Kawhi Leonard says he's healthy and excited to be a Toronto Raptor.
Leonard finally addressed the media at a jam-packed news conference, the first time he's spoken publicly since the blockbuster trade that sent DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio.
The MVP of the NBA finals in 2014 arrived in Toronto under a cloud of questions, specifically about whether he'll remain a Raptor past this season.
Despite reports he plans to test free agency next off-season, the forward and former defensive player of the year says he's excited to play in a "basketball city," where fans embrace the team.
"As long as I have on a jersey I want to play basketball," said the soft-spoken Leonard. "I came here with an open mind. I want to do great things so I'm going to make sure I put in a full effort on the court each and every night.
The narrative of not wanting to come to this city is gone.— Raptors president Masai Ujiri at Kawhi Leonard's introductory news conference in Toronto
"By winning games this is how you get star-calibre players to want to come here and play."
The 27-year-old's awkward laugh was a highlight of the news conference, and was trending on Twitter all afternoon.
Casting negative light
Danny Green, the former Spurs shooting guard who was part of the deal, played the role of comic relief in a press conference that was tense at moments. He joked with reporters that he was surprised they noticed him sitting with Leonard.
"Oh, you included me, OK," he said, flashing a wide grin. He claimed the Raptors' Drake-inspired "OVO jerseys, that's what sold me [on Toronto]."
Raptors president Masai Ujiri, meanwhile, wasn't laughing. He chastized reporters for casting a negative light on Leonard's arrival. He interjected to answer a question for Leonard and Green about their move to Toronto, years ago considered one of the league's least desirable outposts.
"The narrative of not wanting to come to this city is gone," Ujiri said, to the applause of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. employees who watched the press conference. "I think that's old and we should move past that. Believe in this city, believe in yourselves."
'People like' Toronto, says Ujiri
He repeated his sentiments to a couple dozen reporters afterward.
"It's frustrating because I can't believe a beautiful city like this would not believe in itself," Ujiri said. "We have to move on from that. Man, look at everything in this city: Look at the Leafs. TFC won last year. They won the championship after being killed for how many years? Look at the people. Look at how beautiful it is. Even Kawhi said that. He said that to me.
"To continue to hear about people not wanting to come here is actually irritating after a while. It is. Come on. Let's be real. People like it here."
Leonard was virtually silent and unseen in a strange final season with the Spurs. He missed all but nine games with quadriceps tendinopathy in his right leg. There were reports he was unhappy about how the franchise handled his injury.
Leonard deflected a San Antonio reporter's question at the news conference at Scotiabank Arena. What went wrong? the reporter asked.
"I have no regrets. But I want to focus on this team, this journey that we have in front of us today and just spend on present time and not look back," he said.
The Leonard deal was the biggest piece of an off-season shakeup that included the firing of coach Dwane Casey after the Raptors were ousted by Cleveland in the playoffs for the third straight year.
He's an astute player from what I can tell already. … He plays hard and he plays to win.— Raptors rookie head coach Nick Nurse on Kawhi Leonard
Among rookie head coach Nick Nurse's first tasks were meetings with Leonard at the new Raptors' San Diego home. He came away impressed.
"As we know, Kawhi is a man of few words, but his actions this summer were similar to what you'd think, he's a serious guy with a great work ethic," Nurse said. "I think he loves basketball, right? There's no doubt about it, he's an astute player from what I can tell already, over a lot of time that we work with him, our relationship will grow. He's a hooper, man. He loves to play, he plays hard and he plays to win."
Nurse said the team would closely monitor Leonard's health through camp and the pre-season.
Leonard's new Raptors teammates said they were "shocked" when they first heard of the off-season trade. All-star guard Kyle Lowry, who'd been hurt to lose his good friend DeRozan, said he looked forward to the new season.
"He's my teammate now so I'm excited to play with him, and I always ride or die for my teammates," Lowry said. "Go out there and play basketball, win as many games as possible, and at the end of the year hold up that trophy."