Fans of the Canadian men's basketball team got a first-hand look at Gary Forbes and his offensive skills last summer.
The new Toronto Raptors forward scored 39 points for Panama in a 91-89 win over Canada that dashed the national team's Olympic hopes and led to head coach Leo Rautins' resignation.
“I heard one of the coaches retired right after that,” Forbes said. “So I guess I can put that on my resume.”
Forbes was one of the last players to leave the floor after a morning practice session Wednesday at Air Canada Centre. Toronto landed the 26-year-old restricted free agent when Denver didn't match the Raptors' offer sheet.
“We were surprised — we felt that Denver was going to match,” said head coach Dwane Casey. “We were happy to get him. He's a very talented young man. He's a ball handler, creator off the dribble, a shooter.”
Forbes averaged 5.2 points, 1.8 rebounds and 12.6 minutes a game in his rookie campaign with the Nuggets. He felt the Raptors would be a good fit.
“It's a young team, a new coach and I feel that we're on the same page,” Forbes said.
Casey, who worked as an assistant with the NBA champion Mavericks last season, said he was impressed with Forbes' play when the small forward was with Denver.
“The Canadian national team saw some of his work last summer,” Casey said. “I knew about him because he kicked our butts in Dallas.”
Forbes is the fourth player Toronto has signed since the recent ratification of the new collective bargaining agreement. The Raptors also inked Canadian Jamaal Magloire, Anthony Carter and Rasual Butler.
The addition of Forbes gives the team another good-sized body with some scoring touch. It also essentially finalizes the roster ahead of Toronto's pre-season opener against the visiting Boston Celtics on Sunday.
Who starts is another question.
Jose Calderon looks like the favourite at point guard but Jerryd Bayless still has a chance to sway Casey, who will make a decision in the coming days.
“I don't want a point guard controversy and there won't be one,” Casey said.
Amir Johnson and Andrea Bargnani can both play power forward and centre — who starts where is unclear. DeMar DeRozan will likely be the starting shooting guard and expect James Johnson to get the nod at small forward.
James Johnson made a significant improvement to his per-game averages after becoming a starter with the Raptors after a mid-season trade with Chicago.
He likes that Toronto uses a balanced offensive approach instead of running most plays through one star player.
“It's perfect — we're not singling anybody out,” Johnson said. “This offence lets everybody touch the ball.”
Toronto needs to improve at both ends of the floor after struggling to a 22-60 record last season. Casey is instilling a defence-first mantra in his first season with the team.
The Raptors have some work to do on that front.
Toronto gave up over 100 points in 54 games last season — winning just nine times when the opponent cracked triple digits. The Raptors open the regular season Dec. 26 in Cleveland.
Notes: Rautins works as a broadcaster for the Raptors. He was not in attendance when Forbes spoke to reporters. ... Veteran guard Leandro Barbosa dressed but didn't practise as a precaution. He's nursing a sore knee. ... Forward Linas Kleiza is expected to miss at least the next month after undergoing knee surgery earlier this year. ... The Raptors announced Wednesday that all 66 games will be televised nationally for a sixth straight season. A total of 37 games will be televised on either TSN or TSN2 with Rogers Sportsnet or Sportsnet One handling the other 29 games. ... James Johnson said he had a cageside seat for UFC 140 last Saturday night. He used to compete as a mixed martial artist before focusing on his basketball career.
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