Yuta Watanabe Plans To Play In Japan In 2024/25

Veteran swingman Yuta Watanabe announced on Friday night during an Instagram Live session that he intends to leave the NBA to play in his home country of Japan for the 2024/25 season, according to tweets from Daisuke Sugiura and Takeshi Shibata, among others (Twitter links).

Watanabe, 29, spent a pair of seasons with the Grizzlies from 2018-20, then two years in Toronto from 2020-22. He enjoyed his best NBA season in Brooklyn in 2022/23, averaging 5.6 points and 2.4 rebounds per game off the bench while ranking among the league leaders in three-point percentage (44.4%).

Watanabe’s solid showing with the Nets earned him a two-year, minimum-salary contract from the Suns last summer, but he ended up not playing a major role in Phoenix, averaging just 13.2 minutes per game in 29 appearances before being traded to Memphis in February as part of the three-team deadline deal that sent Royce O’Neale and David Roddy to the Suns.

Having joined an injury-plagued roster in his return to Memphis, Watanabe had a path to regular minutes, but he was limited to just five games due to a wrist issue and personal reasons.

Watanabe’s $2,654,644 player option for next season looked like a safe bet to be exercised entering this offseason, but his comments in Friday’s Instagram Live suggest he plans to decline it in order to clear the path for his return to Japan. Assuming he goes through with that move, it’ll create a little extra cap and roster flexibility for the Grizzlies, who already owe more than $155MM in guaranteed money to 12 players for 2024/25.

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