A standup kind of guy

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:27 PM ET

The moment he stepped inside the Raptors office to sign an offer sheet to join the club on Thursday, Linas Kleiza was reminded of the incident.

It was during his final year at Denver and Kleiza and Jay Triano, then an assistant coach with the Raptors, exchanged words during a Nuggets rout.

Kleiza doesn’t back down from any challenge and it’s that competitive spirit that drew the Raptors to the Lithuanian, who spent last season playing in Greece and earning acclaim in Europe.

“I heard that incident many times,’’ Kleiza recounted on Thursday when he officially signed a four-year offer sheet worth approximately $20 million US. “It wasn’t a screaming match. It was directed at one of the players and Jay defended his player. I got a technical foul and we were up 35. It was funny.”

It’s funny how Kleiza stands poised to join the Raptors, who have courted the small forward for two years.

While nothing is official, it seems highly doubtful the Nuggets will match Toronto’s offer. By NBA rules, Denver has seven days to match, but the team is right up against the cap and is desperate to keep players such as J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony happy, which is best achieved by throwing plenty of cash their way.

This is similar to last off-season’s offer sheet for Jarrett Jack, a slam dunk because Indiana had so much depth at the point that it would have been foolish for the Pacers to match Toronto’s offer.

“I don’t want Denver to match,’’ Kleiza said. “I want to stay here.”

Assuming Kleiza does become a Raptor, he looms as a key piece in a puzzle of many uncertain pieces.

Mentally and physically tough, Kleiza could have stayed in Europe and made his millions, but he wanted to test himself in the NBA, where he spent four seasons as a complementary part with the up-tempo Nuggets.

He’ll spread the floor, get in an opponent’s face, but Kleiza was able to expand his game in Greece by developing a post-up game and by refining his mid-range jumper.

Who knows what the Raptors roster will look like when camp opens, but assuming he’s in Toronto, Kleiza is optimistic on what the future brings.

“This is a good young team,’’ he said. “With Chris (Bosh) gone, there’s a huge opportunity for a lot of players.”

Kleiza, 25, averaged 8.3 points in Denver, where the Nuggets were known for their offence.

When the team began to play defence, the Nuggets took off, advancing to the Western Conference final before Kleiza decided to play overseas.

In his last year with Denver, he got to know Sonny Weems, a rookie then who has a chance to be a rotation player in Toronto, is very familiar with Hedo Turkoglu and likes both the city of Toronto and the team’s Euro flavour.

“I’m excited to be here,’’ Kleiza said. “Hopefully, I can fit in well. I know I can be a good piece for this team.”

By next week, the Raptors will know just what kind of role Kleiza will fill.


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