(Reuters) — Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said he was disappointed by Kawhi Leonard’s decision to leave the team but said he understood the superstar’s desire to return to his native California to join the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency.
“I think you can’t blame a guy for wanting to go home,” Nurse said Saturday night in Las Vegas, where he was watching summer league games, per ESPN. “That’s what he texted me today. ‘I’m going home.’ And I just said, ‘You’ve changed a lot of lives, man, by what you’ve accomplished in Toronto. Mine especially.’ And thanked him for what he did, and we’ll look to the future, and we’ll look to [win a title] again.”
Leonard is joining the Clippers on a four-year, $141 million contract, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported. The Clippers also acquired Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder to pair with Leonard.
Nurse said he heard the news while with members of his staff.
“I was just hanging out with a couple of the assistants,” Nurse said. “Got the text message and then got the news report quickly afterward. I’m not totally surprised. I think we all knew that [Leonard leaving] was a situation that could happen. He delivered big-time, played his heart out for us. 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, but then we’ll get back to work.
“I mean we got a tremendous challenge ahead of us, but I always say that the challenge is our fuel and the tank is certainly full. So we got a chance for some guys to expand their roles maybe that wouldn’t have had expanded roles in the situation, and I think we got some guys capable of doing that. So I look forward to the challenge as I said, and let’s go get after it.”
Nurse said Leonard has left behind a championship legacy and some great memories.
“It’s certainly disappointing,” Nurse said. “I think, first of all, he’s a great person. He was unbelievably fun to coach, just locked in and loaded and ready to go. 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. That was something that I’ll never forget. Now we got to go kick his ass.”