Kawhi Leonard said he is excited to join the Toronto Raptors, but also stressed that he’s focused on this season, not the future. The small forward was officially introduced as a member of his new club on Monday, along with Danny Green at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
The press conference started off lightly, with Leonard asked what people should know about the notoriously quiet superstar.
“I’m a fun guy. Obviously I love the game of basketball,” Leonard said, before he was faced with more pressing questions surrounding his impending free agency at the conclusion of this campaign — a topic that will no doubt follow Leonard and the Raptors all season.
“I want to play here,” said Leonard. “As long as I have a jersey on, I want to play basketball. I came here with an open mind. I want to do great things …. By winning games, that’s how you get star-calibre players who want to come here.”
When asked if he views his time with the Raptors as a long-term commitment, Leonard said he views it as a day-to-day process.
“My focus is on this year, striving to win a championship,” said Leonard. “If you look over the future, you are going to trip over the present.”
Those were the first public comments from Leonard since joining the club with Green in a blockbuster July trade that sent DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a 2019 first-round draft pick to the San Antonio Spurs.
“[I was] excited knowing I’m coming to a great city that loves basketball,” Leonard said of the trade. “Their fans come and show lot of energy.”
The 27-year-old Leonard is an elite talent, but was limited to just nine games with the Spurs last season due to a quad injury. He said on Monday that he is “feeling great” and is ready to play, having spent the summer taking a “step-by-step” approach to ensure he would be fully healthy for the beginning of this season.
Leonard has won two defensive player of the year awards during his seven-season career. He was named NBA Finals MVP in 2014, when he helped the Spurs defeat LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
Green, a nine-season NBA veteran, has played with Leonard in San Antonio since 2011. He lauded his teammate’s commitment on Monday.
“He’s a fun guy, but you have to know him and be around him,” Green said. “His main focus is basketball. He puts in hours and puts the work in. You have to, to be as good as he is.”
DeRozan was a fan favourite in Toronto, but struggled repeatedly at times in the playoffs. He was vocal about his displeasure with Raptors management following the trade and with Monday marking Media Day around the NBA, he will likely offer comments to Spurs media at some point as well.