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Juan Toscano-Anderson, Oakland legend, primed for next act

By Marcus Thompson II

Staff Writer

Most people leave home to chase their dreams. Juan Toscano-Anderson left Oakland and went to Milwaukee and Monterrey, Mexico, in pursuit of his. Rare is the man who comes home to make his dream come true.

“I got a championship with my hometown team,” JTA, the first player of Mexican descent to win an NBA title, said in a phone interview Wednesday night.

“I’m stamped in the Town. I’m stamped in my country. That shit can’t nobody take from me. You’ve got to give a little to get a little. And I gave up playing time to, you know, become a legend. I’m a legend in the Town. I’m a legend in Mexico. And I’m not saying that myself. It’s showing, know what I mean?”

It was time for the legend to go, and to the Los Angeles Lakers he is headed, agreeing Thursday to a one-year deal. Not just because the Warriors declined to extend him a qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent. The writing has been on the wall for a while. He’s 29 years old and three of the five youngsters the Warriors have selected in the last three drafts play his positions.

It’s time for him to go because even dreams have transitions. Toscano-Anderson is worthy of more than a sentimental spot on the end of the bench. His reward for reaching this level, for his role in the Warriors’ resurrection from 15-50 to champions, is the chance to pursue a spot in a rotation.

He’ll get that chance with the Lakers. LeBron James, Anthony Davis and new coach Darvin Ham could use a champion as they seek to return the Lakers to glory. They want to benefit from the same hustle that got him to the NBA from Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional, from the same whatever-it-takes mentality that earned him the respect of Hall of Famers.

The Lakers get in Juan T., as his teammates call him, a player who can defend multiple positions. Who can play like a big man and also run an offense off the bench. Who contributes positively to a locker room and is beloved up and down the roster.

His offense, already considered his weakness, took a dip this year. But in 2020-21, when he was in the rotation and seeing regular minutes, he shot 57.9 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from 3. He performs better when he gets the space to play into a rhythm.

The Warriors’ adding Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica cut into Toscano-Anderson’s minutes this season. His reduced role relegated him to spot minutes. He fell out of the rotation as the season progressed.

Not only did he never complain, he kept his energy positive on the bench. He found fulfillment in cheering for and supporting his teammates. He volunteered wisdom accrued on his journey to help nurture the young players who would replace him. And he was always ready to defend the superstars in a blink.

Did he want to play more? Of course. Did he think he could help the Warriors on the court? Absolutely.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “some of those things are out of my control. I ain’t gon’ say I was unhappy about it. I know that I’m better than that. But it is what it is. It’s the way the cards fell. And, you know, I’m lucky to have a job, man. Gratitude. That’s what I wake up and remind myself of every day. Just be grateful that I have a job.”

Bitterness and gratitude can’t occupy the same space. So while he’s competitive and wanted to be on the floor, especially in the epic NBA Finals, Toscano-Anderson was too thankful — “forever thankful” — to sour the ride. Even at 26 years old at the time, the Warriors gave him a shot. They traded Terrence Jones, a former first-round pick, to open up a G League spot. They believed in Toscano-Anderson’s talent and groomed it. They not only recognized the intangibles that make him valuable, they rewarded him for it with minutes.

Five years ago, none of this was possible. But now he has a tattoo of a Larry O’Brien trophy on his left forearm and a ring on the way. And $2.4 million in career earnings.

His family got to watch him play in the NBA and his mother swelled with pride as he shared her Mexican heritage with the world. He got to represent his hood, 95th Avenue and A Street in East Oakland, with his jersey number and put Castro Valley High on the map. He got to be a beacon for youth all over his city and the greater Bay Area, be evidence of what’s possible. And he did it all at home.

That all this happened is reason to believe he can do even more.

“In a perfect world,” JTA said, “I would have loved to stay home and stay with this team. It ain’t even about the Warriors. It’s about that locker room. That locker room is incredible. And that starts from the top down. Playing with No. 30, No. 23, No. 11, that’s an incredible experience. This is deeper than just playing for the Warriors. Wherever I go, I hope I find something similar — which I understand is gonna be hard to match. I just wish people understood what that locker room’s like. It was a hell of a time.”

That’s another thing he brings. The experience of working with greatness, rubbing shoulders with greatness. He saw how Stephen Curry gets down, what it took for Klay Thompson to return, the extra level of intensity from Draymond Green in the playoffs and again in the Finals.

That he is signing a one-year deal for the minimum with the Lakers would suggest Toscano-Anderson could’ve just returned to the Warriors. But this move is more about growth, about building on the career that sprouted in the Bay.

“When I get the opportunity to compete and show what I can do,” he said, “then I’ma do that.”

It was time for that to happen somewhere else. He did all he could do in the Bay, and he will never be forgotten for what he accomplished. But to add to his storybook journey, he had to leave again.

Maya Angelou, the late legendary poet, once wrote how she believed one can never leave home. She believed one carries home with them, “under one’s skin, at the extreme corners of one’s eyes and possibly in the gristle of the earlobe.”

Even with Toscano-Anderson landing in Los Angeles, the Bay will be with him.

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