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Former Raptors favorite announces his retirement from the NBA

Yuta Watanabe is leaving the NBA.

The former Toronto Raptors forward announced on Instagram that he plans to decline his player option and return to Japan for next season.

Watanabe broke into the league in 2018-19 with the Memphis Grizzlies after departing George Washington.

He joined Toronto in 2020 and was a surprise when he made the roster. He became a rotation player that season, appearing in 50 games while averaging 4.4 points in 14.5 minutes per game. He was repeatedly praised for his hustle and work ethic that caught the attention of Toronto’s coaching staff.

Watanabe returned to the Raptors for the following season, but was never able to stay healthy. He played in just 38 games and the dip in his three-point effectiveness forced Toronto to move on at the end of the year.

The 6-foot-4 Japanese native spent the past two seasons with the Brooklyn Nets and Phoenix Suns before returning to Memphis at the end of this year. He shot 44.4% from three-point range with the Nets in 2022-23 before signing a multi-year contract with the Suns last summer. Phoenix dealt Watanabe to Memphis just before the February trade deadline.

He played in 34 games this past year, averaging 3.4 points and 1.6 rebounds per game while shooting 35.3% from the floor and 29.4% from three-point range.

Watanabe leaves as one of only three Japanese players to play in the NBA alongside Yuta Tabuse and Rui Hachimura.