Of all the craziness from the last year in terms of player movement, Kawhi Leonard being traded from San Antonio to Toronto ended up being the biggest move of them all.
The Raptors took a major gamble on Leonard, both with his health coming off a quad injury that cost him almost all of 2017-18 and with the fact that he could leave in free agency this summer. They also risked alienating Kyle Lowry, their longest tenured player, by trading his best friend, DeMar DeRozan, and firing Dwane Casey after a Coach of the Year campaign to replace him with assistant Nick Nurse.
It was all incredibly bold, but the goal was simple: raise their ceiling to one of a championship contender. On Wednesday, they proved not just to be a contender but to be champions, as they defeated the Warriors in Game 6 on the road to win the NBA title. Leonard earned Finals MVP honors, nearly unanimously, and spoke after the game about the trade that brought him to Toronto — a place that wasn’t on his preferred list of trade destinations — and his mindset after that. Specifically, he touched on an early conversation with Kyle Lowry via text that set the table for the season.
The full transcript of the question and answer offers a great look at Leonard’s approach to this season, and how despite whispers that he wasn’t happy going to the Raptors, he looked at it as an opportunity to do “make history.”
Q. I’m just wondering, when you first got traded to Toronto what went through your mind? Was it one of your preferred destinations and how did your feelings evolve or change during this run and how do you feel now?
KAWHI LEONARD: We all know where my destinations were. But obviously like I said, when I was there on my opening day meeting that I was focused on the now, and I wanted to make history here and that’s all did I. I just, I’m still playing basketball no matter what jersey I have on. And the guys here have been making runs in the playoffs before I came, so I know they were a talented team. And I just came in with the right mindset, let’s go out and win ball games. I texted Kyle probably a day later — or the day that I got traded and told him I said let’s go out and do something special. I know your best friend left, I know you’re mad, but let’s make this thing work out. And we are here today.
Leonard was smart enough to know that neither he nor Lowry were thrilled with the outcome of the trade, but there was work to be done and they needed to get on the same page to accomplish the goal they both have of winning a title. From the start, the integration of Kawhi into the Raptors locker room seemed fairly seamless, and the result was a championship run for the ages. Whether he stays or goes, the trade was a success, and he’ll always be a Toronto sports legend.