Yuta Watanabe

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.

Grizzlies Notes: Watanabe, Jackson, Jemison, Gilyard

Yuta Watanabe was initially “sad” when he found out from his agent that he’d been traded. When he heard he was going to the Grizzlies, his demeanor changed, he told the media (video link) after a team shootaround on Monday.

“I’m excited now. Good to be back here,” he said. “This is where my NBA career started … I’m a grown man now, playing with confidence. … I’m so much better than I used to be.”

Watanabe, who played 33 games for Memphis in his first two NBA seasons from 2018-20, was included in the three-team deal among the Grizzlies, Nets and Suns on Tuesday.

We have more on the Grizzlies:

  • Memphis signed GG Jackson to a four-year contract on Friday. The last year of the deal – 2026/27 – will be a team option, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype tweets. Jackson had been on a two-way contract.
  • Jackson was not in uniform on Monday. He was held out by the club due to a violation of team rules, coach Taylor Jenkins told Jonah Dylan of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. The rookie second-rounder had scored in double figures in his last four games.
  • Trey Jemison, who was added on a two-way deal on Friday, received a two-year contract, Scotto confirms (via Twitter).
  • Two-way player Jacob Gilyard is closing in on his 50-game NBA limit for the season, ESPN’s Bobby Marks tweets. Gilyard had only three games remaining entering Monday’s action. He is not eligible to be on the active roster once he reaches 50 games, unless he signs a standard contract.

Grizzlies Notes: Deadline Moves, Bane, Smart, Clarke, Jackson

Victor Oladipo and Chimezie Metu have already been waived, but the two other players acquired by the Grizzlies in their recent series of tradesLamar Stevens and Yuta Watanabe – are expected to get an opportunity to play over the next couple months, writes Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. Stevens is on an expiring deal, while Watanabe holds a minimum-salary player option for 2024/25.

The Grizzlies also hope to get a longer look down the stretch at Ziaire Williams and Jake LaRavia, two former first-round picks who are currently sidelined due to injuries. As Cole writes, head of basketball operations Zach Kleiman showed by trading David Roddy on Thursday that he’s willing to move on from recent first-rounders who haven’t established themselves as consistent, productive rotation contributors, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to give up on players like Williams or LaRavia.

“We’re in a spot where we have a lot of young players,” Kleiman said. “Nothing has been ruled out. Let me say that. I think that everyone at the very least has shown that in stretches, there’s a lot to be encouraged by. What we’re focused on right now is giving those guys opportunity. Wouldn’t surprise me if some guys emerge and maybe surprise people.”

Here’s more on the Grizzlies:

  • Having traded away Steven Adams and Xavier Tillman, the Grizzlies’ plans at center going forward are unclear. Their 2024 first-round pick, which projects to be a top-10 selection, may factor into that equation, Cole notes, since it could serve as a valuable trade asset or an opportunity to add a young blue-chipper to the roster. “Wherever that pick might be, we want to be in a position where we’re able to kind of navigate and steer that in different directions,” Kleiman said.
  • The Grizzlies project to be a luxury tax team next season based on their current commitments. Kleiman told reporters, including Cole, that’s not something the club is actively working to avoid. “There’s not a budget that we have to operate from,” Kleiman said. “There’s not a place that we need to be relative to any marker or luxury tax. . . . Those are all things we’ll have to weigh from a team-building standpoint.”
  • There’s still no timeline for the returns of Desmond Bane (left ankle), Marcus Smart (right ring finger), or Brandon Clarke (left Achilles), according to Kleiman. He indicate that Bane and Smart are expected to be out at least through the All-Star break and expressed optimism Clarke can return this season. “Brandon’s doing really well in his recovery,” Kleiman said, per Cole. “We’ll make a determination when we get a little bit closer. . . . Regardless of record, a little cameo at the end of the season just to build momentum going into next season, I think that’s something that’s potentially still on the table.”
  • As Jonah Dylan of The Memphis Commercial Appeal details, the Grizzlies players who remained on the roster through Thursday’s trade deadline were sorry to see Tillman and Roddy go. “I’m obviously upset and gutted and I feel bad,” said Jaren Jackson Jr., who played with Tillman at Michigan State before spending the past four seasons with him in Memphis. “It’s just part of the business. I’ve been here a long time. But it doesn’t get easier, for sure.”
  • GG Jackson‘s new four-year deal with the Grizzlies will be worth $8.5MM over four seasons, with $6.1MM in guaranteed money, tweets Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. A minimum-salary deal would be worth in the range of $7MM, so it sounds like Jackson will receive significantly more than the prorated rookie minimum for the rest of the 2023/24 season.

Suns Acquire Royce O’Neale In Three-Way Deal

7:22pm: The trade is official, according to a press release from the Grizzlies, who classified the draft asset they’re getting from the Suns as a “future first-round pick swap.”

Memphis will be able to swap its own 2026 first-round pick for the least favorable of the Suns’, Wizards’, and Magic’s first-rounders that year, tweets Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian.

As previously reported, Brooklyn waived Thaddeus Young and Memphis cut Victor Oladipo to make room on their respective rosters for the incoming players.

4:58pm: The Suns hung onto Boston’s 2028 second-round pick, tweets Gambadoro, which means the three future second-rounders they’re sending Brooklyn are as follows:

  • Either the Pistons’, Bucks,’ or Magic’s 2026 second-round pick (whichever is least favorable).
  • The Grizzlies’ 2028 second-round pick.
  • The Grizzlies’ 2029 second-round pick.

12:18pm: The Nets are finalized a trade to send forward Royce O’Neale to the Suns for matching salaries and three second-round picks, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets.

Phoenix is also acquiring forward David Roddy from the Grizzlies in exchange for a pick swap, Charania adds. (Twitter link).

The Suns are sending out Keita Bates-Diop, Yuta Watanabe, Jordan Goodwin and Chimezie Metu, John Gambadoro of 98.7 FM Phoenix tweets. They are all on minimum salary deals.

Watanabe and Metu will head to the Grizzlies, while Brooklyn will acquire Bates-Diop and Goodwin, per Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic (Twitter link).

O’Neale is in the final year of a four-year, $36MM contract and could enter unrestricted free agency this summer with full Bird rights. He’s making $9.5MM this season.

He’ll be extension eligible with the Suns for a maximum of two-years and $20.5MM, Yossi Gozlan of Hoops Hype tweets.

Roddy is making $2.72MM this season and already had $4.83MM option for next season picked up by Memphis. Phoenix can use the $4,975,371 traded player exception it generated in the Dario Saric trade with Oklahoma City last season to absorb Roddy’s salary. That exception expires on Friday.

The Suns were considered the top suitor for the Hornets’ Miles Bridges. However, Bridges reportedly told Charlotte’s front office he wouldn’t approve any trade. Phoenix pivoted to O’Neale, who will immediately jump into its rotation.

O’Neale gives Phoenix a playoff-tested, defensive-minded veteran. He has been coming off the bench most of this season but could slot into Phoenix’s star-laden lineup if the Suns want to use Grayson Allen in a sixth-man role.

O’Neale is averaging 7.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 24.5 minutes per game this season. He’s a career 38.1% 3-point shooter and should get plenty of open looks playing with Phoenix’s stars.

Phoenix will see its luxury tax bill rise by $13.5MM, Gozlan tweets. Overall, the Suns will have a payroll and luxury tax penalty adding up to more than $254.5MM this season, Gozlan notes in another tweet.

By swapping out four players for a pair, Phoenix will also have to add another player to reach the league minimum or 14. That will also increase their tax bill.

Watanabe and Bates-Diop are signed through next year. Metu has an expiring contract and Goodwin’s contract includes a team option for next season.

And-Ones: Watanabe, Japan, Risacher, McDonald’s All-Americans, All-Stars

Japan won its first FIBA World Cup game in 17 years in 2023, and Suns wing Yuta Watanabe was a big part of that team. Watanabe reminisced on his summer in a conversation with HoopsHype’s Sam Yip, expressing optimism for Japan’s future in basketball.

If I’m going to retire in five, six years in a realistic world, we [are probably] not going to be one of the top teams in the world in five years, but I think at least we will be good enough to compete against those great teams,” Watanabe said. “I mean we did a good job against Germany and Australia in the World Cup. We lost by 20 but we won the second half. I think in five, six years we gonna be there to compete against those teams.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • French wing Zaccharie Risacher is making a case to be one of the first players selected in the 2024 draft during a historically productive season, ESPN’s Jeremy Woo writes (ESPN+ link). Risacher boasts a mix of positional size, scoring, play-making, defense and smarts, according to Woo. His physical profile is similar to that of Shane Battier and Ziaire Williams. Woo breaks down the rest of Risacher’s game, explaining why he could go No. 1 overall and considering which teams might make sense for him.
  • The 2024 McDonald’s All-American Game roster was unveiled on ESPN on Tuesday, and it features potential 2025 No. 1 overall picks Cooper Flagg and Ace Bailey (Twitter link via ESPN’s Jonathan Givony). Kentucky commit Boogie Fland, Duke commit Isaiah Evans, Washington commit Zoom Diallo and Rutgers commit Dylan Harper are among others featured on the rosters.
  • Ahead of the All-Star starters being unveiled earlier Thursday, The Ringer’s Michael Pina broke down his official starter ballot, as well as who he thinks the reserves should be. Pina voted for Tyrese Haliburton, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic, all of which mirrored the official selections. However, Pina had New York’s Jalen Brunson over Milwaukee’s Damian Lillard on his ballot. He also picked the Lakers’ Anthony Davis and the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard over LeBron James and Phoenix’s Kevin Durant. Check out the rest of his selections here.

Suns Notes: Lee, Durant, Eubanks, Watanabe, Tournament

Suns wing Damion Lee, who underwent right knee surgery last month, is still using crutches, but will be “off of them very soon,” head coach Frank Vogel said on Thursday (Twitter video link via Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic).

At the time of Lee’s procedure, the Suns didn’t offer any sort of timetable for his recovery process, simply stating that more updates would be provided “as appropriate.” Asked on Thursday if he had a sense of whether the 31-year-old might be able to return in December or January, Vogel still wasn’t able to share any specifics.

“This year hopefully though,” Vogel said, referring to the 2023/24 season (Twitter link via Rankin).

Here’s more on the Suns:

  • Star forward Kevin Durant has been listed as questionable for Friday’s game in Memphis due to right foot soreness, Rankin writes for The Arizona Republic. It sounds like a decision will be made on his availability closer to game time.
    [UPDATE: Durant has been ruled out, per Rankin.]
  • Suns big man Drew Eubanks, who left Wednesday’s game due to a left ankle injury, has been ruled out for Friday, with the team designating the ailment as a sprain, tweets Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports. In addition to Lee and Bradley Beal (back), who are sidelined with longer-term injuries, the Suns will also still be without Yuta Watanabe, who will miss a fourth consecutive contest due to a quad contusion.
  • Phoenix is playing its final in-season tournament game on Friday vs. Memphis and remains in the hunt for the Western Conference’s wild card spot despite losing Group A to the Lakers, Rankin writes. A victory would result in a 3-1 record in group play, but it may need to be a blowout win to advance to the tournament quarterfinals, since they’d almost certainly need to win a point differential tiebreaker (Twitter link).

Injury Notes: LaRavia, Reddish, Watanabe, DSJ, Thomas

Grizzlies forward Jake LaRavia is undergoing a procedure to address a corneal abrasion of his left eye, the team announced in a press release on Tuesday (Twitter link). According to the club, LaRavia will be reevaluated in about two or three weeks, so he won’t return until sometime in December, at the earliest.

It’s the latest in a growing list of injuries for the Grizzlies, who are missing big men Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke due to long-term ailments and have also had Marcus Smart, Luke Kennard, and Xavier Tillman go down recently.

The Grizzlies are already carrying one extra player on their standard roster while Ja Morant is on the suspended list, but could qualify for another roster spot via the hardship provision. A team can apply for a hardship exception when it has at least four players who have missed three or more consecutive games due to injury or illness, assuming those players will remain sidelined for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday’s game vs. Houston will be the third straight that Smart, Kennard, and Tillman have missed, so the Grizzlies could request a hardship exception after that contest if they want to try to add some extra depth.

Here are a few more injury-related updates from around the NBA:

  • Lakers forward Cam Reddish left Tuesday’s win over Utah early due to a groin injury and didn’t return. He’ll undergo further evaluation on Wednesday to assess the severity of the injury, sources tell Dave McMenamin of ESPN (Twitter link). Head coach Darvin Ham said that second-year guard Max Christie could play a “really prominent” role on Wednesday vs. Dallas if Reddish can’t go, tweets Jovan Buha of The Athletic.
  • Suns forward Yuta Watanabe, who was unavailable for a second straight game on Tuesday, has a “deep” thigh bruise that head coach Frank Vogel described as “really painful,” per Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic (Twitter link). Watanabe’s return timeline is unclear.
  • Nets guard Dennis Smith Jr., affected by a lower back sprain, underwent an MRI on Tuesday, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Smith will be out for a second consecutive game on Wednesday.
  • Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn added that the team should have an update on injured guard Cam Thomas (ankle sprain) later this week, according to Lewis. “He is heading in the right direction,” Vaughn said of Thomas. “Unless we wanted to be extremely proficient in giving him an MRI to compare to, to my knowledge he won’t need another MRI. He’s building towards getting back on the floor.”

Pacific Notes: Kings, Watanabe, Beal, Clippers, Warriors

The Kings will aggressively pursue a trade for a star, The Athletic’s Shams Charania stated on FanDuel’s Run It Back (hat tip to NBC Sports’ Kurt Helin).

“This is the first time in a really long time — maybe when Chris Webber was with the Kings — that you can look at the Kings as a trade destination,” Charania said. “They’re going to be involved in every star player: Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, maybe Zach LaVine. Whatever stars become available because [Kings’ GM] Monte McNair, that organization, they’ve done a good job at keeping their assets. They have tradable contracts. So they’re going to be a player for stars coming up for sure.”

The Kings control all of their future first-round picks except their 2024 selection, which is owed to Atlanta (with lottery protection).

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • The Suns’ Yuta Watanabe missed Sunday’s game at Utah with a left quad contusion, according to Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic. He was kneed during a pick-up game on Saturday. Watanabe, who signed a two-year, veteran’s minimum contract with a player option during the offseason, had appeared in Phoenix’s first 12 games, averaging 5.3 points per night.
  • Suns wing Bradley Beal, who won’t play for at least the next three weeks due to a low back strain, has dealt with nerve irritation from his back down to his legs, according to The Athletic’s Charania. Beal, who suffered the initial injury in training camp, only appeared in three games before he was sidelined again last week.
  • It’s time for the Clippers and Warriors to start showing that they’re true contenders and prove they deserve to continue with their current core groups, The Athletic’s John Hollinger opines.

Pacific Notes: Watanabe, Green, Reddish, Dunleavy

The Suns were quick to sign Yuta Watanabe in free agency, coming to an agreement to sign him moments after the NBA’s free agent negotiation period opened in June. According to Sportskeeda’s Mark Medina, star forward Kevin Durant was instrumental in recruiting Watanabe, his teammate in Brooklyn last season, to Phoenix.

He texted me and told me he wants to play with me again,” Watanabe said in an exclusive interview with Medina. “That meant a lot to me. When someone like Kevin Durant reaches out to me and says stuff like that, it means a lot.

Watanabe is currently a key contributor for the Suns, averaging a career-high 7.3 points per game while shooting 43.8% from deep. According to Medina, head coach Frank Vogel said Watanabe was more than a catch-and-shoot player, able to create his own shot and put the ball on the floor.

I really appreciate that he said that,” Watanabe said. “Being a 3-point shooter helps me put the ball on the floor and drive because they have to close out. I always try to make a play with not holding the ball too long. Either I catch-and-shoot or I drive. I try to make it simple. I still have to get better with making plays for others, but I think I’m getting better at it.

Watanabe is on a two-year, minimum-salary contract, the second year of which is a player option.

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • The Warriors are displaying better chemistry, compared to last season, through their first five games, according to Kendra Andrews of ESPN.com. Draymond Green, who made his season debut on Sunday, agreed with that sentiment. “Last year we had an awful team as far as chemistry goes,” Green said. “It was hard to come to work. Not fun. So this year you see the joy on guys’ faces when they come into the building. You got guys staying over two to three hours just talking. Getting two to three hours early just to be here. You start to see that, and you’re like, ‘OK, this is a group that likes to be together.‘”
  • Lakers forward Cam Reddish started against the Clippers on Wednesday with Taurean Prince out due to left knee soreness. He put up season highs of eight points and three steals, but his most impressive feat was how he handled the task of guarding Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times writes. “The kid is special. The only thing he needed was consistency,” head coach Darvin Ham said. “Just a program that’s going to put their arms around him and encourage him to constantly get better, simplify things and he’ll respond in the right way, which he did [Wednesday]. He’s been awesome since he’s been an L.A. Laker.
  • Warriors general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. had big shoes to fill when he took over for Bob Myers, who engineered four Golden State championship teams. However, The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami opines Dunleavy might very well be the MVP for the Warriors so far. Dunleavy traded Jordan Poole for Chris Paul, drafted Brandin Podziemski and Trayce Jackson-Davis, signed Dario Saric and Cory Joseph, and extended Draymond Green this offseason. The Warriors are 4-1 through their first five games.

Suns Notes: Ishbia, Nurkic, Booker, Watanabe, Ayton

Forget about the defending champion Nuggets. Forget about what the Bucks and Celtics have done in recent weeks. Suns owner Mat Ishbia confidently declares his team the best in the league, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic reports.

“We’ve got a great team. I think we’ve got the best team in the league,” Ishbia said. “Obviously, we’ve got to play it out. We’re really excited.”

Ishbia believes that Jusuf Nurkic, acquired in the three-team Damian Lillard blockbuster, is a “better fit” than Deandre Ayton, who was dealt to the Trail Blazers.

“We wish Deandre nothing but the best,” Ishbia said. “He was a great part of the organization, he’ll do great things in Portland, but for us, Nurkic is the better fit and it wasn’t my decision or a one-person decision. It was a unanimous decision that we think it was the right fit for our team.”

We have more on the Suns:

  • General manager James Jones is confident Devin Booker will feel comfortable as the main ball-handler, Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports tweets. “Devin’s a player. He’s figured out how to be effective on the ball, off the ball….He’s not gonna complain about having the ball in his hands more, so we’re looking forward to that,” Jones said. Jordan Goodwin and Eric Gordon will also serve as ball-handlers, he added.
  • Yuta Watanabe said one of the reasons he signed as a free agent was that he wanted to play again with Kevin Durant, Rankin tweets. They were teammates in Brooklyn. “I really enjoyed playing with him,” Watanabe said. “He’s a great teammate, great guy, great leader. After he was traded I was really sad.”
  • Ayton took a verbal shot at his former organization, hinting the Suns didn’t want him to succeed, Rankin tweets. “I’m with an organization that wants me and wants me to succeed,” Ayton said. “It’s a lot more passion when you feel that mentally and you’re seeing that physically as well. It’ll be a lot more grit and a lot more DominAyton this year.”