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Kawhi Leonard thanks Spurs fans in first statement since being traded to Raptors

San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard moves the ball up court during a game against the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 13, 2018.

Eric Gay

Kawhi Leonard thanks the Spurs’ fans and organization and said he is looking forward to the “next chapter” in his NBA career in his first comments since being traded form San Antonio to Toronto this summer.

In a letter submitted to the San Antonio Express-News, the superstar forward did not mention the Raptors and still has yet to share his thoughts on the city where he is set to spend his 2018-19 season.

Leonard singled out Spurs coach Gregg Popovich in the letter, saying “I’ll always be grateful for my growth under your guidance.”

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Popovich and Leonard appeared to have a fractured relationship at times during the Leonard’s final year in San Antonio, when the disgruntled forward suited up for just nine games due to injury.

Leonard was effusive in his praise of the Spurs’ fans, who watched him blossom into one of the game’s premier two-way players over the first seven seasons of his career.

“There is not a more passionate or dedicated fan base than what I’ve witnessed in San Antonio. Through all the ups and downs – I’m glad there were many more ups! – I’ll never forget what we have shared and accomplished together,” he said.

While last season was one to forget for Leonard, his time in San Antonio will be better defined by his 2013-14 campaign, when he helped the Spurs capture their fifth NBA title while being named MVP of the Finals.

Toronto acquired Leonard guard Danny Green in a blockbuster trade on July 18 that sent DeMar DeRozan – who was the popular face of the Raptors franchise – as well as emerging centre Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round draft pick to Texas.

While Leonard rarely speaks publicly on his intentions, the belief among most pundits is that he wants to join the Los Angeles Lakers. He will have the ability to do so when he becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season, unless the Raptors can sell him on a long-term future in Toronto.

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