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LAS VEGAS — If Nick Nurse has one regret with Kawhi Leonard leaving the Toronto Raptors after a single season it’s that he will not get a chance to defend the NBA championship with Leonard leading the charge in 2019-20.
“It’s certainly disappointing,” Nurse admitted after first saying Leonard’s decision to return to his native Los Angeles was not a total surprise.
“I think we all knew that was a situation that could happen and he delivered big-time,” Nurse said at half-time of Toronto’s Summer League game against the Golden State Warriors.
“He’s first of all a great person. He was unbelievably fun to coach, just locked in, loaded and ready to go. When 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. And that was something I’ll never forget. Now we’ve got to go kick his ass,” Nurse said with a smile, echoing the words point guard Fred VanVleet had uttered about Toronto’s task should Leonard become a former teammate.
Nurse knows it won’t be easy bouncing back with two-time champions Leonard and Danny Green, who went to the other team in Los Angeles, the Lakers.
“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, and we’ll get back to work,” Nurse said.
“We’ve got a tremendous challenge ahead of us but I always say that the challenge is our fuel and the tank is certainly full right now. So, got a chance for some guys to expand their roles maybe, that wouldn’t have expanded roles in the situation and then I think we’ve got some guys capable of doing that. So, man, I look forward to the challenge like I said and let’s go get after it.” Nurse said he has begun discussing with management what comes next.
“I don’t know at this particular time how we (win it all again), but it’s not unlike going into a playoff series,” he said. “I look at these teams and I’d say, ‘I don’t know how in the hell we’re going to beat them,’ and then you go into work and put a plan together. So, right now I’m not 100% sure how we’re going to do it, other than we’re going to come out and guard you .We’re going to move the ball and we’re going to play with energy and we’re going to try to play a lot of people and we’re going to keep developing our guys and Masai (Ujiri) and Bobby (Webster) will keep acquiring talent and I’ll coach the team that they give me. And I’ll do that to the best of my ability.”
Nurse was asked whether the Raptors could have done anything different in order to change Leonard’s mind or if tampering by the Clippers was an issue and said no on both counts.
Nurse praised the organization’s medical staff for meeting the goal of caring for Leonard and rehabilitating him as well as possibly could have been done and for winning big and for the fan support. They just didn’t have the trump card.
“I think you can’t blame a guy for wanting to go home. That’s what he (texted) me today,” Nurse said. “‘I’m going home.’ And I just said, ‘You’ve changed a lot of lives, man, by what you accomplished in Toronto. Mine especially.’ And thanked him for what he did and we’ll look to the future and look to do it again.”
Again, will the Raptors pursue anything on the tampering front?
“No. We’re not. And I don’t think from my standpoint, I didn’t sense it, don’t have any of those feelings at all,” Nurse said.
“I again would state that he’s going home. That’s a hard draw for any of us. If you guys were all playing somewhere else and got a chance to go back and make the most money you could make in your hometown dream scenario, really, then you’re gonna go home and do it,” he said.
“So, again we’ll wish him well and the best of luck until we have to go against him.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019