Contract years can be the most frustrating.
It’s only natural to start pressing when there are millions of dollars on the line. Every year you’ll see players who step too far outside their comfort zone in hopes of landing a massive payday at the end of it. It was true last year for Khem Birch who said he tweaked his game heading into free agency last summer and it appeared to be true at the beginning of the year for Toronto Raptors forward Chris Boucher who will head into unrestricted free agency this summer.
“I definitely came into the season with a different mindset,” said the 29-year-old Boucher during his season-ending media availability. “Obviously I thought that with the (finger) injury that I had and all that, I didn’t expect that to impact me that much. So I went over there and thought that I was gonna bring all offense and that’s what I did in Tampa.”
The more he pressed, the worse things got before eventually it snapped. He was out of the rotation in late November and appeared to be heading out of the league rather than toward a big payday.
“This year started off pretty rocky this year — really rocky,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse.
But when the calendar flipped to 2022, everything clicked for Boucher. He began accepting his role. He realized he wasn’t going to be a superstar and couldn’t take off-the-dribble pull-up threes, but could instead make an impact with his energy off the bench.
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“I wasn’t gonna go anywhere if I kept playing the way I was playing so that definitely helped me out,” he said. “I wanted to get to this position one day and be able to say that I’ve had a great season and have options and be able to just be satisfied with my game because obviously, I didn’t really enjoy doing hustle plays until I really realized that that’s what I was. That’s something that I could grow from now.”
His teammates took notice.
“I was really proud of Boucher and just him handling everything and being able to have a game like he did last night, he played his heart out and he’s been doing that a lot,” said Pascal Siakam following 25 and 10 double-double in Toronto’s Game 6 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
“Chris is a really good player, he knows his role, he knows how to play in his role. Obviously sometimes he might get out of his comfort level a bit but that’s any player. The good thing about him is it’s easy to reel him back in,” Thad Young added. “You talk to him, you say, hey, I need you to do this, this and this, and he’s going to go do it.”
Boucher isn’t going to be in line for some massive salary increase this summer but on the heels of a two-year, $13.5 million partially guaranteed deal, he’s shown he deserves another look, this time as a valuable team player on a multi-year deal closer to $10 million per year.