BROOKLYN — If Kawhi Leonard likes living in Toronto, he sure isn’t saying so.
About an hour after Leonard missed the final shot of regulation and passed the ball away on the final possession of overtime in a loss to the lowly Brooklyn Nets, the subject of his current home city was raised in a question-and-answer session with reporters.
“What are two or three things,” Leonard was asked, “that you like most about Toronto.”
He didn’t exactly wrap himself in the Canadian flag and go all Maple Leafy, that’s for sure.
“It’s hard to really explore the city once you’re playing games. You have a day off — I was just talking to somebody about that the other day, how we’ve been playing every other day for the past week or two weeks, so on those off days you really just want to rest and try to get your body ready for the next day and play a game.”
Leonard’s past history of playing in Toronto is well-documented: How he practically never left his hotel room during 2016 All-Star Weekend when the temperatures dropped below zero.
Winter has not yet arrived, and let’s just say his comments Friday night were not the warmest thing anyone has ever had to say about the city where hockey is king — despite the Raptors having the best record in the entire NBA.
With the Toronto Maple Leafs having the second-highest point total in the National Hockey League, the editors at Toronto’s largest newspaper, The Toronto Star, decided not to staff Friday night’s game despite it being played at an arena that Leonard could conceivably call home next season. Only the Toronto Sun had a reporter at the game.
The guessing game over Leonard’s intentions for the summer of 2019 will continue from now through the trade deadline, and perhaps thereafter.
Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri rolled the dice when he gave up DeMar DeRozan and Jacob Poeltl in the summertime trade that upgraded the Raptors’ roster for the current season.
But the deal came with no guarantees, and what Leonard is planning to do next July when he becomes a free agent will remain a subject of interest on both coasts.
The Lakers and Clippers in Los Angeles are possible landing zones, and the Nets in Brooklyn and the Knicks in Manhattan will have the salary cap space to sign him as they undergo their rebuilds.
No updates have come from the infamous Uncle Dennis — Leonard’s uncle Dennis Robertson, who was rumored to be traveling in South Africa on Friday.
Leonard himself spoke to the media in Toronto on Saturday, but the main topic discussed was Sunday night’s epic tilt with the Milwaukee Bucks. The Raptors are giving five points.
The last time Leonard said something remotely positive about Toronto was back in late November when he told Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times that Toronto is “basically like being in New York.”
“I’ve been playing this my whole life. It’s a big life adjustment. You’re in a different country. You’re not used to some of the things or the cities out here. But, really, it’s the same thing as when you’re in the United States,” Leonard told the Times. “You get drafted to a team, sometimes you get lucky and are able to play in your hometown or stay in the same state, but it’s new for everybody else, all rookies.”
The options that Leonard will have will be impacted by the moves other teams make between now and the Feb. 7 NBA trade deadline.
Milwaukee picked up George Hill from the Cavs in a three-team trade Friday, giving them a glut at that position with Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon and Hill.
Back in training camp, the Bucks were open to moving Brogdon, but he has been a key cog for them this season and is probably safe unless a superstar can be brought in to play alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.
Philadelphia has already added Jimmy Butler and still must wait out the game of chicken being played by Markelle Fultz and his too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen camp. A shooter is still needed unless Mike Muscala can prove himself capable of putting together 2-3 consecutive good games.
Boston is the wild card in all this, an underachieving team with a general manager who wants nothing more than to add Anthony Davis to the mix. (The Pelicans visit the Celtics on Monday night).
And then you always have the Pacers, who nobody talks about but are equipped at full strength to beat anybody — especially Philly.
Here is the thing to keep in mind about Leonard: The guy doesn’t say a whole lot, and he pretty much lives to play basketball and chill out. His brand is damaged, but Under Armour is taking a chance on him with their new sneaker deal that got him off Jordan Brand.
Leonard will end up playing somewhere next season, but right now it’s probably safe to say that staying in Toronto is no better than a 50-50 proposition.
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