Kawhi Leonard: 'It's More Fun' Being Focal Point of Raptors Offense This Season

Megan ArmstrongCorrespondent IIJune 2, 2019

Toronto Raptors' Kawhi Leonard makes an uncontested dunk against the Orlando Magic during the first half in Game 3 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Friday, April 19, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
John Raoux/Associated Press

As fate would have it, the unexpected laugh let out by a typically stoic Kawhi Leonard at the Toronto Raptors' media day in September was more foreshadowing than fluke.

Ahead of Sunday's NBA Finals Game 2, the All-Star forward told reporters Saturday that he's having plenty of fun in Toronto:

"Obviously, it's a lot more fun when you're getting plays called for you and you're able to live your childhood dream in being able to shoot the ball 20 times a game. The offense is coming toward you, rather than just being out there doing one job. Because when you first come in as a rookie, unless you're like a top-10 player, you're really not going to touch the floor a whole lot, or get the offense run through you.

"That kind of throws you off, or for me just like puts you in a box somewhat. You have to figure out a way to have fun. Like I said, being a child, I didn't envision myself just being in a box in the NBA. But once that time comes, I feel like you're just having more fun and you're able to experience the game and grow as a player, making plays, seeing double-teams and finding other guys."

Leonard spent the first seven seasons of his NBA career in San Antonio. While he was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, won a championship and was the 2013-14 NBA Finals MVP as a Spur, he had not yet ascended to superstar status.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

In 2014, a young Kawhi (22) won Finals MVP and kept the Heat from their third straight championship. Five years later, he’s trying to stop another three-peat. (via @NBATV) https://t.co/9utH4TagOK

When the Spurs traded Leonard to Toronto last summer, most analysts expected him to leave via free agency this offseason. However, the 27-year-old has spoken highly of his time in the North.

In March, Leonard praised the Raptors for how the staff managed his health. "We've been doing a great job of making sure that nothing flares up or gets out of control. It's just been great," he said, according to TSN's Josh Lewenberg.  

Leonard only appeared in 60 regular-season games due to load management. That approach came after he had a rift with the Spurs over how they handled his lingering quad injury, which limited him to nine games in 2017-18. Toronto's strategy has paid off in the postseason. 

Leonard has been a formidable two-way talent, averaging 30.7 points per game during the playoffs.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Kawhi is on a playoff run for the ages. ◽️ 31.2 PPG | 8.8 RPG | 50.7 FG% ◽️ Raptors’ first NBA Finals ◽️ Iconic buzzer-beater ◽️ Helped stop Giannis ◽️ 7 games with 35+ points ◽️ Playoff points leader by 100+ ◽️ Playoff leader in PTS, FGM, MIN, STL https://t.co/6RrjfQvhPM

Friday, TrueHoops' David Thorpe reported Leonard is likely to re-sign with Toronto on a short-term deal: 

Henry Abbott @TrueHoop

Count on Kawhi returning to the Raptors, per TrueHoop sources, @coachthorpe. https://t.co/HnsuYluuTg https://t.co/tcbvSLIzQS

While that would be a major win, Toronto's immediate focus is to capture the franchise's first championship. The latter will more than likely tip the former in the Raptors' favor. 

Game 2 of the NBA Finals between the Raptors and Golden State Warriors tips off 8 p.m. Sunday at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena. The Raptors hold a 1-0 series lead.