NBA

'It's not time to stress': Kawhi Leonard puts talk of future with Raptors on hold

Before stepping on stage at Monday's championship rally, Toronto Raptors' star forward Kawhi Leonard said he hasn't been thinking about his NBA future. The Finals MVP is expected to decline the option on the final year of his contract and become a free agent.

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Raptors' star Kawhi Leonard isn’t discussing his potential return to the team, preferring to have fun and enjoy the experience of being an NBA champion as he did at Monday’s parade and rally in Toronto. The Finals MVP is expected to become a free agent. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Fresh off leading the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA title, Kawhi Leonard received the key to the city at Monday's championship parade and rally.

For now, however, the two-way star and two-time NBA Finals MVP isn't saying whether he'll use it to keep a door open or close it behind him and move on.

Leonard spent several days partying with his teammates in Las Vegas and Los Angeles after last Thursday's Game 6 clincher over Golden State, returning to Toronto in time to ride in one of five open-top double-decker buses that carried the Raptors along a crowded parade route.

A three-time all-star and two-time NBA defensive player of the year, Leonard is expected to decline the player option on the final year of his contract and become a free agent. Toronto can offer him a five-year deal worth around $190 million US, one year and some $50 million more than any other team.

ESPN is reporting that while Leonard hasn't ruled out returning to the Raptors, the Los Angeles native is focusing on the Clippers.

You don't need too many days to figure it out. We'll see what happens.— 2019 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard of the Raptors on his NBA future

Before stepping on stage Monday for a ceremony in the square outside Toronto's City Hall, Leonard said he hasn't been thinking about his future. Instead, he's trying to extend the celebratory vibe as long as possible.

"I'm enjoying this" he said. "It's not time to stress, it's still time to have some fun. I've just been enjoying my experience."

After two months of playoff basketball, Leonard doesn't have a lot of time left to be a fun guy -- free agency gets underway at 6 p.m. ET on June 30.

Kawhi Leonard played 60 regular-season games for the Raptors in the regular season and 24 more in the playoffs, raising his minutes once April arrived. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

No pain, no gain

"I'm going to take the right time," he said. "You don't need too many days to figure it out. We'll see what happens. Once that time comes, then we'll all lay the pros and cons out."

Nearly an entire section of Oracle Arena was filled with family in Oakland to watch the Raptors win Game 6 of the Finals against the Warriors.

Visibly bothered by soreness during stretches of the Eastern Conference Finals against Milwaukee, Leonard declined to say how much pain he endured en route to winning his second career title.

"We're always battling through things," he said. "You know, knee pains, ankles, fingers. Everybody was just grinding it out."

WATCH | Kawhi gets the last laugh:

Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard "has fun" during his speech at Raptors' title parade. 1:35
Injured for all but nine games in his final season with San Antonio, Leonard played 60 regular-season games for Toronto and 24 more in the post-season, upping his minutes once April arrived.

While winning the Larry O'Brien Trophy was an obvious success, Leonard said he has enjoyed all aspects of his season north of the border, even the varied Canadian weather.

Festive mood marred by gunfire

"It was a good experience, experiencing Mother Nature, all four seasons," he said. "Man, it was a great experience. Everybody off the court was great. The fans, just meeting people in Canada. It's been fun."

Fans chanted "Stay! Stay! Stay!" when Toronto Mayor John Tory presented Leonard with the key.

Later, the festive mood of the event was marred by gunfire. Four people were shot, leading to a stampede. Three people were arrested and two guns were recovered, police said.

Leonard is one of three Raptors starters with uncertain futures. Centre Marc Gasol also has a player option, while guard Danny Green is a free agent.

Guards Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet and forward Serge Ibaka are heading into the final year of their contracts.

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Parades can get pretty crazy, but Rob Pizzo looks at the 6 things that consistently happen every year. 1:53

Ibaka and Leonard have become friends in their time together as teammates.

"I've been talking with him a lot during the season and in the playoffs, but after we won, I can see the man is happy," Ibaka said. "That's the most important. We play this sport because we want to enjoy and have fun and be happy and be somewhere people love you. I'm sure he feels that people here love him, and after this moment, that's the most important."

Lowry attended the parade wearing a game-worn Damon Stoudamire pinstripe Raptors jersey. Stoudamire was the first player drafted by Toronto in 1995 and won rookie-of-the-year honours in 1996. Lowry and Stoudamire were teammates in Memphis from 2006 to 2008.

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