Forward Kawhi Leonard met the Toronto media for the first as a member of the Raptors on Monday and didn’t share a lot about himself or the July trade from the San Antonio Spurs.
“I’m a fun guy,” smiled the usually stoic Leonard, cracking a joke with the media.
Beyond that, he was all business.
Leonard played just nine games last season with the Spurs while sidelined with a quadriceps injury. During his long time away from the team, his relationship with the only organization he’d played for since entering the NBA in 2011 soured to the point he demanded a trade.
He wanted to go home to his native Los Angeles area. Instead, San Antonio sent him to another country.
Leonard said that when he heard about the trade, he was excited about going to a city with passionate basketball fans. He said he had talked with a few new teammates who told him Toronto offers a lot to like off the court.
“I want to play here,” he said. “As long as I have on a jersey, I want to play basketball. I came here with an open mind. ... By winning games, this is how you get star-caliber players to want to come here and play.”
He wouldn’t commit to his future otherwise.
“If you look toward the future, you’re going to trip over the present,” he said.
He said his goal is to avoid injuries.
“Just to be able to be healthy, that’s my No. 1 goal. Play a long, healthy, you know, career,” the 27-year-old said. “Be able to be dominant wherever I land. I want to win championships, get in those record books.”
Toronto team president Masai Ujiri gambled in trading for Leonard, who has a player option on his contract for next season and can opt out of his deal after this season to become a free agent. To acquire Leonard and his San Antonio teammate, Danny Green, Toronto gave up standout guard DeMar DeRozan, big man Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round draft pick.
Before the injury last season, Leonard had emerged as one of the NBA’s top players. He was defensive player of the year in 2014-15 and 2015-16 and was named Finals MVP in 2014. He was a first-team All-NBA selection in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
In 407 career games, he has averaged 16.3 points and 6.2 rebounds in 30.4 minutes per game.
—Field Level Media