After months of being left in the dark, the basketball world finally got to hear from the man, the myth, the legend himself, Kawhi Leonard, at Toronto Raptors media day at Scotiabank Arena on Sept. 24. Leonard, who hasn’t really been seen or heard from since the Raptors acquired him from the San Antonio Spurs, donned a Raptors jersey for the first time. He answered questions from the media alongside Danny Green, who also came over in the deal with San Antonio, and Raptors president Masai Ujiri. In all, the presser lasted about 20 minutes. Leonard answered every question that was posed to him – though, just like a lot of other NBA players would have done, he sidestepped a few with cliché responses.
Here are seven takeaways from Leonard’s introduction as a Raptor.
Leonard says he’s open to playing for the Raptors
With the general mysteriousness that’s associated with Leonard, Raptors fans surely had to be relieved to hear the superstar reinforce previous reports that he’s going to have an open-minded approach to playing with the Toronto this season.
“I want to play [in Toronto]. As long as I have on a jersey, I want to play basketball. I came here with an open mind,” Leonard said.
It also doesn’t hurt that Leonard, who hadn’t spent much time in Toronto over the summer, appears to like the city so far. He told the media that he’s excited about the city. That came after hearing from his fellow Raptors teammates about how much there is to do and he also likes how much the “fans come out and show a lot of energy.”
The Raptors’ 2019 free agency courtship of Leonard is just beginning, but it appears to be starting off on the right foot.
Leonard reinforces that he’s healthy
In the summer, Ujiri and Raptors assistant coach Phil Handy had previously shared that Leonard, who played in just nine games last season because of a quad injury, looked healthy. There were also a couple of post-workout photos of Leonard that went viral. Honestly, there’s no better source than the man himself.
“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 full healthy getting ready to make this extra step this season.”
There’s obviously still great anticipation to see firsthand how Leonard looks on the court, but it’s definitely a plus to hear him also proclaim himself to be healthy.
Green may play a pivotal role in easing Kawhi’s transition to Toronto
Green spent all seven of Leonard’s previous seasons in the NBA with him in San Antonio. It sounds like the two get along pretty well. When asked about his initial reaction upon learning that he had been traded to Toronto, Leonard said he was glad when he found out that Green was also coming along as part of the deal.
Leonard may not actually be as reserved as reports have indicated him to be
There have been no shortage of reports proclaiming Leonard to be reserved and quiet-natured. He didn’t talk a whole bunch when answering the media’s questions, but he wasn’t short with his answers, either. Leonard even broke out a chuckle at one point, which the internet can’t seem to get enough of.
“He’s a fun guy, you have to know him, be around him; different in the locker room than he is with [the media],” Green said about Leonard’s personality. “His main focus is basketball, he loves it. The hours that he puts the work in. There’s a reason why he’s as good as he is.”
Ujiri may strike a chord with Leonard
Leonard likely didn’t know much about Ujiri prior to landing with Toronto. He quickly found out what the rest of the basketball world already knew – that the Raptors president is extremely confident and passionate. Anyone with a pulse had to have been moved by Ujiri’s rant about how far the Raptors have come as a franchise over the years and how great of a city Toronto is.
Leonard reinforces reports that he’s focused on this season and not his long-term plan
Not surprisingly, Leonard told the media several times he’s only focused on the 2018-19 season and not what he’ll do long term. Anyone who held out hope that he would say anything different is completely out to lunch. Leonard’s chosen outlook isn’t unique, either. Most players of his caliber behave in this manner, as it’s simply the nature of doing business in the NBA.
Leonard sounds eager to re-establish himself as one of the NBA’s best players
Only time will tell, but it doesn’t sound like Leonard intends to take it easy this season before possibly bolting next summer to join one of the clubs in his native Los Angeles, as many folks have speculated he will. Missing the time that he did last season caused many pundits to drop Leonard in terms of where they had him ranked among the league’s best players, but it sounds like he’s eager to show that he’s still just as good as he was prior to the injury.
“Just be able to be healthy. That’s my number one goal,” Leonard said in regards to what he wants to achieve over his career. “Play a long healthy career … able to be dominant wherever I land. I want to win championships … get in those record books.”
Gambling this season? Want to try it just to see what it feels like? Go to MyBookie.ag and use promo code ARMCHAIR25 at checkout. They will match your deposit dollar for dollar. Putting in $100? You’ll now have $200.