(MENAFN - Gulf Times) Kawhi Leonard plans to decline a $21.3mn player option for the 2019-20 season, paving his way to free agency and possibly out of Toronto.
The Raptors are preparing for Leonard to entertain all offers on the open market just one year after a trade brought him to Toronto.
The deal paid off: the Raptors are celebrating their first NBA title following a Game 6 victory in the NBA Finals that ended the reign of the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.
'I'm not thinking about it right now, said Leonard, who turns 28 later this month. 'No, I'm a Raptor for right now. And you know, we'll see what happens.
Now a two-time finals MVP, Leonard could choose to return to his home state of California, with the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers thought to be set to pursue him. He said Thursday the next few days will be focused on what the team just accomplished, and the achievement of goals he set when the San Antonio Spurs obliged his trade request last summer.
'When I was there on my opening day meeting — I was focused on the now, and I wanted to make history here and that's all I did, Leonard said. 'I just, I'm still playing basketball no matter what jersey I have on. And the guys here have been making runs in the playoffs before I came, so I know they were a talented team. And I just came in with the right mindset, let's go out and win ball games. I texted Kyle probably a day later — or the day that I got traded — and told him I said ‘let's go out and do something special. I know your best friend left, I know you're mad, but let's make this thing work out. And we are here today.'
Leonard is viewed as a longshot to stay in Toronto, according to ESPN.
While Leonard wasn't tipping his hand Thursday night, he said he will make a decision based on what's best for him with little consideration for peripheral factors. Leonard was accused of sitting out for selfish reasons in San Antonio, and even quitting on the Spurs. He said all of the criticism fuelled a burning fire that no amount of 'OBs — a reference to the Larry O'Brien championship trophy — can extinguish. 'I have to trust myself. And whatever, it doesn't matter what anybody has to say about me, Leonard said. 'I know who I am as a person, I know how I feel, and always just trust yourself. And that was my goal and my focus. And that's why [it is] one of the things that I take on the floor. I don't care about what the media has to say about me or if they want me to score or whatever, 30 points, because I did the game before, I'm going to come out and play the right way, I'm not trying to make headlines. And that's just things that I pretty much learned just throughout this journey of being in the NBA. So that's how I just keep growing up as a man and that's why I say, I just think about my past life and try to learn from situations and be wise and learn from others.