The Raptors and Spurs are set to face one another on Thursday night for the first time since consummating their blockbuster offseason trade nearly six months ago. Predictably, discussion this week has centered on Kawhi Leonard‘s return to San Antonio and DeMar DeRozan‘s first game against the team with whom he thought he’d spend the rest of his career.
In his latest deep dive for ESPN.com, however, Tim Bontemps focuses less on last summer’s trade and more on the Raptors’ plan to keep Leonard beyond this season. Within his piece, Bontemps shares a series of interesting details on Nick Nurse‘s first meeting with Kawhi, the Raptors’ strategy for managing their superstar’s health, and the franchise’s belief that it has built the sort of culture in Toronto that will help convince Leonard to re-sign.
“When we came aboard six years ago, we wanted to bring this organization to a level where you can make this pitch,” Toronto GM Bobby Webster said. “So you have strength in excellence around the organization — the basketball side, the coaching staff, the medical and support staff, obviously ownership — to where when we have a superstar player, an MVP-candidate-type player, now we can go to him and say, ‘We are really confident in who we are, we’re really proud of what we’ve built, and these are all the reasons why we think you should stay.'”
According to Bontemps, the “popular opinion among league executives” for now is that Leonard’s decision could come down to the Raptors vs. the Clippers. While the Raps are doing their best to sell Kawhi on the city and the franchise, the Clippers can offer two things Toronto can’t — an opportunity to return home to Los Angeles and year-round warm weather. It remains to be seen how important those factors will be and what other factors Leonard will seriously weigh, and he’s not offering any hints.
“I’m not thinking about that,” Leonard told Bontemps when asked about his upcoming free agency. “I’m focused on right now, what this is bringing for me and focused on the opportunity that I have here and what we can do this season. Later down the road, that’s when I’ll make my decision.”
Here’s more on the Raptors and Spurs, with a focus on the two stars involved in July’s blockbuster:
- Speaking to reporters, including Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich downplayed the importance of Thursday’s reunion, calling it a “waste of our time” to rehash the details of Leonard’s exit from San Antonio. “You move on in life,” he said. “We’re not going to redo what’s happened in the past in any way, shape or form. It’s of no consequence at this point, and it does no good to go backward and talk about this, that or the other.”
- For what it’s worth, within his story on Leonard (detailed above), Bontemps reports that Popovich, who said in November that Leonard “wasn’t a leader,” has regretted making those comments — and the way that they were perceived.
- Jabari Young of The Athletic takes a look at Thursday’s reunion from both sides, citing one source close to Leonard who says the All-Star forward doesn’t hold any hard feeling toward the Spurs. Meanwhile, a source close to DeRozan offered the following assessment of DeMar’s impressions of the Spurs’ organization: “He has never experienced the amount of professionalism from a day-to-day basis from a coach, GM, or organization that he has in his short term in San Antonio.”
- DeRozan spoke a little more this week about unexpectedly being traded by the Raptors, telling reporters – including Eric Koreen of The Athletic – that he had wanted to remain with the team and “break every single record” in Toronto. “Sometimes you don’t get in life the opportunity to marry the woman you felt was the woman of your dreams,” DeRozan said. “So, it just happens that way.”