Hello, Goodbye

Calderon will play host to Raptors, then visit the city he called home for 8 years

Jose Calderon will face his former team for the first time Friday when the Pistons host the Raptors.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
Never having been drafted, Jose Calderon came to the NBA unlike the vast majority of players who wind up leaving anything approaching a legacy. Or maybe not so much unlike them after all. Yes, Calderon signed with Toronto as a free agent – but only because Toronto was the one NBA team that went after the slight point guard from Spain.

“I really didn’t have so many options at that time, I’ve got to say,” Calderon smiled. “It’s not like I had five or six teams out there making me an offer. Toronto, they wanted me to travel to Toronto and see the city, they were really interested, so they give me the contract I was looking for so I could pay my way out. It wasn’t too many offers I had to choose. It was just them.”

Twice over the next four days, Calderon will compete against players who wear the only NBA uniform he’d donned until the late-January trade uprooted him and dropped him in Detroit. He’s not expecting to be emotionally overwrought when the Raptors play at The Palace on Friday, but when the Pistons repay the visit on Monday at Air Canada Centre … well, that might shake him a little.

“For sure, it will be something special,” he said. “A lot of games played there and for that team. It will be something. The next one, here, is different. Not like any other team, but still, that game back there will be something great.”

Calderon’s addition to the Pistons has been much as Joe Dumars envisioned it when he packaged Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye to Memphis in return for Calderon from Toronto in a three-team deal that sent Rudy Gay to the Raptors. He’s averaging 11.8 points and 6.7 assists against 1.8 turnovers in 24 games, shooting 52 percent both outside the 3-point arc and overall. The scoring and assist numbers are in line with his career norms, but they’ve suffered as the Pistons have gone through a downturn since the All-Star break.

“The guy is the second-best 3-point shooter in the league since February,” Lawrence Frank said. “He’s a very good offensive player. He’s got good vision, good understanding, runs pick and roll, very good spot-up shooter.”

Calderon’s time in Toronto included playoff appearances in his second and third seasons, 2007 and ’08, with the Raptors losing in the first round both years – including a six-game series with Frank’s New Jersey Nets in ’07. Frank says he’s seen players respond in any variety of ways upon returning for the first time to play against the franchise with which they were uniquely associated – Vince Carter returning to Toronto with the Nets, for one example, or Jason Kidd to New Jersey as a member of the Dallas Mavericks.

“Everyone is different,” he said. “My experiences have gone all over the board with that. I’ve seen great players when they first go back have horrible games. I’ve seen great players have great games. Crazy, crazy stuff. The more high-profile (player), normally the more venom. I think Jose, because he’s such a first-class guy, I’m sure the Toronto crowd will be very appreciative of the eight years he was there.”

The Pistons will get to Toronto in the wee hours of Monday morning after playing Sunday night in Chicago and will fly out immediately after the game Monday night, so Calderon won’t have much time to socialize. But he would like to see some people he didn’t get a chance to talk to in the whirlwind that followed the Jan. 30 trade. The Raptors were in Atlanta at the time of the trade, so Calderon flew back to Toronto and drove to Detroit the next day.

“When this trade happens, just next day, you’ve got to go,” he said. “And it’s amazing how far you’ve got to go without saying goodbye to a lot of people – a lot of friends, outside basketball, too. Almost eight years.”

Calderon wasn’t shocked by the trade. His name had been involved in trade rumors off and on for the past few years. When the Raptors traded for Kyle Lowry last summer at a time Calderon was entering the last year of his contract, the chances of a deal increased.

“It’s just the NBA,” he said. “I was lucky to be with one franchise. I’ve been really really comfortable there. Good times, bad times, but at the end of the day it’s about trying to get better, trying to do the best things for the franchise. I knew, kind of like, it was coming because of the expiring contract. But until it happens, you kind of hope you’ll stay there.”

Toronto was an easy fit for Calderon, in large part because the multicultural makeup of the city – and the fact that many Americans, at least in the early years, were averse to playing in Canada – proved welcoming to international professional players.

“It’s unbelievable,” Calderon said. “People from everywhere around the world. I think it was easier for me from day one. They treat me like home. I feel really welcome, but I’m here now and I feel the same way. Everybody, they’ve treated me well. Fans and everybody, treated me really well. I connected with them.”

His first return trip to Toronto might make it easier to make peace with his past. As for his future, the Pistons hope Calderon’s easy transition to Detroit helps convince him to further the ties he’s already made here.