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Greivis Vasquez says it would have been ‘really hard’ for him to leave the Raptors. He loves the city so much, he’s signed on to be an ambassador for the 2015 Pan Am Games. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)
Greivis Vasquez says it would have been ‘really hard’ for him to leave the Raptors. He loves the city so much, he’s signed on to be an ambassador for the 2015 Pan Am Games. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

Greivis Vasquez loves Toronto, and Toronto loves him Add to ...

Other NBA teams called Greivis Vasquez, but the point guard says his heart was in Toronto.

After Raptors’ general manager Masai Ujiri re-signed the 27-year-old Venezuelan to a two-year deal worth a reported $13.5-million (all figures U.S.), Vasquez was back in Toronto, exuberantly declaring his love for the city and its team, and projecting that during this contract, he’s poised to make big strides.

It’s a hefty raise from the $2.15-million he earned annually in his last deal. Vasquez joined the Raptors in December as part of a seven-player trade that sent Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings.

Since then, the four-year NBA veteran averaged 9.5 points and 3.7 assists in 21.5 minutes per game, backing up and often playing alongside starting point guard Kyle Lowry. He became known for his spark, his timely three-point shots, and his affable personality.

Vasquez was traded to the Kings from New Orleans a year ago, and then flourished when he landed in Toronto. After being part of the Raptors’ first postseason appearance since 2008, he said being part of the team had changed his life and resuscitated his career, and that he’d be heartbroken if he wasn’t back. He even signed on as an ambassador for next summer’s Pan Am Games in Toronto.

Now re-signed and injury free, he’s allowed himself to imagine how he can thrive.

“Two years will give the league another vision of me, because this summer, I won’t have any setbacks, so I have a chance to work and get ready and come to training camp healthy,” said Vasquez. “That’s huge for me, because I’ve struggled at the past two training camps. I’m with a winning team and healthy.”

The Raptors, who won the Atlantic Division before losing to the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs, also re-signed free agents Lowry and power forward Patrick Patterson. That helped convince Vasquez. Also, his girlfriend and two children love living in Toronto, and he’s been particularly moved by seeing his young children learn to speak English.

“I got some phone calls [from NBA teams] I never thought I would get when I was in Venezuela, but honestly, my heart is here, so it would have been really hard for me to go somewhere else,” said Vasquez, who reportedly had the Milwaukee Bucks among his suitors. “It’s about being happy and winning, building a legacy, and I think we can do that here.”

The Raptors have also signed versatile forward James Johnson to a two-year, $5-million contract; he played for Toronto two seasons ago and kept close ties with some veteran Raptors, including DeMar DeRozan.

Johnson was traded to the Sacramento Kings in 2012 in exchange for a second-round pick that Toronto used to select DeAndre Daniels last month. Johnson has since played for the Memphis Grizzlies, where he revived his game last season.

The 6-foot-9, 248-pound forward played down any rift with coach Dwane Casey, with whom he didn’t always see eye-to-eye when he was last in Toronto.

“We had our bumps, but that’s war when you’re playing a game and sometimes you say things you regret, things you don’t mean,” said 27-year-old Johnson. “We’ve moved forward from where we were at. Dwane Casey is a great guy. … We had a great conversation and I’m ready to win, and I know he is too.”

Johnson gives Toronto size and a strong defensive presence at small forward.

“I think he has grown up,” said Lowry of Johnson last week when he met media at his own re-signing announcement. “I think he’s going to be able to understand: ‘Listen, I’m a lot older, I’m more understanding of life and coach isn’t going to make me this or make me that.’ At the end of the day, you’re playing for the players, your teammates and the organization.”

The Wake Forest product recently had domestic assault charges dropped after his wife did not show up in court.

He admits he watched the Raptors closely in the playoffs and took note of the growing support around the city. He felt he would fit in with his old teammates once again.

“It was a crazy road for me, but you learn a lot throughout your mistakes, and Masai and the rest of the Toronto Raptors felt the same way,” said Johnson. “When you have teammates who know what I can do, know how I can help, know I can blend in with the team well, all I want to do is win, and I feel like these guys know that.”

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