By Nikos Varlas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
After three seasons in Toronto, Linas Kleiza is leaving the Raptors and he is about to embark in new and hopefully winning adventures. He is currently in Lithuanian national team’s training camp, he is healthy as a bull and he knows what he wants…
That is a spot in a winning team. After all these years he still considers his season in Olympiacos a really educating experience and he doesn’t care if his next team plays in the NBA or in Euroleague. He just wants to win, because he is tired of losing.
- Linas, a few hours ago the Raptors decided to use the amnesty provision on you and now your name is among the waivers list. How do you feel about this?
“I am good! I am 100% healthy, I feel thirsty and I am ready to produce good basketball. I am preparing for a really strong Eurobasket tournament and everybody in our team has big motives. I knew that this may happen with Toronto, but honestly until the last moment I didn’t know what to expect. It happened and now I am waiting to be a free agent”.
- Yes, but any other NBA team can claim you off waivers. Maybe you will continue your NBA career…
“I don’t think so. I believe that there are very slim chances for this to happen. I think that I will be a free agent, free to negotiate with any team I want to and I will examine my options”.
- In this case, which is your priority? An NBA team or a return to Europe?
“I had three good years in Toronto and I want to thank them for that. I need a new, fresh and dynamic start in my career. Can I tell you something? When I played for a season in Olympiacos, I understood even more that I have European blood on my veins. Don’t forget that I have spend many years in the States, but I am still European. What I mean is that I can’t spend more years in a situation where my team loses and there are not high ambitions. I am tired of losing! My first goal is to be a part of a winning situation. In a team which wins and competes for titles”.
- From what you are saying, we guess that you would love a return to Europe.
“I sounded like that? (laughs). Really, I don’t care if the new challenge in my career is in the NBA, or in Europe. After all I am an international player. I just want to be in a winning team. That’s what I want”.
- There are rumors for some time in Europe that you are heading to CSKA Moscow…
“Look, with things in the NBA being how they are, until the last moment I didn’t know what will happen with Toronto. Honestly, I am not in any advanced talks with anyone. And I want to take my time, not to rush. I will consider every offer and I will chose the best for me. When I will be a free agent, I will start this process. That’s why I have my agents”.
- After three years, how would you describe your European and more specifically Greek experience with Olympiacos?
“I love this experience, it’s something that I will never forget! It was a season that I enjoyed with all my heart. I like Greece and I miss Greece. I also miss Olympiacos, the fans, the “craziness” of this team, that I personally really liked”.
- Olympiacos fans also really liked you and still like you “Pistolinas”. Do you remember this nickname?
“Of course I do! Nice nickname! Man, I have never seen such passion in my life and that kind of love from the fans and I don’t think that it will be easy to relive it. It’s something incredible. Also in Lithuania, people live for basketball, but the culture is different. In Greece there is a different passion which fits me, even it’s a little more wild than it should some times. The only thing that I would change in my season with Olympiacos are the results. We were close, but we didn’t won the titles we wanted”.
- You won the Greek cup, but you lost almost without a fight the Euroleague final against Barcelona and also the Greek league championship in the finals against Panathinaikos. I still remember you enraged after the third game of the finals, on the road…
“(Once again he laughs). I still remember too. Let me tell you a big truth. It was a really educational experience for me. You can’t imagine how much. After the finals, I signed with the Raptors. Under current NBA rules you can’t even talk to the referees. Not at all! The experience in the Greek finals was the greatest possible practice. It was the perfect practice for me in order to return to the NBA and be ready not to care about referees”.
- You mean that those finals helped you improve your behaviour on the court?
“Not only that. It’s something even bigger. It was one of the most educating experiences in my life, not only for basketball, but for life in general. I learned a lot from those games”.
- How do you feel about your former team winning back to back Euroleague titles, despite having a relatively smaller budgets compared to other contenders?
“It’s great. I was really happy for Olympiacos. After all those efforts, they got the titles. They had great chemistry those two seasons, they won as a team and it’s easy to understand the fact that this was their secret. They were a fine unit and they deserved it. Like in life, money in basketball doesn’t guarantee not only happiness, but also success”.
- Lithuanian national team is opening a new chapter and as always its goal in the upcoming Eurobasket is a medal. Are you ready?
“We are good and everyone in the team has high ambitions. It’s something like that, it’s a fresh start. There is the great absence of Saras (ed.note: Jasikevicius) and that’s more than important for us. We are determined to work really hard and I think we can be a really competitive team under coach Kazlauskas. We know that the people back home will be glad if we make it, so that’s a huge motive”.