Wainright odd man out
Friendly competition ends with Dekker, Bonga in final two spots
In the intense competition for jobs with the Raptors — for the riches the position brings, the prestige, the opportunity that comes with it — it would be easy to paint it as a cutthroat fight for survival among rivals.
And then Sam Dekker sits on the podium, one of three young men fighting for one or maybe two end-of-the-roster positions, and he puts it all in the right perspective.
“It’s the weakness of a man to root for someone to fail,” Dekker said this past week. Refreshing.
Dekker won one of those jobs, according to reports Saturday night, but it will not create hard feelings nor resentment because he, Isaac Bonga and Ish Wainright all had a thread in common.
“It’s a basketball community, it’s a brotherhood,” said Wainright, who was reportedly waived Saturday. “I’ve been playing against Sam since the sixth grade, just played against him a few months ago overseas.
“I mean, we have a special bond, but on the court we’re competing for spots. I’m competing not just with Isaac, Sam and other guys. I’m competing with OG (Anunoby), Scottie (Barnes), guys like that.
“So I mean, we take whatever is on the court, we don’t take it off the court. We still have our bonds, we’ll still go to lunch, go to dinner. No matter what happens we’re still going to be OK. We’re still going to be cool, still going to text, still going to have our group message. We’ll see down the line with whatever happens.”
According to reports Saturday night, the Raptors have waived Wainright, the 27-year-old from Kansas City, leaving Dekker and Bonga as the last two members of a 15-man Raptors team that will open the regular season Wednesday in Toronto.
Dekker, who played in 200 NBA games before spending the last two seasons in Turkey and Russia, finished the preseason with a flurry, making five three-pointers in a quarter of Toronto’s last exhibition game. He fills a need for shooting depth on the roster and returns to the NBA after playing for four teams over four seasons after being drafted 18th overall by the Houston Rockets in 2015.
Bonga is the most athletically intriguing — six-foot-eight and long, like so many of other Raptors. He started one pre-season game and did not look out of place. He played with the Lakers and Wizards in three NBA seasons.
“One thing I have always learned is, do your role as best as you can,” he said this past week. “And that’s literally what I was trying to do. Do my role as best as I can and just fit in with this team.”
Wainright shot the ball well and showed flashes of toughness. That’s understandable given he showed enough promise to spend one training camp with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills as a potential tight end, but did not stick.
It came down to a combination of factors that coach Nick Nurse alluded to while the competition was going on.
“I’m looking at experience and position and how they played,” Nurse said. “I think you can make a case probably for all of them.”
The Raptors didn’t have to make a decision until Monday, ahead of Wednesday’s opener against the Washington Wizards, and will now have two practices with the final group after an off-day Sunday.
Wainright could still catch on with another NBA team or a G League affiliate. After spending time in Europe, away from family and the comforts of home, he’ll pursue every North American opportunity.
“There’s days where you go 48 hours without talking to anybody in your family because of time difference … but I learned that you have to balance it out. Balance is key,” he said recently. “Family time, basketball, there’s different ways. I watched a lot of Netflix. But I mean, I have a tight circle — friends, the basketball community. Like I said, we have a brotherhood.”
And that brotherhood will continue.
“These guys work so hard because they want this job,” Dekker said, “and it’s not just the money. It’s the relationships, the pride, the love for the game, and I’m not out there thinking about money. I’m out there thinking about how badly I want to be back in the league, and I don’t want to go back overseas. And all of those guys have those same thoughts as me.
“So these are guys that I’ll stay in touch with for a long time, no matter what happens, and I’m always going to cheer for them.”