Leonard quiet on fu­ture as Rap­tors cel­e­brate with parade

Big Spring Herald - - SPORTS - By IAN HAR­RI­SON

TORONTO — 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, one year and some $50 mil­lion more than any other team.

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. Eastern on June 30.

"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."

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."

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 post­sea­son, 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.

"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. Cen­ter 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.

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 hon­ors in 1996. Lowry and Stoudamire were team­mates in Mem­phis from 2006 to 2008.

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