Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors had a magical 2018/19 NBA season, reaching important stages and winning it all when nobody actually believed in them. Leonard struggled in the regular season, was always bothered by injuries but the player stepped up in the important moments and took his team to the championship.
It wasn't an easy journey but Leonard made sure he was going to work as hard as possible from the very beginning and that included meeting with his new coaches even before training camp. Phil Handy, currently working with the Los Angeles Lakers, also worked with Kawhi on the Raptors and he made some big revelations about the Klaw and his mentality and personality when he's not playing ball.
Joining James Posey's "The Posecast," Handy talked about what it was like working with the 2x NBA champion, revealing that Leonard is a "comedian" behind doors and you can't get enough of his good attitude (34:15 mark).
“Man, that’s one of the coolest cats I’ve ever been around. Straight up," Handy said of Leonard, via Alex Kennedy of Basketball News. "The crazy thing about it is when you’re around Kawhi and get to know him behind closed doors, that dude is a comedian! People don’t get to see that side of him. He’s just like a normal dude! The only thing about Kawhi is that he doesn’t get enamored with all the fluff. He don’t have an entourage, he’s not on social media, he’s not flashy. He’s just got his boy, Jeremy [Castleberry], who’s an assistant coach with the Clippers, his uncle, [Dennis Robertson], and his family. He keeps his circle tight and he’s just one of those dudes that just want to hoop."
He explained he was ready to work with DeMar DeRozan after taking the job as the Raptors' assistant coach but then the San Antonio Spurs sent Leonard to Canada and the rest is history. Handy said that as soon as he texted Leonard, he asked him to go to San Diego and start working.
“I remember when I signed in Toronto, I was still in Cleveland. I hadn’t left for Toronto yet, but I had signed maybe three days prior," Handy said. "I woke up one morning, turned on the TV and, I’m serious, as soon as I turned the TV on, ESPN was like, ‘Breaking news: Kawhi Leonard gets traded to the Toronto Raptors.’ Bruh, when I tell you I fell out of the bed, I fell out of the bed! I was like, ‘Come on, man…’ Because my mindset was: Going to Toronto, I was a big fan of DeMar [DeRozan] and I was excited to be able to build a relationship with him and work with him and help him with his game. I was already locked in to, ‘Alright, this is what I see with DeMar,’ and then here comes Kawhi. I remember I let the dust settle and then I reached out to Nick [Nurse] and said, ‘Aye, can you send me Kawhi’s number?’ Because I didn’t know Kawhi. I’d never had any interactions with him except to say ‘what’s up’ whenever we played.
"I texted Kawhi and said, ‘I’ve always been a fan of your game and how you play and I’m really looking forward to building a relationship and working with you on the floor.’ That dude texted me back and was like, ‘When you pulling up to San Diego?’ That was it; I went to San Diego and we spent like a month and a half working every day before we went to training camp."
The NBA champion also revealed how serious Kawhi is about his job and how hungry he is to learn. During their first training, he made it clear he didn't want any noise or people bothering him and was always trying to learn more about the game.
“And his thing that impressed me the most was when I first met Kawhi, he just said, ‘Look Coach, I’m very straightforward. I’m very honest. I’m all about the work. If I’m not doing something, you tell me -- because I’m going to tell you if you’re not doing something. I like the gym to be quiet; I don’t like the people, I don’t like noise, I just want to get my work in.’ When he said that to me, I’m like, ‘Let’s go. That’s right up my alley!’ He’s just a student of the game -- a real student of the game and he wants to be great. That’s all we would ever talk about. When I first got there, he was like, ‘We need to link up with Kob, I want to link up with Kob. When can we link up with him?’ He just wanted to soak up the knowledge. One of the best dudes I’ve ever been around. Straight up.”
At the end, that paid off for Leonard, Handy and the Raptors. They went to win the 2019 NBA championships against the Golden State Warriors, with Kawhi earning the Finals MVP award for the second time in his career. He worked hard and never gave up and having people like Handy helping him improve his game was beneficial for him.