Raptors continue to ease Kawhi Leonard back, sit him in half of back-to-backs

Associated Press

The Toronto Raptors have a tough back-to-back coming up: Sunday night against the Lakers in Los Angeles, then lose an hour flying East and play the Jazz at altitude on Monday night.

Kawhi Leonard is going to sit one of those games, as he has half of every back-to-back the Raptors have played this season. After missing all but nine games last season with a quadriceps tendon issue, Toronto has been playing the long game with its star (even though they may not have him back next season) and working to keep him healthy. Leonard told Tim Bontemps of ESPN he’s good with that.

“The plan is for a little while here to not let him play [both halves of] the back-to-backs,” [Raptors coach Nick] Nurse said. “I don’t think we’ve decided how long that’s gonna be yet. We’re going game by game.”

“I just wanted to get healthy,” said Leonard, who scored 19 points to go with 6 rebounds and 5 assists Friday night to help improve Toronto’s record to 8-1 this season. “I feel healthy now, and they just don’t want to rush into things. I don’t either. It’s a long season, so we’re thinking about the long road.”

That’s smart. Whatever it was that Leonard was dealing with last season — the two sides’ doctors disagreed about whether it was tendon or muscle related — overuse was a part of it. Toronto, with a healthy Leonard, is a threat to Boston in the East, and that’s where the focus is — and should be.

Leonard jammed his foot at the end of the win over the Suns on Friday night. Both Nurse and Leonard downplayed it as nothing serious, but expect the Raptors to be cautious and patient with it. That’s the plan.

No one thing is going to help the Raptors win over Leonard and keep him as a free agent next summer, that remains a long shot, but how he and any injuries are treated by the organization is part of his ultimate decision. Toronto is getting that part right.