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Orlando Magic guard Terrence Ross gets ready to dunk as Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl watch during their matchup in Toronto on Monday. (Tom Szczerbowski/USA Today Sports)
Orlando Magic guard Terrence Ross gets ready to dunk as Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl watch during their matchup in Toronto on Monday. (Tom Szczerbowski/USA Today Sports)

Terrence Ross makes his return to Toronto with the Orlando Magic Add to ...

Terrence Ross was always an enigma.

Supremely skilled, with a 6-foot-7 frame that could leap in and out of a rain barrel with ease, Ross was built to play basketball. He could also launch three-pointers with the best of them.

Trouble was, during his first four-plus years in the league, Ross’s electrifying moments were too few and far between while he was playing for the Toronto Raptors.

On Feb. 14, about a week before the NBA trade deadline, the Raptors had seemingly had enough of Ross’s inconsistencies and, in dire need of a front-line power forward, sent the 26-year-old to the Orlando Magic along with a 2017 first-round draft pick.

In return, the Raptors received Serge Ibaka, a seasoned veteran who can bring it at both ends of the court. It has been a great trade for Toronto.

Since Ibaka’s arrival – and that of P.J. Tucker in a separate deal – it is no coincidence that Toronto ranks first in the league in fewest points allowed and opponent field-goal percentage.

And all without the presence of all-star point guard Kyle Lowry, who continues to convalesce from a broken right wrist.

The Magic arrived in Toronto for a game against the playoff-bound Raptors at the Air Canada Centre Monday night, the first contest between the two sides since the trade. Ross, an engaging sort who was always a bit of a fan favourite in Toronto, received a rousing welcome from the capacity crowd when his name was announced as part of Orlando’s starting lineup. About three minutes into the game, during a stoppage in play, the Raptors played a commemorative video of Ross and his tenure in town, and the crowd responded with a standing ovation.

“It’s different seeing all the old spots I used to roam around in,” Ross said earlier in the day after the pregame shootaround. “It’s fun. But I like where I am now.”

Ross was the eighth pick over all of the Raptors in the 2012 NBA draft out of the University of Washington, and his status was by no means compromised when he went on to win the slam-dunk title during his rookie campaign over the NBA all-star weekend.

In and out of the starting lineup over the years, he always displayed hints of greatness – none better than the 51-point outburst against the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014, in which he canned 10 three-point shots. The total tied him with Vince Carter for the single-game franchise high.

Toronto coach Dwane Casey nurtured Ross’s talents since his rookie season and insists he was sad to see him go in the Ibaka trade. When the trade was finally made, the Raptors were in Chicago. Ross said he opened his hotel door, to leave for that morning’s shootaround, when he encountered Casey, who was about to knock and deliver the news of the deal in person.

“It’s very difficult because he’s almost like a son,” Casey said. “And you watch a young man come into the NBA, and he’s wet behind the ears and learning the league and growing up right in front of you. It’s difficult. But like I told him, it’s a business. As much as I’d love for him to stay here forever, it’s not going to happen.”

But the coach gave a curious reply Monday when asked what he recollects most about Ross’s 51-point night.

“I remember the next game he had two [points],” Casey said.

Well, not quite. Ross actually scored 10 two days later in a Toronto victory over the Brooklyn Nets. But Casey’s allusion to Ross’s topsy-turvy play from game to game was hard to miss. In 54 games with Toronto this season, before the trade, Ross was averaging 10.4 points and 2.6 rebounds while shooing at a 44.1-per-cent clip.

Playing more minutes on an Orlando team that is more concerned with lottery balls for the upcoming draft than anything else, Ross is averaging 12.3 points and 3.3 rebounds through his first 15 games with the Magic – all starts.

“I really like him – like him even more than I thought I was going to like him,” Orlando coach Frank Vogel said when asked how Ross is fitting in. “He was always a guy that tortured us when I was in Indiana, hitting big threes and bringing solid defence.”

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