After forgoing NBA player option, Kevin Durant's former teammate close to signing with B.League team: Report 

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns
After forgoing NBA player option, Kevin Durant's former teammate close to signing with B.League team: Report

After opting to decline his NBA player option for next season, Japanese forward Yuta Watanabe is reportedly close to finalizing his move to Japan's B.League.

Despite going undrafted, Watanabe made history as the second Japanese player to play in the NBA in 2018. The six-year NBA veteran later became the league's longest-tenured player from his home country. He played for the Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn Nets, and Phoenix Suns, splitting this season between Phoenix and Memphis.

During the 2022-23 season, Watanabe gained recognition as a 3-point sharpshooter (44.4%) alongside superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving with Brooklyn, later following Durant to Phoenix.

However, the 29-year-old appeared in only five games after getting traded back to Memphis at this year's trade deadline. Afterward, in late April, he announced his decision to decline his $2.7 million player option with the Grizzlies for next season to return to Japan.

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According to a Monday report from BasketNews, Watanabe is "close to joining" the Chiba Jets. Spearheaded by stars Yuki Togashi and John Mooney, the franchise is coming off a B.League playoff semifinal appearance and an East Asia Super League championship.

Over 213 NBA games, Watanabe averaged 4.2 points, 2.3 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.4 steals and 0.7 3-pointers per game on 42.6% shooting. However, widely regarded as Japan's biggest basketball superstar, he projects to make a far greater impact in the B.League.

Yuta Watanabe on his decision to leave NBA for B.League

After announcing his decision to leave the NBA to return to Japan and play in the B.League, Yuta Watanabe broke down his reasoning in late April.

Watanabe highlighted how he grew tired of the NBA grind, particularly his struggle to earn consistent playing time. However, he noted that he already accomplished his goal of playing in the league in his prime years.

"I just want to play basketball. I want to step into the game and do what I do in practice," Watanabe said. "I grinded through my 20s, but now I hope to play basketball the way I like.
"... My goal through my 20s was to keep working in America, regardless of the situation. Never give up, no matter what. It was fun at times but also a lot of hard work."

So, as he approaches age 30 later this year, Watanabe added that he would prefer to finish his career playing a premier role for a team on his native soil.

"The level in Japan is getting higher," Watanabe said. "I want to play in some high-intensity games."

In addition to soon joining the B.League, Watanabe is set to represent Japan at this year's Paris Summer Olympics. So, his popularity should continue rising in his home country as he embarks on the latter half of his basketball career.

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