Kawhi Leonard spoke publicly in his first appearance as a Toronto Raptor and said he is physically ready to play.
Leonard joined the Raptors in a summertime blockbuster trade with the San Antonio Spurs. How long he stays in Toronto is unclear but the former NBA Finals MVP and two-time defensive player of the year who was limited to nine games last season because of a right quadriceps injury insists he is ready to go as the team gets ready for training camp in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Sharing a podium with Raptors president Masai Ujiri, who pulled the trigger on the trade that included acquiring forward Danny Green and losing DeMar DeRozan, Leonard addressed the biggest question about him: His health.
“Right now I’m feeling great, ready to play basketball.” Leonard said. “Throughout the summer I worked on my body. Took it step-by-step, just getting fully healthy, getting ready to make this extra step this season.”
The usually reserved Leonard also attempted to offer the crowded a room a little insight about himself.
“I’m a fun guy,” Leonard said. “Obviously, I love the game of basketball. I mean, there’s just more questions you have to ask in order for me to tell you about myself. I just can’t give you the whole spiel. I don’t even know where you’re sitting.”
Even after he located the reporters, Leonard was characteristically brief but managed to make his feelings clear, starting with his reaction to the July 18 trade that ended a sometimes fractious seven-year relationship with the Spurs and sent him to Toronto.
“Excited,” Leonard said. “I’m coming to a great city that loves basketball, a great organization and I’m happy Danny was coming with me as well.”
A free agent next summer, Leonard said he arrived in Toronto “with an open mind,” but wasn’t ready to talk about what that means long-term.
“My focus is on this year, this group that we have, and us striving to get to a championship,” he said. “We all want to win, and if you’re looking into the future, you’re going to trip over the present.”
To land Leonard, Toronto gave up DeRozan, a team icon and four-time All-Star. San Antonio also got center Jakob Poeltl and a 2019 protected first-round draft pick.
DeRozan’s departure wasn’t the only big offseason change in Toronto. The Raptors also fired Dwane Casey, who was later named NBA Coach of the Year, and replaced him with former assistant Nick Nurse. The rookie head coach said Leonard’s diverse skill set will help bolster a “versatile” Raptors roster.
“He can guard smalls and bigs and he can score in and out,” Nurse said. “That’s really cool.”
The architect of the offensive overhaul that saw Toronto dramatically increase its 3-point shooting last season, Nurse suggested there may be more to come this season thanks to the addition of Leonard and Green.
“We could,” Nurse said. “On paper, our team has gotten better from behind the line. We’ll see how that all plays out.”
One player who might take more 3-pointers is holdover point guard and four-time All-Star Kyle Lowry, DeRozan’s close friend. Lowry, who had also not spoken publicly since the trade, disputed the notion he was miffed at Ujiri’s move.
“I’m here to do my job,” Lowry said. “One thing about me is I’ve always been prepared to come in, work, and try to win a championship. My mindset never changes: Come to work for the Toronto Raptors, try to win a gold ball.”
With Leonard along for the ride this season, that goal might be within reach for the Raptors.
“It’s going to be fun, man,” Lowry said. “An opportunity like this, you’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Source: The Associated Press