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Raptors’ Marc Gasol reacts to Kawhi Leonard leaving NBA champions for Clippers

Eyebrows raised across the league in late June when Marc Gasol put off free agency for another year by picking up the player option on the final season of his existing contract. Would the 34-year-old big man really have committed to another season with the Toronto Raptors if Kawhi Leonard wasn’t joining him?

Assumptions otherwise proved accurate just over a week later, when the reigning Finals MVP finally made his intentions known, signing with his hometown LA Clippers – and bringing Paul George along with him. Gasol, though, holds no ill will toward his former teammate. In fact, he could have seem himself taking advantage of the same opportunity Leonard did if it was ever presented.

“You can’t blame the guy for wanting to go home,” Gasol said before Spain’s exhibition game against Team USA on Friday night, per Marc Stein of The New York Times. “If you tell me I can go (to) Barcelona and make an absurd amount of money and play in the NBA … I understand completely and respect it and wish him the best.”

Leonard’s status as a one-year rental was something close to ironclad when the Raptors acquired him from the San Antonio Spurs last summer. If he and Toronto didn’t enjoy such a fruitful partnership, one that ended in his second Finals MVP award and the team’s first ever championship, free agency almost surely would have begun with the Raptors out of the running for basketball’s top available player.

Gasol, obviously, understands Leonard’s decision. Fortunately, most Toronto fans seem to as well.