Yuta Watanabe Expected To Join Chiba Jets

After announcing during an Instagram Live session in April that he plans to return to his home country of Japan, Grizzlies forward Yuta Watanabe is widely expected to sign with the Chiba Jets, sources tell Donatas Urbonas of BasketNews.com. Nothing is official yet, but Urbonas classifies the move as “close.”

Watanabe, 29, was born and raised in Japan, then played his college ball in the U.S. at George Washington from 2014-18. The undrafted 6’9″ forward spent a pair of seasons with the Grizzlies from 2018-20 and 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.

The contract Watanabe signed with Phoenix includes a minimum-salary player option for 2024/25 worth about $2.65MM. It stands to reason that if he signs a new contract in Japan, he’d decline that option, though his decision has yet to be formally reported.

While it’s not a significant number, moving Watanabe’s salary off their cap for next season would help out the Grizzlies, who could be facing a luxury-tax crunch this summer and likely didn’t have the veteran in their plans going forward.

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