The most common question for the Clippers this season â€” â€œWhatâ€™s been the most surprising thing about Kawhi?â€� â€” usually draws a response similar to Paul Georgeâ€™s Saturday: â€œHe actually does talk.â€�
JaMychal Green recently said he, too, was surprised to be hearing Kawhi Leonardâ€™s voice at work every day â€” but thatâ€™s because he didnâ€™t expect the two-time NBA Finals MVP to leave Toronto.
Entering this summer’s free agency whirlwind, Leonard was fresh off leading the Raptors to their first NBA title in June and earning stature as the basketball king of The North.
â€œThe only unexpected thing for me was him coming to L.A., to the Clippers,â€� said Green, for whom Leonardâ€™s arrival solidified his own decision to stay put. â€œI really didnâ€™t think he was gonna go. I thought he was gonna stay in Toronto â€¦ or go to the Lakers. I really hadnâ€™t heard too much Clippers talk, so it was unexpected.
“But I feel like he made a great choice.â€�
Leonard will face his former team for the first time Monday, when the Raptors conclude their two-night stay at Staples Center with a game against the 6-3 Clippers â€” who, after adding Leonard and George, were anointed this seasonâ€™s favorite to win a title, which would also be a franchise first.
Leonard has been generally spectacular in his seven games as a Clipper, averaging career bests in points (29), rebounds (8.1), assists (5.4), blocks (1.1).
The 6-foot-7 fun guy from Moreno Valley has taken over in crunchtime with an NBA-leading 13.5 points per fourth quarter, immediately making a major impact with the leagueâ€™s second-highest usage rate (39 percent), behind only Houstonâ€™s James Harden.
Leonard also has sparked debate about load management when he missed two games in an effort to manage an ongoing patella tendon injury in his left knee.
â€œI gotta do what’s gonna make me healthy and is going to help the team be successful, and that’s me being able to play basketball games for us,â€� said Leonard, who, remember, missed 22 regular-season games last season, a strategy that helped prepare him for a long postseason of heavy lifting: 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.7 steals and 39.1 minutes over 24 playoff games.
He went out a champ.
â€œIt’s not like he left on bad terms, really,â€� Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. â€œIt’s one of those leave-good situations, not one of those leave-awful situations. And let’s be honest, in our league, it’s usually the other way. He’s had the benefit, the rare benefit, of being able to leave in a happy state.â€�
He continues to hear support from grateful Canadian expats and tourists whenever he encounters them, which happens more than Leonard expected it would, he said.
He also said he’s kept an appreciative eye on his former teammates as they rocketed to a 6-2 start, propelled by Pascal Siakam’s 27.9 points per game and OG Anunobyâ€™s 3-point shooting (54.5 percent).
â€œTheyâ€™ve been playing well,â€� Leonard said. â€œI havenâ€™t got a chance to catch every game, but the games I catch, theyâ€™re playing well. Obviously theyâ€™re the next team that weâ€™re going to play, so you see what theyâ€™ve been doing, but theyâ€™ve taken off where they left off.
â€œOGâ€™s finally getting a chance to play every game, a lot of minutes, so his improvement is just going to keep getting better, as well as Pascal. Him being the No. 1 option is great for him, heâ€™s just going to learn and keep growing.â€�
As much as Leonard appreciates those guys and all his Canadian fans, there’s just no place like home.
â€œIâ€™m able to see my family after the games,â€� Leonard said. â€œIâ€™m in Southern California. Beautiful weather. Iâ€™m right at my house. Everythingâ€™s been good.â€�
28.5 PPG | 9.8 RPG | 4.2 APG
— NBA TV (@NBATV) June 15, 2019
I might have been mad that Kawhi left the Raptors after a title.but looking https://t.co/JPnRdaTOvk was a hell of a ride.goodluck to the man on his journey…was and will be a Legend in Toronto #KLhttps://t.co/unaucXLeBS pic.twitter.com/cdRv2W1Q4l
— âœŸTHÎ” REAL Òœ.I.Dâœž (@waengangki) July 14, 2019