Silent Raptor Kawhi Leonard happy, healthy ahead of camp, says GM
Masai Ujiri on new forward: 'I think there is a fire inside of him'
Kawhi Leonard is happy and healthy, says Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri.
Leonard, the centrepiece of one of the NBA's biggest off-season trades, has yet to address the Toronto media. But Ujiri talked about the two-time defensive player of the year on Tuesday, a week before the Raptors open training camp in Vancouver.
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"Everything to me -- he is determined and seems in the right frame of mind," Ujiri said. "You will be hearing from him shortly. I think there is a fire inside of him and we are all excited about that."
Ujiri swung the blockbuster deal — sending DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a draft pick to San Antonio for Leonard and Danny Green — while in Kenya with his Giants of Africa non-profit organization.
While Leonard has publicly remained mum on the move, Ujiri said he's not concerned about the 27-year-old forward's commitment to Canada's lone NBA franchise, saying Leonard worked out with Toronto's coaches in Los Angeles, and has visited the city a couple of times.
First impressions of his newest acquisition? For one, he'll rival OG Anunoby as the season's quietest Raptor, Ujiri joked.
'He's a quiet kid'
"Basketball person. Just loves the game," he said. "Wants to play the game and very competitive. You can tell he is a very competitive kid. It's about basketball. Once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change."
The team won't be treating Leonard with kid gloves.
His [focus] is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie.— Raptors GM Masai Ujiri on
"There is nothing we are going to do different. We are going to be ourselves. I think the situation with him in San Antonio which I don't want to talk about because I don't know much about it, but he's a quiet kid," Ujiri said. "That's his nature.
"We can't all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he's very interesting. There is no maintenance with him.
There are no tons of people around him. His [focus] is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie."
Ujiri spoke on the sun-drenched rooftop of a swish downtown hotel after a morning Giants of Africa event.
He talked about how tough decisions such as trading DeRozan and firing coach Dwane Casey might eventually drive him out of the basketball business.
DeRozan deal tough on Lowry
"It was tough because I built five years with DeMar," Ujiri said. "You're telling them to push as hard as they can, you're encouraging, you're trying to put in things for them to succeed and do everything you can … And then all of sudden these kind of opportunities come or these type of things happen. How do you explain that?
"But it's the same thing the other way. I've been in situations with players leaving. Those are the two things that make it difficult in sports. I say it again, that's the thing that's going to make me leave this eventually and go do something else. I don't like that part because I don't think in me there's one little thing of blood in me that's fake."
Camp opens Sept. 25
Ujiri said veteran guard Kyle Lowry took the DeRozan trade hard. Lowry refused to discuss the trade with reporters during a U.S. training camp in Las Vegas in late July.
"Kyle is close to DeMar and he's going to be sensitive … that was a blow to him. I think basketball-wise Kyle is always ready, he's always going to be ready, he's training hard and he'll be ready."
The season tips off with the team's traditional media day Monday in Toronto. The Raptors will then fly to Vancouver to open camp on Sept. 25.
Ujiri and his Giants of Africa non-profit organization will celebrate the centenary of Nelson Mandela with a series of events on Dec. 4 and 5.