Nick Nurse has nothing but love for Kawhi Leonard.
Speaking Saturday at the Las Vegas Summer League, the Raptors coach admitted he’s disappointed to see his star player go but understands why he decided to leave Toronto after helping the team win its first championship.
“I think you can’t blame a guy for wanting to go home,” Nurse said, via ESPN.com. “That’s what he texted me today. ‘I’m going home.’ And I just said, ‘You’ve changed a lot of lives, man, by what you’ve accomplished in Toronto. Mine especially.’ And thanked him for what he did, and we’ll look to the future, and we’ll look to (win a title) again.”
Leonard was dealt from the Spurs to the Raptors last year and quickly made a lasting impression in Toronto. However, the Southern California native opted out of the final year of his contract with the Raptors and became an unrestricted free agent before signing with the Clippers this weekend. But Nurse knew the decision was coming.
“I’m not totally surprised. I think we all knew that (Leonard leaving) was a situation that could happen,” Nurse said. “He delivered big time, played his heart out for us. We certainly are going to relish this championship for a long time. And we’re going to stop celebrating it pretty soon. Not quite yet, but then we’ll get back to work.”
After a whirlwind of a year, Nurse will cherish the memories he made with Leonard during Toronto’s title run and is already looking ahead to a potential repeat — if they can get past him.
“It’s certainly disappointing,” Nurse said. “I think, first of all, he’s a great person. He was unbelievably fun to coach, just locked in and loaded and ready to go. People would ask me, ‘What was it like coaching him?’ And I always said the best thing was I got to stand there on the courtside and watch this guy go to work. That was something that I’ll never forget. Now we got to go kick his a—.”