Fall is in the air and the 2018–19 NBA season is almost here (can you believe the Toronto Raptors play an actual basketball game in five days?!). To get you even more geeked up than you already are, here are some salient particulars from today’s Media Day at Scotiabank Arena.
Kawhi Leonard Speaks
Fans finally got what they’ve wanted to see since July 18th: Kawhi Leonard, sitting at a desk with Masai Ujiri and Danny Green in bright Raptors red, answering questions about the trade, his future with the franchise, and how he feels about the city of Toronto.
Leonard handled the presser with class, kicking things off with a relatively shocking “I’m a fun guy!” statement (Green later confirmed this) which soon led to perhaps the first recorded instance of Leonard actually laughing when he couldn’t find the reporter asking him queries in the slough of media.
Some smiling and laughing from Kawhi Leonard during his introductory press conference with the Raptors. pic.twitter.com/uYNYldpwDC
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) September 24, 2018
Beyond those few wonderful oddball minutes, Leonard said all the right things, noting that he is excited about the opportunity he has with the Raptors as a potential title contender, the fans and the city of Toronto itself, and the chance to get on to the next chapter in his story. He did manage to avoid any and all attempts to pluck information from him regarding the San Antonio Spurs and the events leading up to the trade, but that was, surely, to be expected.
Perhaps an underrated aspect of Leonard’s presser was the fact that he was honest and open when asked about his long-term future with the franchise. He could have simply said that he would love to be a Raptor for life, or just that he is keen on working towards re-signing come the summer, something that many undecided players in similar situations have said and will say again purely to appear diplomatic.
But Leonard didn’t do that. Instead, he articulated his approach in a direct, bare bones manner.
“I look at it as a day-to-day process,” said Leonard. “My focus is on this year, this group that I have, and striving to get to a championship. We all want to win, and if you’re looking at the future, you’re going to trip over the present.”
Those words aren’t necessarily comforting for Raptors fans, nor should they be. However, Leonard being willing to state from the get-go that he’s uncertain about his future in Toronto and that he’s taking things slowly is a rather refreshing (even human) bit of candour. The notion of burying realism beneath a paper-thin crust of hesitant reassurances in order to satiate the masses is ultimately a fool’s errand—fans either wind up with what they desire and expect (the player re-signing), or become irate and crestfallen at the fact that they were lied to.
Leonard should be respected for his transparency.
That said, it should also be mentioned that all indications at this point are that Leonard is ready and willing to be open to the idea of the franchise and city winning him over prior to next free agency, which is really all anyone can ask from him at this moment in time. Winning solves everything, the old adage goes, and the Raptors will be doing a lot of that this season.
Only time will tell where things go from here, but as far as introductory press conferences with notoriously quiet superstars go, this one was pretty great.
One of the main questions plaguing Raps fans in the wake of the trade this summer has been a simple one, yet with a plethora of answers: Who’s going to start?
Nick Nurse didn’t do much to answer that question during his presser, saying with a smile that he has to “leave some suspense” for the regular season. He did, however, note that he has an “entrepreneurial philosophy” about things, meaning he won’t be shy about trying out different groups to see how well they coexist, or adjusting his lineups when various opponents demand it.
Other than that, the new head coach merely hinted at some things he’s talked about implementing or continuing before, such as a focus on shooting threes (easier now, with Leonard and Green in the mix), trying to get higher value shots overall, and utilizing the defensive versatility of his players to their fullest extent.
Fans and pundits alike have discussed the probabilities of various starting units with the two most likely being either Kyle Lowry-Green-Leonard-OG Anunoby-Jonas Valanciunas or Lowry-Green/Anunoby-Leonard-Serge Ibaka-Valanciunas.
While no one can be certain (even Nurse at this point, who said he still hasn’t decided) which lineup is going to be rolled out for tip-off in October, the one thing we can be confident about is that things should be a lot more fluid than they were last season, with a lot more experimentation in an effort to prepare for an expectantly long postseason run.
- Masai channeled his inner Bill Pullman and gave a rousing speech about fighting through our (Raptors fans’) inferiority complex and believing that Toronto can and should be a city where winning is a staple and players want to come play.
- Ibaka apparently recorded an episode of his online cooking show in which he had the entire team over for dinner. He says it’s hilarious. Keep an eye out for that.
- Delon Wright talked about the Bench Mob getting together and playing ball over the summer at UCLA against some of the league’s best talent. He said that it was mostly just to get runs in and to build chemistry, and that Pascal Siakam (all aboard the hype train!) has been “looking really nice.”
- Leonard (quad) and Green (groin) both confirmed that they are feeling healthy and ready to play. Anunoby, who was still dealing with some lingering effects from his college ACL tear last season, also mentioned that he’s 100 per cent.