Raps’ Leonard ‘ramp­ing it up,’ Ujiri says

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - SPORTS -

TORONTO Toronto Raptors pres­i­dent Ma­sai Ujiri in­tends to make things “com­fort­able” for prized off-sea­son ad­di­tion Kawhi Leonard and he’s still thrilled to have ac­quired the former San An­to­nio Spurs stand­out.

Ujiri had a sim­ple mes­sage for Leonard when they met briefly ear­lier this sum­mer in Toronto.

“We wanted to tell him we be­lieved in him, that we did this (trade) for a good rea­son to think we’re get­ting a top-three player in the NBA,” Ujiri said this week on ESPN NBA in­sider Adrian Wo­j­narowski’s pod­cast.

Leonard, a former NBA Fi­nals MVP and two-time de­fen­sive player of the year, played only nine games in his fi­nal sea­son in Texas, but by all ac­counts has looked su­perb in sum­mer work­outs.

Ujiri would not com­mit to Leonard be­ing ready to go full steam ahead by the time train­ing camp opens in just over a week, but he sounded en­cour­aged.

“Ev­ery­thing you hear (about his work­outs) is un­be­liev­able. He’s very well, no ver­dict has been made, but he’s ramp­ing it up,” Ujiri told Wo­j­narowski, adding Leonard’s sta­tus will de­pend on both what he and the med­i­cal staff say.

Ujiri was asked where the Leonard and Danny Green ad­di­tions put the Raptors, in terms of con­tention.

“We’re ex­cited to see. We’re re­ally ex­cited to see it come to­gether ... there’s a new ex­cite­ment and some­times we need that,” Ujiri said.

Ujiri wasn’t taking a shot at DeMar DeRozan, dealt for Leonard, or former head coach Dwane Casey, who was fired af­ter be­ing named NBA coach of the year.

He again re­it­er­ated that the pair helped lead the Raptors to great heights.

Ujiri again dis­cussed his pub­lic apol­ogy to DeRozan af­ter the deal, say­ing talks with the Spurs were up and down, some­times close, some­times seem­ingly far away and ex­plained that you sim­ply can’t keep play­ers fully in­formed of ev­ery con­ver­sa­tion and ev­ery peak and val­ley of dis­cus­sions or else it would lead to con­se­quences.

“Some things maybe I could have done dif­fer­ent, but what hap­pens if the trade doesn’t hap­pen?”

Ujiri said the Raptors will be “gen­uine” with Leonard and will try to sell him on the city, the di­ver­sity, the fans and the “unique” at­mos­phere here in at­tempts to con­vince him to stay long-term.

Leonard be­comes an un­re­stricted free agent on July 1 and has been con­nected to his home­town Los An­ge­les Lak­ers and Clip­pers.

Kawhi Leonard

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