The Toronto Raptors have just one championship in franchise history, and the main catalysts for that title were Kawhi Leonard on the floor and Nick Nurse on the sideline. However, the season wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows, especially at the beginning of the partnership.
Leonard arrived in Toronto from the San Antonio Spurs after a series of concerning injuries. This led to lots of load management and some initial frustration from fans regarding how frequently (or infrequently) he actually played regular season games for the 2019 Toronto team.
In an appearance on 76ers guard Patrick Bevelrey’s podcast, Nurse explained that it was originally difficult trying to strike a balance between keeping Leonard healthy and leaning on him as the team’s best player. Ultimately, the Raptors’ success overcame all those issues.
“I don’t think anybody knew how it was gonna work,” Nurse said. “I think he hadn’t played in like 12 or 14 months. So I don’t think anybody knew health-wise where he was going to be…We were not gonna play him in back-to-backs and things like that… When he wasn’t playing early on, people were like, ‘What’s going on?’ But the team started playing so well that we just kinda played.”
Nick Nurse details Kawhi Leonard’s time with the Toronto Raptors.
Leonard came to Toronto with a great deal of skepticism. An impending free agent who was always a longshot to sign with the Raptors long-term coming in exchange for a franchise icon in DeMar DeRozan didn’t have all segments of the fanbase doing cartwheels.
Leonard was able to alleviate those doubts in no time at all, turning the Raptors from a good team with a limited season into an all-time team that played elite defense and hit the shots that count. Nurse also helped Toronto go 17-5 in games Leonard missed in the regular season.
Nurse hasn’t won a non-bubble playoff series without Leonard, and Kawhi’s Clippers tenure hasn’t gone according to plan. Their partnership didn’t last long, and it started off weird, but both parties managed to make magic during their short time together in Toronto.
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