TORONTO — Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was the last man standing from the team Nets general manager Sean Marks inherited when he was hired in February 2016. He was their heart-and-soul player the first three seasons under coach Kenny Atkinson, so you understand it had to hurt when they let him walk as a free agent last summer.
Luckily for Hollis-Jefferson, he signed with the defending NBA champion Raptors. It took time to work his way into their rotation, but Hollis-Jefferson was expected to see action for the first time against his former team Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena.
Asked if he had seen or spoken to Hollis-Jefferson before the game, Atkinson chuckled. “No,” he said. “It’s weird sometimes when guys don’t come back. I’m sure, if I see him, I’ll say hello. But there are guys that you’ve had in the past and you either trade or they move on, and they never say a word to you. Even though you were close with them.
“That’s the hardest part of this business. I can throw a few names at you, and you’d be shocked. They never say a word to you. You don’t exist anymore. In a weird way, I understand that. I wish it wasn’t that way. I hope I’m looking over at him like [pretending to wave]. And it’s like, ‘No way, man, I’m not saying hello to you.’ I know Rondae is such a great guy that I think he will say hello.”
Raptors coach Nick Nurse has been pleased by Hollis-Jefferson, who came into the game averaging 8.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 20 minutes. “He didn’t make our initial rotation, but he wasn’t alone. None of our new guys did,” Nurse said. “Then, we had a whole bunch of injuries and all of a sudden, he was playing awesome and exactly kind of like what I thought would happen.”
Atkinson admitted he thought Hollis-Jefferson was slowed last season by a groin injury suffered during an exhibition in China, but he’s happy to see him producing again.
“I’m really happy that he’s contributing here on an excellent team,” Atkinson said. “It’s funny how things work out, and I’m glad it’s worked out for him.”