The uncle of Raptors star Kawhi Leonard discussed a variety of topics with Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes on Sunday, including why Leonard requested a trade from San Antonio, his success with Toronto this season and his upcoming free agency period.
Dennis Robertson, widely known as “Uncle Dennis” to many NBA figures, played a key role in getting Leonard out of San Antonio after his relationship with the team started to deteriorate.
Leonard dealt with a significant quad injury last season, missing several games and looking elsewhere for a second opinion despite being cleared by the Spurs‘ medical staff. This decision quickly caused a rift in the organization.
“I think it just became a lack of trust,” Robertson told Haynes. “They didn’t believe Kawhi couldn’t play and that caused a lack of trust in us and then us not believing in them. Any time a player says he’s not capable of playing, you should believe him. Why would Kawhi just stop playing all of a sudden? He’s a competitor. Sometimes you get these team doctors telling you what you can and cannot do, and Kawhi was just in too much pain to get out there. This was a serious issue. They didn’t believe him, and after that, the relationship couldn’t recover and we decided we had to move on.”
Robertson led the way for Leonard and the group requested a trade from San Antonio, listing Los Angeles as a preferred long-term destination. The Spurs wound up shipping him to the Raptors in a larger trade that featured DeMar DeRozan last July.
Leonard has since dominated with the Raptors, leading his team to the NBA Finals while averaging 31.2 points in 18 playoff games. Getting traded to Toronto might’ve been a tough pill to swallow at first glance, but Leonard has thoroughly enjoyed his time with the franchise this season, as Robertson explained.
“When you are initially traded somewhere you didn’t asked to be, you don’t want to accept it,” Robertson said, according to Haynes. “But once you get through that period, the focus then turns to giving your all and performing at a high level. It never had anything to do with the city of Toronto. It wasn’t. Toronto is a beautiful city. Kawhi has often spoke highly of Toronto. It’s a beautiful place. That was just an initial reaction, which is normal. But we’re enjoying this run and looking forward to the Finals.”
For the Raptors, Leonard is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on June 30. The team acquired him with full intentions of re-signing him to a lucrative contract in free agency, though for the time being, his focus only lies on competing in the NBA Finals.
“I can’t get into other free agents and other teams, but for Kawhi, he’s going to take it one day and one game at a time,” Robertson said. “We have a championship opportunity in front of us. We’re not thinking about free agency; it’s the Warriors [right now]. Once we get through the season, we’ll turn our attention to free agency. But we’re just having fun right now. This has been a great year.”