As Kawhi Leonard gets set to face his former team for the first time Monday Night in Los Angeles, he reiterated his fond memories of the organization, city and country as a whole.
“The guys, the journey, also the country, the city, it was amazing,” Leonard told reporters Saturday. “Theres just so much you could keep going on and talking about.”
Kawhi on what hell remember about his time in Toronto, outside of the championship: “The guys, the journey, also the country, the city, it was amazing. Theres just so much you could keep going on and talking about it.”
“I never went in with a negative mindset. Playing with Cory Joseph in San Antonio, him being from that area in Toronto, I knew what the city brought… So I always felt positive with the trade. The front office I knew was great already with Masai being in there.”
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Leonard added that he continues to feel the love from the Canadians he runs into down south, telling him how much they appreciate what he did for the team and for the country by leading the Raps to their first championship in franchise history this past summer. Still, he doesnt find himself having second thoughts about his decision.
“Im able to see my family after the games. Im in Southern California, beautiful weather, Im at my house. So everythings been good,” Leonard said.
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“Its a former team that I won a championship with, but its [like] any other game. Its going to be fun to see the guys again and congratulate them and be able to shake hands and compete.”
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“OG is finally getting a chance to play every game, a lot of minutes, so his improvement is going to keep getting better, as well as Pascal. Him being the No. 1 option there is great for him. Hes going to learn and keep growing.”
Load management is the NBAs hottest term. What does it mean?
While Monday night will be a bit of a trip down memory lane for Leonard, the real moment of reflection will likely come on Dec. 13 when he makes his return to Scotiabank Arena.
Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard takes a selfie holding his playoffs MVP trophy as he celebrates during the 2019 Toronto Raptors Championship parade in Toronto on Monday, June 17, 2019. (Frank Gunn / CP)
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LOS ANGELES – It might be a stretch to say the Kawhi Leonard is missing Toronto and his time in Canada now that hes settled in at home with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers organization, which is now well-run after years of ineptitude, clearly decided to copy Torontos approach to Leonard, as to optimize their use of him in the long run. The Clippers entered the season as favorites to win the championship, so theres something larger on the line here than regular season games. If the Clippers were to overplay Leonard during the season, and it led to complications that would leave him limited during the playoffs, the media narrative would immediately be flipped on its head.
But the “here for a good time, not a long time” Raptors hero made an impression up north, and it certainly seems that his one season with the Toronto Raptors made a lasting impression on the Southern California native, even if he hasnt got his championship ring yet.
American friends, please, take it from me, someone who began last season as a heavy critic of load management, the potential return of such a program is extensive. It’s worth it. If you’re someone who bought a ticket to a game only to see Leonard sit and now you’re angry about it, I promise you the feeling you get when that final buzzer goes and the Clippers are crowned champs will more than offset the yucky sensation that comes with missing out on seeing Leonard play in the regular season. When it matters most, he’ll be on the floor.
The guys, the journey, you know what I mean? Leonard said when asked about what has stuck with him after his whirlwind 12-month stint in Toronto that ended with his second NBA title in June and him opting to sign with his hometown Clippers in July.
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I was just telling someone the other day, its shocking to me how many Canadians do live here (in L.A.) or are just visiting, he said after the Clippers practised in advance of Leonards reunion game against the Raptors on Monday night (10:30 p.m. ET on Sportsnet ONE and Sportsnet NOW).
LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard on Toronto Raptors: The guys, the journey, also the country, the city, it was amazing.
Just walking around, people say, ‘Im from Toronto or Winnipeg’ or these different cities in Canada. You never know unless you go play up there and they recognize your talent from playing with the Raptors.
Then again, some harsh winter weather aside, Leonard said he was never too trepidatious about playing in Toronto, which came to pass after he was traded to the Raptors by the San Antonio Spurs.
Playing with Cory Joseph in San Antonio, him being from that area in Toronto, I knew what the city brought, just going out there, playing games, hanging out with him and his friends, him taking me around, showing me the city.
I always felt positive with the trade and the front office. I knew it was great already with (Raptors president Masai Ujiri) being in there so it was never a negative thing, I was always open-minded about it.
It all worked out quite well, although the Raptors would have loved to have had a chance to bring Leonard back to defend their title.
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If they do, Clippers coach Doc Rivers believes Leonards time in Toronto will be a significant factor.
If possible, Leonard is playing at an even higher level than he did last season with the Raptors, or even in his last two healthy seasons in San Antonio when he finished second and third in the leagues MVP race.
Coaches and players arent explaining the idea of load management well, either, and that also isnt helping fans. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers was fined $50,000 by the league for saying Leonard feels great, despite load managing him hours later. The NBA has a policy in place to fine teams $100,000 for sitting healthy players for nationally televised games, but the Clippers confirmed with the league that Leonard is suffering from an ongoing injury to his patella tendon. Still, the head coach saying Leonard feels great, and then not playing him can be disappointing for a fan.
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Through seven games hes averaging what would be a career-high 29 points a game, but even more impressively a career-best 5.4 assists, which – on a per minute basis – is almost double his career-best.
To Rivers eye, its a carry-over from the playoffs when Leonard seemed to trust his teammates the deeper into the post-season the Raptors went.
Its funny we noticed – at least I noticed – that each round of the playoffs he got better and better, said Rivers.
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You could see it. First round he was going for it, second round a little more, third round he started playmaking, by the Finals he was really playmaking. Winners adapt, and I thought he adapted to what they were playing and hes brought that back this year.
Weve had the advantage of him doing that or learning that in Toronto (so) now we get that package. His passing has been sensational for us.
There is a chance that Leonard will gain a significant target by the time he suits up against Toronto on Monday night.
Rivers said there is a possibility that Paul George – Leonards hand-picked teammate who the Clippers acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder to guarantee Leonard signing with them and not staying in Toronto, or signing with the Los Angeles Lakers – could make his debut against the Raptors.
If so, it will make the reunion much more of a challenge for the Raptors, who announced Saturday that Kyle Lowry will be out for two weeks minimum due to a small fracture in his left thumb, and Serge Ibaka will be out indefinitely after spraining his right ankle.
The absence of two the Raptors’ best players may take the edge off the matchup with the Clippers, which was poised to be difficult enough given Toronto has to play the revamped Lakers and another former teammate – Danny Green – on Sunday night.
Its a former team I won a championship with, but its any other game, said Leonard. (But) its going to be fun to see the guys again, and just congratulate them and be able to shake hands and compete.
Its not like he left on bad terms, said Rivers. Really. Its one of those leave good situations, not one of those leave awful situations.
Lets be honest, in our league, its usually the other way. Hes had the rare benefit of leaving in happy state. Thats rare. Has it happened? I dont know. If it has, its rare.