For some Toronto Raptors fans, Kawhi Leonard’s departure to the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency never afforded them a measure of closure.
Leonard, who will square off against his former team for the first time Monday, finally opened up in detail about his experience with the Raptors in 2018-19 and shared what he’s looking forward to about the contest.
"It's a former team that I won a championship with, but it's (like) any other game. It's going to be fun to see the guys again and congratulate them and be able to shake hands and compete,” Leonard said via TSN’s Josh Lewenberg.
Kawhi said he's still feeling the love from Canadians he runs into. He said he's surprised by how many of them live in the US or are visiting and come up to him to tell him how much the appreciate what he did for the Raptors and the country.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) November 9, 2019
You don’t have to be much of a sports fan to recall Leonard’s one-year journey with the Raptors which saw him lead the team to the 2018-19 NBA title, while emerging as one of the most beloved athletes in Toronto history in a matter of months. Leonard was named NBA Finals MVP and entered free agency as the most sought-after player on the market.
Unlike most marquee free agents, Leonard let free agency carry on for days, allowing his decision reach a fever pitch as the Clippers, Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers all presented competitive offers.
Leonard was California dreaming all along and doesn’t regret his decision to go home.
“I'm able to see my family after the games. I'm in Southern California, beautiful weather, I'm at my house. So everything's been good.”
Although some wrote the Raptors off as a potential title contender when Leonard signed with the Clippers, Pascal Siakam is growing into a superstar before our eyes, while OG Anunoby is showing a leap in development during the early stages of the season. Before Anunoby missed the majority of the playoffs due to an appendectomy, Leonard was standing in the way of the 3-and-D specialist receiving playing time. The board man is happy to see his former teammates taking the reins this season.
“OG is finally getting a chance to play every game, a lot of minutes, so his improvement is going to keep getting better, as well as Pascal. Him being the No. 1 option there is great for him. He's going to learn and keep growing.”
Raptors fans — and observers across the league — have been left wondering what could’ve been if Leonard stayed, but Toronto did make a lasting impression on him, even though he didn’t run back.
“The guys, the journey, also the country, the city, it was amazing. There's just so much you could keep going on and talking about it.”
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