December 11, 2019 / 7:07 PM / in 4 months

Clippers' Leonard says leaving champion Raptors was a 'hard decision'

TORONTO (Reuters) - Kawhi Leonard said on Wednesday his one year in Canada was a fun ride and that his decision to leave the Toronto Raptors three weeks after leading them to their first NBA championship was anything but easy.

FILE PHOTO: Nov 29, 2019; San Antonio, TX, USA; LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) warms up before the game against the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo

Leonard, back in Toronto for the first time as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, said signing with his hometown team was not the foregone conclusion some had felt in the weeks leading up to his decision.

“I gave (re-signing with Toronto) a big consideration,” Leonard said during a courtside interview where he was surrounded by 50-plus reporters and about a dozen TV cameras.

“I took my time, I didn’t hurry up and make a quick decision. I talked to the front office in detail. It was a hard choice to make.”

As a member of the Raptors, Leonard delivered one of the most memorable playoff performances in NBA history in 2019 and along the way giant-sized murals depicting him appeared on buildings in Canada’s largest city.

He even produced the defining moment in Raptors franchise history when during the second round of the playoffs he launched an off-balance, three-point buzzer-beater in a decisive seventh game that bounced off the rim four times before dropping in.

Euphoria over the Raptors’ NBA championship spread across a nation that has had only one NBA team since the Vancouver Grizzlies relocated to Memphis in 2001.

“Obviously it was different playing here for a whole country, they are all going for this one team,” said Leonard. “The ride was fun. I had a great time last year with the coaching staff, front office and the players. It was a great experience.”

While Leonard’s exploits helped make the Raptors an NBA contender, he is braced for a mixed reaction from Toronto fans for his first game back.

“I mean there will be some cheers but definitely I think more boos because they want to win the game,” said Leonard, who will receive his championship ring ahead of Wednesday’s game.

“They are not going to be cheering for a player that’s on the opposing team while they are still rooting for the Raptors.”

Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis

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