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Josh Lewenberg

TSN Raptors Reporter

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It’s always fun for players to face a former teammate – getting to catch up with an old friend before the game, reminisce, and then go head-to-head with someone you once battled in practice and now share some memorable moments with.

That bond and those reunions are even more meaningful when one of those memories is winning a championship together.

The returning members of last year’s title-winning Toronto Raptors team will experience that feeling when they visit Los Angeles this weekend. In a much anticipated back-to-back with the Lakers and Clippers on Sunday and Monday, respectively, the Raptors will cross paths with Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard for the first time since they helped lead Toronto to its first NBA championship and then left for L.A. in free agency over the summer.

Acquired together in the trade that sent DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio the previous off-season, both players left a lasting legacy in Toronto despite being Raptors for just a single season.

As reliable as they come, Green appeared in a team-high 80 games last season and re-established himself as one of the league’s best three-point shooters and perimeter defenders.

Leonard followed up an excellent regular season with one of the most dominant and iconic playoff runs the NBA has ever seen, highlighted by his historic buzzer-beating shot in the series-clinching Game 7 against Philadelphia, en route to his second career Finals MVP award.

But Green and Leonard didn’t just make an impact on the franchise and its fans, the city and the country; they also touched the careers and lives of each individual they shared the experience with.

Obviously, each of those players were disappointed when Leonard decided to go home and sign with the Clippers over the summer, with Green agreeing to join the Lakers shortly after, but the relationships that were built over the past 12 months will last a lifetime.

“That’s gonna be special, man. Always, man,” Serge Ibaka told TSN earlier this week. “With the guys you won a championship with, that’s gonna be special, very special. When you look back and see all the pictures, that’s something special. It takes a lot for a team to win a championship. It takes a lot of connections, ups and downs, trust. That’s a lot. It doesn’t matter if it’s only one year.”

“We won a championship [together], so yeah,” said Kyle Lowry. “It’s always going to be special. I have a special relationship with most of my [former] teammates. I still talk to a lot of the guys. It’s a brotherhood and we bond but we’ll always have that memory of 2019 NBA champions, Kawhi and Danny.”

Ahead of the upcoming back-to-back in L.A., some of the Raptors’ returning players were asked to share their memories of what it was like to play with Leonard and Green.


KYLE LOWRY

What will he remember about Leonard?

“How good of a guy he really is. How awesome of a person he is. How funny he is. How he literally taught me and our team how to stay level-headed and even-keeled.”

What will he remember about Green?

“I think Danny was excited to have an opportunity to be here and be a leader again. He learned a lot coming from [Gregg] Popovich in San Antonio, and he took advantage of the opportunity to show what he could do. And he’s one of the best shooters there is.”

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PASCAL SIAKAM

What will he remember about Leonard?

“I think just the way he is – his demeanour and how he approaches the game. That’s something that’s always going to stay with me. I’m an emotional player – when things are not going my way I tend to get emotional a little bit. And just seeing him and how he never got that way and always had the same mentality, that killer mentality, steady game and no real emotions like that, especially when it’s going bad, that’s something I took from him.”

What will he remember about Green?

“He was just a great teammate, man, a dude that’s always about team and just a genuine person and a leader. Having him was definitely important for us as a guy that had won it before. Just his experience was something we all gained from him.”

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SERGE IBAKA

What will he remember about Leonard?

“Just his personality. It’s kinda funny, he’s got a different personality than everybody [else] but at the same time he’s a cool guy. Even just the way we clicked. It was so easy. The first time he came to the team it was so easy just to connect. I think we just had a respect for each other. Playing against each other and then becoming teammates, we just had a respect and understanding for each other.”

What will he remember about Green?

“Danny is a happy guy. He’s just happy no matter what. With everybody, he’s just happy every day. He comes in the morning and he’s a happy guy. Bad game, good game, win or loss, he’s gonna have the same positive energy. That’s what makes Danny very special.”

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FRED VANVLEET

What will he remember about Leonard?

“It was my first experience playing with a bona fide superstar, and whatever comes with that. Walking into the gym every day having the best player in the gym on your team is a whole different thing that you don’t really know until you play with somebody like that. It was a whole lot of fun. There were some challenges. There were a lot of ups and downs over the year. But overall, I look back at playing with those two guys as a great experience for our team, obviously winning a championship, but personally, for my career, to have that knowledge going forward.”

“It’s the ultimate bailout on any given night, having a guy like that. It hurt us sometimes, because we weren’t ready to play sometimes, or we took teams lightly because we knew that we could just give it to Kawhi and get out of the way, but you need that in the playoffs. He was our ace in the hole whenever we needed that.”

“Obviously he didn’t talk a lot. I think it took him a long time to warm up to us, for him to open up and to trust us. On the court – off the court, he was great – but on the court, I think we saw over the course of the year him open up and trust us, the entire team. I think him and Kyle had a good chemistry pretty early. And you could see it gradually happen for the entire team.”

What will he remember about Green?

“That he was so experienced and had been around for so long, but he walks around like a young guy. You wouldn’t really know it other than it taking him two hours to get loose for practice and games – you wouldn’t know that he was in his 30s. He was great. He was very energetic, upbeat. He talked a lot, but really just helped guys and gave as much knowledge as you asked for. From the day I met him, I was asking him questions about everything, from plays to off the court stuff and everything in between. He was good. He was very helpful for a lot of guys on the team.”

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MARC GASOL

What will he remember about Leonard?

“He speaks when needed. That to me is a great trait of a leader. When the team needs it, he has a voice, a voice that everyone listens to. He speaks the right stuff, cares about the right stuff. It was awesome.”

What will he remember about Green?

“Two different styles. Danny was more talkative, all of the time, but also about the right stuff. Danny was different than Kawhi, but always team-oriented, things that he saw that we could do better, always positive. I like guys that are always thinking about how we could get better as a team and what things can we do defensively or what’s hurting us, but always have that positive mindset and approach that never brings people down, but is always trying to bring them up.”

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OG ANUNOBY

What will he remember about Leonard?

He’s a fun guy. He’s cool. He’s a good guy. That’s really it, besides the basketball stuff.”

What will he remember about Green?

“Same thing. He’s fun. He’s funny.”

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NORMAN POWELL

What will he remember about Leonard?

I don’t know, maybe just his daily preparation and how he prepares himself, how he’s deliberate in his approach, knowledgeable in what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. That’s mostly what sticks out to me – how dedicated he is to taking care of himself and making sure everything about what he’s doing is right for him.”

What will he remember about Green?

I mean he was amazing. He was a guy that really kept everybody together. When you go through the season everybody has ups and downs. You try to figure out the best way to win games. But he kept everybody together with his veteran presence in the locker room and then outside the court he always brought guys together. If we were doing something away from the team he made sure to include everybody. I think he just kept the group tied in and together – on and off the court.”

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MALCOLM MILLER

What will he remember about Leonard?

“Definitely his professionalism and the way he was very efficient about his work. He got in early, got his work done, got his rehab done, got his shots in, got a practice, got extra rehab, recovery at the end. Just that type of professionalism and work ethic really stuck out to me.”

What will he remember about Green?

“Danny was just a reliable source for the team – being able to knock down shots, guard the best player on the team, and just somebody to be dependable on the team. He’s another shooter, so I looked at his shot and everything on the court. And the actions and the business he has off the court are also pretty inspiring. Danny was just an all-around good glue guy. He’s a jack-of-all-trades.”