LOS ANGELES — There is a lot of noise around Kawhi Leonard, and it’s not just Kyle Lowry playing music and rapping along in the locker room pregame while his teammates try to ignore him. Although there’s that, too.
It’s noise from outside the locker room, speculation and constant chatter about Leonard and his plans as a free agent next summer: Is Leonard still leaning toward coming to Los Angeles? Lakers or Clippers? Or New York? Or somewhere else? Is he happy in Toronto and thinking of staying? Can he handle the weather in Toronto? Is he fully healthy?
This chatter fills sports talk radio shows, Twitter debates, message boards, broadcast airwaves, and more.
The noise also ramps up when Leonard goes to places he has been linked, such as Los Angeles.
“I focus on what we’re doing,” Leonard said of his reaction to all the speculation prior to his Raptors knocking off the Clippers Tuesday night (without him due to a sore hip). “I don’t buy into reading media, don’t have no social media, so just focus on what’s in front of me. At that time it’s either my family or playing basketball.”
Does what is being said bother him?
“Not at all. I don’t watch TV too much,” Leonard said, adding he uses apps to watch movies and TV shows.
What Leonard is not doing is consuming NBA media.
However, the NBA world has obsessed over him in the past year.
Leonard forced his way out of San Antonio last offseason after the proper course of treatment for quadriceps tendinopathy (which sidelined Leonard all but nine games last season) became a wedge between him and the franchise. How much the people around and advisors to Leonard helped drive in that wedge to grow the gap — to get Leonard out of San Antonio and to a larger market where he could be more of a star — is one of those topics of gossip and speculation. The Spurs are known as one of the most player-friendly organizations in the league.
Leonard got his wish, was traded to Toronto, and has looked like a top-five NBA player again this season, especially of late. He has shaken off the rust to average 26.1 points per game, shooting 38 percent from three, taking charge of the offense for stretches and locking down players on defense. If people forgot how good Leonard was last season, he’s reminding them — and helping lift the Raptors to a 22-7 record and the top spot in the East.
Yet everyone still has questions, and Leonard is not about to fill in the gaps in that knowledge, either.
For example, what does he think of the Raptors organization?
“It’s been good so far,” Leonard said of the fit in Toronto. “Like I said, we’ve been winning, everyone’s playing well. Can’t complain.”
Are the Raptors different than the Spurs as an organization?
“It’s still two goals and a basketball, just different teammates,” Leonard said.
What about Toronto as a city?
“It’s pretty hard to enjoy the city when you’re playing every other day,” Leonard said. “You usually take those off days to take some treatment and get your body ready for the next day. Just rest so you have the energy.”
Is the cold bothering the Southern California kid? That one he did answer.
“Just wear a jacket,” Leonard said. “We’re in a building. We’re not outside playing in the snow. And it’s good scenery.”
Leonard also confirmed that he’s not feeling the effects of that quadriceps injury last season and it isn’t slowing him down (the hip injury that had him out Tuesday in Los Angeles was separate, just the kind of bumps every player deals with over the course of a season).
“I was able to take my time and get the right treatment to make me feel comfortable, taking the right steps through training camp and throughout the season to have trust in myself,” Leonard said.
Will he be playing in back-to-backs soon?
“I’ve been playing a lot of minutes, we’ll just see as it goes on,” Leonard said. “It’s not that big a deal to play into a back-to-back.”
That’s all we get. No hints of his mindset or what he is planning for next summer. No deep thoughts on the organization or situation. He’s playing up the image that Gregg Popovich and the Spurs loved — a guy obsessed with the game who considers everything else a distraction.
That image isn’t completely accurate, either. Leonard is focused on his family as well. He has other interests. And you can be certain he has thoughts about what he does and does not want to do next July as a free agent.
He’s just not letting any of us in on it. Which is vintage Leonard.