TORONTO - Any other season, Friday's game against the visiting Sacramento Kings would be entirely about the return of Rudy Gay, and the handful of players on both sides facing off against old teammates.
Any other season, the Toronto Raptors wouldn't be looking to lock down homecourt advantage in the playoffs, and an Atlantic Division title.
"It's always important when you play against your former team, but more than that, I'm happy where I'm at," said guard Greivis Vasquez, one of four Kings acquired in the mammoth deal in early December that sent Gay to the Kings.
"We're third in the East, first in our division, and that means a lot. So we're playing for something much bigger. It's a big game for us, but to me it's about finishing the season strong and trying to get as many wins as we can."
The night marks Gay's first visit to Toronto since GM Masai Ujiri shipped him, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to Sacramento for Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes just 18 games into the season.
The Raptors were 6-12 when Ujiri rewrote his roster, and Toronto has gone 27-14 since to sit third in the Eastern Conference.
Gay said there are no hard feelings between him and the Raptors.
"Change is for the better, for both parties," he told reporters after Thursday's practice at the Air Canada Centre. "I'm happy for those guys, I'm happy to see them play well. I never have any ill intentions."
Gay has played better since his move to Sacramento, averaging 20.9 points a game for the Kings (22-39).
"I was inefficient when I was here," he said. "I'm not anymore. I was when I was here."
Gay had directed a veiled insult at the Raptors' front office when the two teams met in Sacramento last month, saying he "took the fall" for Toronto's poor start to the season. Raptors coach Dwane Casey agreed the small forward was unfairly made a scapegoat.
"No question, he has," Casey said. "Rudy is a tremendous player in this league, tremendous young man, family man, and he was put in a tough situation where he was looked on to be the saviour, and that's not his role, and as far as our mix of our type of guys we had.
"Dynamic player, big-time talent. He was brought here for the right reasons but it ended up turning into something that it wasn't meant to be. He's in a good situation, our team's in a good situation. So the trade worked out for both parties."
Salmons, who'd spent more than two seasons in Sacramento before the trade, said he harboured no ill feelings toward his former team.
"We've got to let that stuff go. We can't carry that around," he said.
There's always an extra element to the game when players face off against former teams, Casey said, and the Raptors have to be ready for that.
"It's one of the things about being a pro," Casey said. "You've got to be a pro, know the fact that all of us have friends all over the league, but when it comes game-time they're the enemy, and we've got to treat them as such and then be friends next summer."
The Kings beat Toronto 109-101 early last month in Sacramento, a game that saw the Raptors dig themselves a 20-point hole in the first three quarters.
Salmons chalked it up to trying too hard.
"That was disappointing, we didn't play at our best," he said. "I think going into that game, we were trying to prove too much, playing out of our game. We've got to let all that stuff go and just play basketball."
Toronto fans are renowned for booing former Raptors that left on less than great terms. Gay said he won't be bothered by any booing.
The Raptors, said swingman DeMar DeRozan, are always amused by the booing.
"You laugh about it sometimes when you see how they react to some players coming back," DeRozan said. "It will be interesting to see how it goes (Friday), what reception he'll get. But overall it'll be a big game, the atmosphere should be fun and we need this one."
Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins poses arguably a bigger threat to the Raptors than Gay. The seven-foot centre dropped 25 points on Toronto last month, going to the free throw line 14 times, and is averaging 22.3 points and 11.6 rebounds a night. He's the type of players the Raptors have no answer for.
"That kid is so talented. He's just blessed with his talent," Vasquez said. "I don't see anybody that has his footwork and his talent in the paint. He's a pain in the butt to guard near the rim so we have to do a good job and be physical with him."
Friday's game is the Raptors' first since they beat the Golden State Warriors last Sunday at the Air Canada Centre. While it was a much-welcomed break, DeRozan said he'd had enough of the down time.
"You always cry for a break for a couple of days, but when it comes, it makes you that much more hungry to get out there and play," DeRozan said. "It was much-needed and I can't wait to get out there and play."