Kawhi Leonard on facing Raptors for the first time since NBA Championship
The two-time NBA Finals MVP led the Raptors to the 2019 NBA Championship, the franchise’s first ever title, in his lone season with Toronto. Leonard built a strong rapport with Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, and his former Raptors teammates en route to his championship, which made the decision to come home in free agency one that Raptors fans and players completely understood.
Leonard and the new-look Clippers will have a chance to show his former team how good his team is.
“It’s a former team I won a championship with but it’s another game,” Leonard admitted after Saturday’s practice. “It’s going to be fun to see the guys and just congratulate them and be able to shake hands and compete.”
Leonard admits he hasn’t been able to watch every game, but has been in contact with his former teammates and has monitored their play sporadically throughout the early parts of the season.
“Yeah, We talk a little bit,” confirmed Leonard. “They’ve been playing well, I haven’t got a chance to catch every game, but the games I catch, their playing well, obviously they’re the next team that we’re going to play, so you see what they’ve been doing, but they’ve taken off where they left off. OG’s finally getting a chance to play every game, a lot of minutes, so his improvement is just going to keep getting better as well as Pascal, him being the No. 1 option, No. 2 option is great for him, he’s just going to learn and keep growing.”
The Raptors had never been past the Eastern Conference Finals prior to Leonard’s arrival, but his playoff averages of 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.7 steals, and 2.3 three-pointers per game elevated Toronto past the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference finals and the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
Coming into the year, however, there were questions about whether Leonard even wanted to be in Toronto and, injury aside, how that would affect his play on the court.
“I never went in with a negative mindset,” said Leonard. “Playing with Cory Joseph in San Antonio, him being from that area in Toronto, I knew what the city kind of brought, just going out there and playing games, hanging out with him and his friends and him taking me and showing me the city. I always felt positive with the trade and the front office I knew it was great already with Masai being in there.”
“It was never a negative thing, I was always open-minded about it.”
Now, Leonard is looking to take the knowledge and experience he’s gained over the last year and apply it with a new team in a new environment.
“Just [bringing] my mindset,” Leonard explained. “I’m just coming in, preparing for another season, having the confidence that I have two [titles] under my belt so I’m able to do it so it’s about just challenging myself to get better. Wanting to do it over and over and over again, that’s pretty much it.”
Leonard’s quest for number three will continue night against the team he won number two with.