The Kawhi Leonard era in Toronto is off to a promising start.
Newly-hired head coach Nick Nurse, who is in Las Vegas for USA Basketball training camp, recently sat down with Dave Feschuk (Toronto Star) and Josh Lewenberg (TSN) to talk about his first meeting with Kawhi Leonard.
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According to reports from both The Toronto Star and TSN , the two-time Defensive Player of the Year and his new head coach engaged in a 45-minute conversation last weekend in Toronto. Lewenberg touched on the positive reactions Nurse shared from the meeting.
"I sat down first and said, 'Do you have any questions?' and he started firing them [at me]," Nurse told TSN and The Toronto Star in a wide-ranging interview from Las Vegas on Friday. "It led us to a really easy going [meeting]. It was not what I was expecting. He's very smart, very intelligent, and very engaging. It was really enjoyable."
All in all the conversation lasted 45 minutes, and could have gone on longer if Leonard wasn't whisked away to the next stop on his tour of the Raptors practice facility, formerly known as BioSteel Centre.
"He lit up like a Christmas tree," Nurse said. "He was prepared, he had a list of questions. Then when I got up he started asking me about the offence, and I told him how we built it and the things that we do, the shot spectrum, and showing him the spacing. He got out of his chair and got up at the board with me, and [Raptors Management] had to drag us out of there in the end because they had to go do something else, but it was great."
Nurse, who was hired to replace Dwane Casey on June 14, also touched on how the Raptors' offseason changes will translate to the court next season. While the system on offence will largely remain the same, Nurse outlined the ways in which Leonard and Green's versatility can impact the team on the defensive end.
"We'll have a much different thought process [defensively]," Nurse said. "We will be a little bit more aggressive. We're going to really make a focus on trying to create more turnovers. I think we got more wings, more athleticism. I mean, listen, both [Leonard] and [Green] guard the (expletive) out of people. They guard the (expletive) out of people. So automatically you're thinking, okay, how does this change the way we're going to play to use those guys?"
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Nurse has had a busy summer. Since being hired, he served as the Raptors Summer League head coach in Las Vegas and more recently, has been travelling to meet face-to-face with players about their roles in the upcoming season. Per Feschuk, Nurse is planning to meet with Kyle Lowry in Las Vegas, who is there to train with USA Basketball this week.
Feschuk added that Nurse is focused on his players' adaptability to different roles moving forward.
He spoke of a roster that now includes "six starters," or six players who are accustomed to starting - including Lowry, Leonard, Green, Jonas Valanciunas, OG Anunoby and Serge Ibaka - and talked of the importance of some of those players being open to coming off the bench. And he reiterated more than once his mission as a rookie head coach: playoff success.
As for playoff success and winning, Nurse feels that may solve more long-term questions surrounding Leonard's future as a Raptor and the direction of the franchise as a whole. For now, he remains focused on the season ahead, and his sights are set on taking the team further than it's ever been before:
"We know we've got a good team. Let's just hope that good team becomes a really, really good team or a great team, and I think that enhances our chances. But for me, I'm going to coach the team…My job is to coach the team and get them to try to play the best they can come April, May and June."