (won the ti­tle), they were a re­ally good team. Any­time you have the team that they had and then they added Marc Ga­sol half­way through the year, you know they’d be re­ally good,” D’an­toni said. “They’re one of the teams again, that even with­out Kawhi Leonard will be con­tend­ing for a ti­tle.”

Asked by the Sun why he thought that way, D’an­toni men­tioned Pas­cal Si­akam, Fred Vanvleet and Kyle Lowry.

“They have a lot of play­ers that can play,” he said.

“Now, will it be harder? Maybe. Kawhi is ob­vi­ously Kawhi, but they’ll still be one of the top teams (in the NBA).”

A GREAT EX­PE­RI­ENCE

It’s been 16 years since the NBA has had games in Ja­pan and James Har­den is ea­ger to show bas­ket­ball fans in Tokyo what the league is all about.

“I’m just happy to be here. Just giv­ing them the op­por­tu­nity to see NBA bas­ket­ball,” Har­den said.

“We look for­ward to putting on a show and giv­ing them an ex­pe­ri­ence of NBA bas­ket­ball,” he said, point­ing out how watch­ing on tele­vi­sion doesn’t do the live prod­uct jus­tice.

Be­sides en­ter­tain­ing the pop­u­lace, D’an­toni also sees other ad­van­tages of the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I’m al­ways in favour of trips like this be­cause I think it’s good for the team to bond. Ja­pan’s a beau­ti­ful place to be so it’s got to be en­rich­ing for the play­ers on the court, off the court, play­ing in front of dif­fer­ent crowds so there’s a lot of ben­e­fits,” D’an­toni said.

“We’ll get good bas­ket­ball work, we’ll get bond­ing off (the court). For me it’s a win-win.”

TUCKER TALKS SHOES

A lot of NBA play­ers have vast shoe col­lec­tions, but few can match Tucker’s shoe closet. He has hun­dreds of pairs, but right now is with­out a deal, mak­ing him a sneaker free agent. It’s a wel­come change of pace for the for­ward, who has yet to make a call on who he will sign with.

“I don’t know yet. I’m just hav­ing fun right now. I haven’t de­cided what I’m go­ing to do yet. No rush,” Tucker said af­ter Rock­ets prac­tice. Tucker is hav­ing a blast. “Just wear­ing what­ever I want, fi­nally, for the first time in my life,” he said.

LOST IN TRANS­LA­TION

If any­body has seen the movie Lost In Trans­la­tion, there was a mo­ment on Sun­day that mir­rored a scene from that movie per­fectly. In the film, Bill Mur­ray is shoot­ing a whisky com­mer­cial and the Ja­panese di­rec­tor shouts out in­struc­tions in Ja­panese for well over 30 sec­onds. The trans­la­tion told to Mur­ray’s char­ac­ter is ba­si­cally just “look over there and turn your head.” An in­cred­u­lous Mur­ray can’t be­lieve that’s all that was said since the di­rec­tor said so many words.

Like­wise, Tucker pa­tiently waited, eyes wide, for a Ja­panese ques­tion to fin­ish. When the trans­la­tion came and turned into: “How are you lik­ing Ja­pan?” all Tucker, and just about every­body in on the scrum could do was laugh.

They’re one of the teams again, that even with­out Kawhi Leonard will be con­tend­ing for a ti­tle.

rock­ets coach Mike D’an­toni

GETTY IM­AGE

Rock­ets star James Har­den speaks to the me­dia af­ter a train­ing ses­sion in Tokyo yes­ter­day.

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