It happened last Thursday. The New Orleans Pelicans were visiting the Toronto Raptors and before the game two rival players greeted each other affectionately and followed each other’s training. They were Willy and Juancho Hernangómez, the pair of Spanish brothers who, years after the Gasols, shared an adventure in the NBA. But that meeting was the closest they got to the court and the ball all night. Neither of them played for a second, a reflection of the enormous difficulty they have encountered this season in the American League despite both returning as Eurobasket champions with Spain. Willy was chosen the best player of the tournament that crowned the team in Berlin and Juancho dynamited the final against France with his triples. That letter of introduction has not served them well in the NBA, and while Willy barely accumulates minutes in the Pelicans, the Toronto Raptors have just dispensed with Juancho to make room for the signing of Will Barton, chopped up in turn by Washington Wizards. “Thank you,” he limited himself to publicly commenting on the franchise on his Twitter account. Nick Nurse, the coach, explained: “The decision comes from his contractual situation. There were other players with different contracts and we ended up making this decision. Juancho had decent performances and we gave him chances throughout the season”.
The youngest of the Hernangómez brothers sees the contract year that he had signed last summer with the Raptors, his last American stop after previously passing through Denver, Minnesota, Boston, San Antonio and Utah, broken. Wearing the Canadian franchise jersey, the 27-year-old, 2.06m power forward has participated in 42 games this season, averaging 14 minutes, 2.9 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. His relevance went from more to less and in the team’s last 10 games he only took to the court in three of them. In total, his backpack accumulates 350 duels on the track and his most abundant season was 2018-19, with 75 appearances with Denver. His top, two times in which he added 27 points with the Nuggets, against Golden State in 2017 and in 2018 against San Antonio.
The dismissal, despite everything, allows him to collect the full year of his contract, which he had guaranteed for the minimum amount in the competition: 2.3 million dollars for one season. Sportingly, his future remains up in the air. Juancho is now a free agent to sign for another NBA team that could recruit him for the rest of the season and the final playoffs, or could open the door for a return to Europe. The deadline for Euroleague teams to register players ended this Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. Another option is to return to a continental team for the next campaign, which would mean slamming an American journey in which in recent months it has stumbled many times: five different clubs in one year and nine months. “I know this is a business. In the end it is what sells, the transfers. Once you get to know this League and have been traded a few times, you know it’s a business, you know that if you have to pack your suitcase tomorrow and leave, it’s part of this wheel that is the NBA, that turns, that practically everyone is insurmountable and that changes your life from one day to the next”, he recently expressed in the magazine giants. Also his brother Willy, invisible many times this season despite being the best player in the Eurobasket, he has been at the wheel of a possible change of shirt, although he finally remained with the Pelicans (30 games this season, with an average of 7.6 points and 5.1 rebounds) .
“I want to continue in the NBA, I don’t see myself returning to Europe yet,” commented Juancho Hernangómez in an interview in EL PAÍS last June, before signing for the Raptors. He then closed a course in which in five months he went through three teams (Boston, San Antonio and Utah), and in which he came to lose “the love of basketball” after a tough start with the Celtics. “I was not comfortable there, it was very hard. There was no communication, I did not know what was expected of me, there were many very selfish players, there was no team, ”he admitted. Happiness on the track returned after a brief two-week stay in San Antonio in which he marveled at the figure of Gregg Popovich and especially with a final stretch in Utah in which he once again enjoyed and competed. Along the way, he starred in the movie Hustle, Claw, with Adam Sandler, in which the man from Madrid plays Bo Cruz, a street basketball player who arrives at the basketball mecca.
The definitive redemption came for him this past summer at the Eurobasket, with the culmination of a final against France (88-76) that he blew up with six straight three-pointers without a miss in the second quarter, and the award for the best player of the meeting. “It has not been a path of roses, I have gone through difficult times and I have overcome them by working,” said Juancho with tears in his eyes. “We come from a humble family in Madrid. My brother and I didn’t think we could ever play in the ACB and now we’ve been in the NBA for years. Dreams can be fulfilled with sacrifice and effort; that’s what this gold means,” Willy said. Many merits in Europe that the Hernangómez have not served in the NBA. Juancho returns to the starting box.
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