After an absolute blockbuster of a deal that sent fan favourite and all-time Raptors great DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs for arguably a Top 5 NBA player in Kawhi Leonard, speculation has run rampant surrounding the latter’s mindset and intention of staying long term with his new club.
Finally, after radio silence for two months, we have some insight into how the notoriously-quiet small forward is feeling about this new chapter north of the border.
New Raptors head coach Nick Nurse had his very first chance to talk to Leonard just last week, and told TSN that he didn’t have to bust out the self-sale job he usually has prepared for situations such as these.
The two-time all-star was engaging enough all on his own.
“I sat down first and said, ‘Do you have any questions?’ and he started firing them [at me]. It led us to a really easy going [meeting]. It was not what I was expecting. He’s very smart, very intelligent, and very engaging. It was really enjoyable,” Nurse said.
“He lit up like a Christmas tree. He was prepared, he had a list of questions. Then when I got up he started asking me about the offense, and I told him how we built it and the things that we do, the shot spectrum, and showing him the spacing. He got out of his chair and got up at the board with me, and they had to drag us out of there in the end because they had to go do something else, but it was great.”
When prompted to discuss how the team’s new acquisitions will change the on-court makeup make up of the Raptors in the post-Dwane Casey era, Nurse didn’t mince words when breaking down how Leonard and Green will impact the club on the defensive end of the floor.
“We’ll have a much different thought process [defensively]. We will be a little bit more aggressive. We’re going to really make a focus on trying to create more turnovers. I think we got more wings, more athleticism. I mean, listen, both [Leonard] and [Green] guard the (expletive) out of people.
“They guard the (expletive) out of people. So automatically you’re thinking, okay, how does this change the way we’re going to play to use those guys?” Nurse said.
The other swooping change in Raptors land this summer was the firing of beloved and respected head coach Dwane Casey, who led the team to historically great regular seasons but only playoff disappointments during his time with Toronto.
Nurse, who was an assistant behind Casey last season and named his replacement in mid-June, was admittedly stunned to hear the news that Casey was let go in the days following the Raptors second-straight 4-0 series defeat to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“Did it surprise me when they let Case go? Hell yeah, it did, especially the way it played out. There was one press conference and then the next conference, and then a day went by and you kind of thought the storm was over and you’re going to keep going along, so it did catch you off guard,” said Nurse, according to Sportnet’s Michael Grange.
Leonard and Green will be introduced at Raptor’s Media Day on Monday, marking the unofficial beginning of easily the most pivotal season Masai Ujiri’s tenure in Toronto after the controversial but mostly necessary moves the Raptor’s president wheeled off this summer.