Kawhi Leonard Thanks Gregg Popovich, Spurs in 1st Statement Since Raptors Trade

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistAugust 9, 2018

FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2018, file photo, San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) moves the ball up court during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets, in San Antonio. The absolute unwillingness to answer certain questions is part of the San Antonio Spurs' mystique. The Spurs just don't share much. So there is some unmistakable irony here that when it comes to the obviously fractured relationship between San Antonio and Kawhi Leonard, it's the Spurs who are the ones frustrated by the lack of answers. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
Eric Gay/Associated Press

Nearly three weeks after getting traded to the Toronto Raptors, small forward Kawhi Leonard released a statement Thursday regarding his departure from the San Antonio Spurs.

As seen in the following tweet courtesy of Yahoo Sports' Shams Charania, Leonard thanked his fans and teammates in San Antonio, as well as Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich:

Shams Charania @ShamsCharania

Kawhi Leonard releases first statements since trade to Toronto, saying goodbye to San Antonio and the Spurs: https://t.co/XxSUEwbrQ6

Leonard wrote, "THANK YOU Pop I'll always be grateful for my growth under your guidance."

The two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year capped off his statement by writing, "While I'm looking forward to the next chapter in my career, I'll always remember the city and the people of San Antonio!"

After Leonard's desire to be traded went public, he was shipped to Toronto along with shooting guard Danny Green for All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, young center Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Chris Haynes initially reported that Leonard wasn't enthusiastic about the trade since he preferred to play in his hometown of Los Angeles for the new-look Lakers.

Even so, it was clear that Leonard no longer wanted to be in San Antonio after a 2017-18 season that saw him appear in just nine games because of a quad injury.

There were constant questions regarding Leonard's status and whispers that he could have returned since the Spurs never publicly committed to shutting him down. San Antonio's handling of the injury reportedly played a big role in Leonard's desire to leave.

When healthy, Leonard is a difference-maker who is likely among the NBA's five best players.

He is a two-time All-Star and one-time Finals MVP who finished third in the regular-season MVP voting in 2016-17 after averaging 25.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game.

Leonard will join a Raptors team that finished first in the Eastern Conference last season with 59 wins before getting ousted in the second round of the playoffs by the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers.

Playoff success has been elusive for the Raptors, but in Leonard they have a player who knows what it takes to win on the biggest stage. And of course, "LeBronto" is no longer in the conference.